The ordeal reveals implementation problems with COVID directive
Despite Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education ordering private educational institutions to pay all financial dues to their teachers and have parents pay partial payment for the education of their children in the midst of COVID-19 crisis, teachers at Lion Heart Academy, one of the capital’s recently established private schools, are discontented with the management of the school for not honoring its commitment to pay their salaries in full, despite continuing to collect fees from parents for the academic year, The Reporter has learnt.
As a group of teachers went to the Ministry and the Woreda Education Bureau on Friday, April 24, 2020, this has become the first dispute arising from the COVID-19 crisis and the economic toll it is taking in the country.
The Reporters has also seen a letter sent to teachers and management blaming the Corona-virus for the financial hurdles the school is going through.
“Now, across the world, people are feeling the economic effects of the Corona-virus pandemic that has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the widespread closures of schools, universities and colleagues,” the founder of the school, Tigist Kebede wrote to the teachers. “Educators and students around the world are feeling the extraordinary ripple effect of the corona-virus as schools shut down amid the public health emergency”.
“As such, LionHeart Academy is also the effect of this health pandemic”, the letter continued.
The school has been in operation since 2012 in its current location, opposite St. Michael Church, near Hyundai Marathon Building has been having lingering issues with paying its teachers and some cases have been forced to settle via courts. However, its latest difficulties might be the beginning of the end for it, some fear.
According to four teachers The Reporter spoke to, the school paid them half of their salaries for the month of March, but has not been able to pay them since putting many in financial stress.
“We are teachers. Most of us do not enter the profession to make money and we barely survive month after month. What has transpired with our salaries has put much pressure on us and has made many of us dependent on others during what would have been a holiday season and added to that, the virus that has made us to spend money to protect ourselves and our family members,” a teacher told The Reporter unanimously fearing reprisal.
In the same letter, Tigist blamed its financial troubles, as it is “competing with international private schools that have existed for 50 years and more” and blamed its ambition of becoming a middle and high school institution and because of an increasing lease at its present location and high payroll.
The school has been aiming to build a middle school by next year and a high school eventually and was seen to be considered too ambitious with little financial means.
The Reporter has learned, the owner met with parents recently and begged to collect near year’s school fees in order to pay some of its lingering bills for the months of March and April. However, many parents were only willing to pay for the 2019 – 2020 academic year doubting it the school would exist come next year.
According to Fekerte Abera of the Addis Ababa Education Bureau, there are few options to remedy the concerns of the teachers.
“The teachers have the right to seek legal arbitration with the labor benches structures of the court since the relevant law governing such cases has been enacted as part of the State of Emergency rule that has been implemented recently because of COVID-19,” she told The Reporter.
Meanwhile, the teachers are looking at all options available to them, including legal remedies to solve the case as Yesterday. As part of that push, on Friday, a couple of teachers have visited at least three government offices including the ministry of education, the Woreda education bureaus and the Woreda labor and social affairs getting a resounding response of recognition to the Ministries directive and the problem but none of them taking the responsibility to implement it. “We bounced around between the federal and city education offices, and told by everybody that directive is there but no one has any idea as to how and who would implement it,” a teacher said anonymously.
The Reporter reached out to Tigist but the paper was only able to speak to the school’s lawyer, Shume Alemu, who eventually replied, “No comment”.