Clad in his purple coat and cream tie, the teacher stood at the front of the class, pointing at the blackboard. He checked his pupils’ brilliance with questions and every time, they seemed to come alive. It was social studies class.
Mr Charles Peter Opolot taught with a hunger of someone who survives to arouse a long-term love for learning.
“The pupils are pleasing me in terms of learning. Whenever I give them tests, they do better. The school is improving and we expect better results especially from the candidates,” Mr Opolot says in a brief chat.
Kalapata Parents Nursery and Primary School is the brain child of Mr Stephen Okiror. The school was set up after the accountant chose retirement at 52 years over further employment at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) in 2016.
Seated on three acres of land purchased by Mr Okiror and other four acres donated by the community, the first private primary school is supposed to inspire generations of children in Kumi District into educated adults.
It was constructed in 2017. Classrooms opened in 2018, attracting 80 pupils in the first 12 months. The turn up convinced him it was a bad investment. In 2019, that number rose to 370 pupils.
He received close to Shs100m from National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and together with his benefits from URA, it totaled to Shs250m. Once he started working on his feasibility study for a modern school, he realised establishing a business before retirement should have been a priority.
“I had to think about how I can get land and where. My total benefits were not enough to help me set up a school in an urban area. So I decided to go back to my village where land is cheap and the community can benefit,” Mr Okiror explains earlier days.
For an investment that thrives on a highly skilled labour market, Mr Okiror was caught up in cycles of recruiting and laying off staff as majority funds were spent on classroom construction.
Running the school without a water and electricity source was even a bigger challenge.
He describes Kalapata as one of the poorest villages in Kumi given that it experienced the insurgence by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Majority residents survive on labour provided through subsistence farming. Convincing parents to pay Shs50,000 for a child in nursery school is difficult.
Nevertheless, redressing the illiteracy gaps within the Teso sub-region consumes most of his time and he believes schools therein need to perform as well as those in Central Uganda. This has seen him maintain ties with teachers in Kampala. He is also planning for a well-stocked library, practical class hours, facilities for extracurricular activities and proper staffing.
“We believe that if we teach these children very well with the material we access from Kampala’s good schools, I am sure more parents will enroll children here. Last year, we had five children in Primary Seven. Three passed in Second division, one in Third division and the last one in U.
Because of this, we have 24 pupils in Primary Seven this year,” Mr Okiror says.
The school employs 12 permanent teaching staff and three support staff. His ambition is to raise their meagre salaries once the school starts to make returns.
“When we made final accounts for last year, it was a very big loss. When we made the income and expenditure account for the last two terms, the loss reduced meaning if we get more enrolment, we could become profitable,” Mr Okiror says.
But he believes he could fulfil his dreams with the support of the NSSF Friends with Benefits prize money. About Shs30m is up for grabs for the winner. The school still needs fencing to protect its children. There is no administrative block. Neither is there a dormitory to accommodate boys and girls from far flung villages. Yet all these are a must-have for any modern school, he thinks.
“I can start with building a dormitory with the capacity of 100 children and this would cost about Shs98m,” Mr Okiror says.
“Here, in universal schools, children in Primary seven cannot read and write. We want to bring a system where we bring in experts to train teachers on how to teach reading and writing.”
About 830,000 members contribute to NSSF every month. The contribution to the Fund is Shs102b per month. In the financial year 2018/2019, the amount of money paid in benefits grew by 25 per cent from Shs360b to Shs450b.
Mr Okiror shares his views on NSSF’s literacy programme.
“It is yearly but it would be better to do it twice a year given that the people who retire are very many,” he says.
“With my investment, even if I passed on now, my children, the community will still benefit and my community has already known that this school is here because I managed to get my NSSF benefits.”
To vote for Stephen Okiror in the NSSF Friends with Benefits competition, dial *254# or go to www.nssfug.org”