By Didier Bikorimana
Dressed in sandals, a skirt and a faded green T- shirt, Antoinette Uwimana, 29, walks around her second year class at Kansi A Primary School in Gisagara District, south Rwanda, correcting Kinyarwanda grammar excercises.
It is 3.30pm and Uwimana has been working since 7:20am; she has had a one hour break and won’t leave for home until 5pm when class ends. For five years Uwimana has followed this demanding schedule, all for twenty-five thousand Rwandan Francs (CAN $42) a month. Listen here:
According to an article published in Rwanda’s daily New Times, in 2009, primary teachers in public institutions earned between Frw20, 000 to Frw62, 000 per month depending on their experience. With her salary, however, Uwimana can hardly meet her expenses.
In Rwanda today, some public sector employees can earn twice or three times the salary of their counterparts with the same education level. For instance, nurses with a six-year high school degree reportedly get about a hundred thousand Rwandan Francs, yet a teacher of the same education level gets a monthly salary of around twenty thousand Rwandan Francs. According to Eugene Rwibasira, the outgoing Spokesperson of the Rwandan Civil Society Platform, this gap within salaries should not exist.
“For sure, the public sector shouldn’t have such inequalities because all departments are equally important,” said Rwibasira by phone. “And this is something we have been talking about in general with the government. If this inequality is not fixed, there will always be jealousy and dissatisfaction.”
It is amid growing concerns about how to keep surviving with their “very low salary” that twelve teachers at Uwimana’s school came up with Ikimina, a practice derived from traditional Rwanda, by which groups of people communally contribute money to help one another out.
Ikimina began at Uwimana’s school in 2009, roughly a year after the launch of a government-initiated teachers’ savings and credit cooperative, which teachers at the school say didn’t bring much change in their lives.
From 2009, Uwimana and her colleagues at Kansi A Primary School have been contributing five thousand Rwandan francs out of their monthly salary for Ikimina. The co-op is only operational during the teaching season, and stops temporarily during holidays because many are away.
“I can give five thousand francs and remain with twenty thousand francs, and if they give me twenty-five thousand francs as part of Ikimina, I can go home with forty-five thousand, which is enough money to allow me do something concrete at home like buying new clothes, paying all my debts and make the two ends meet,” says Uwimana.
Each month, two participants are picked randomly for additional funds by drawing from papers placed upside down on a table.
“The teacher’s salary is very low and such a small cooperative helps us as an alternative”, says Nibagwire Prudencienne, another teacher and fellow Ikimina member.
Another financial alternative for Rwandan teachers is the UMWALIMU Savings and Credit Cooperative, referred to as MWALIMU SACCO. It’s a saving and credit cooperative for Rwandan teachers mandated to empower members to uplift their social-economic status and to contribute to the development of their communities. The establishment of SACCO was the initiative of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education are charged with the responsibility of implementing SACCO. Several phone call attempts to get comments about SACCO from the Ministry of Education yielded no result.
Teachers say MWALIMU SACCO has not yet changed their lives. “MWALIMU SACCO has only succeeded in giving salary advances. But it doesn’t give us enough money to allow us do something concrete,” says Uwimana. “For instance, I can be willing to buy a moto and be denied credit because they say my salary doesn’t match the size of the credit I am asking. It has turned into a bank like others, and those of us who are looking for credits, they put our booklets at the end as if we are beggars and those getting salaries are given priority.”
Callixte Ndagijimana, the Headmaster of Kansi A Primary School and Head of Ikimina at his school center, is of the same view.
“When teachers are part of Ikimina, they can easily get more money than they could get if from MWALIMU SACCO or anywhere else. And most importantly, that money from Ikimina is near you — from your colleagues. And the interest rate in Ikimina is much very lower, which is different from MWALIMU SACCO that has become a bank like others with a high interest rate and it sometimes hesitant to give credits”.
The Rwandan government is reportedly looking into ways of motivating teachers to ensure quality of education in Rwandan schools. The Minister of Education, Dr. Charles Murigande, told the New Times newspaper that his ministry is set to revisit policies concerning teachers’ welfare.
“There is need for the teachers to be motivated. It will help in improving quality,” said Murigande, adding that a de-motivated teacher cannot ensure quality.
Incentives to be considered include building teachers houses at school, increasing Umwalimu SACCO’s capacity to give loans to teachers, waiving student loan repayment for teachers, and waiving tuition for teachers’ children.
“It becomes difficult for a teacher to find accommodation especially when they are sent to a distant school,” said the Minister. “It is a smart move. There will never be quality when the teachers who are supposed to ensure it are not happy,” he said, urging the Ministry to speed up the changes.
Alongside the current salary status quo, chances are that some teachers will keep using Ikimina; teachers like Uwimana hope that the funding scheme will one day allow her to send her own children to school.