Pupil literacy and numeracy levels have for years remained pitiable according to reports. Statistics have continued to indicate that at least 80 per cent of pupils in Primary Two in Uganda cannot perform a two-digit subtraction, whereas 61 per cent cannot read a single word of a short sentence, (World Bank) and almost six in every 10 primary school-going children assessed by the Directorate of Education Standards (DES) were unable to read.
With those numbers, the debate about teacher contribution in pupil/ student performance has continued to rage on. Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, the minister for Higher Education, last year blamed student failure in Science-related subjects on teachers.
“It is the science teachers to blame for these failures in schools. You cannot blame the government or head teachers. The government has invested a lot in science teachers and put in place all the necessary facilities. It is up to you to do your work,” he said while launching the first science Teaching Reference booklets at the Secondary Science and Mathematics Teacher’s national programme office at Kololo Secondary School in Kampala.
It is on the backdrop of these issues that the Teach for Uganda fellowship comes to interest graduates from different professions to build a block or two on the country’s education by doing ‘impactful’ teaching in rural underpriviledged schools. Daily Monitor talked to some of these teachers about what how different they do it.
The passion for teaching
“I am a passionate educator. That is why I am here,” Habib Gayonga, a construction manager and a Mathematics teacher at Lusenke Church of Uganda Primary School, Luweero, a government-aided school, said.
“During my Senior Six vacation, I worked with professors from Long Island University doing research on literacy levels of children in rural areas of Mpigi, Kabubbu, Gayaza and Kitengesa in Masaka in 2012-13,” he narrates. From this research, many of the children could not read, neither were they able to point out shapes such as a triangle, rectangle, correct body parts nor comprehend basic things.
“After that work, I was able to go to university on a scholarship and while there I thought; if someone has supported me through school, shouldn’t I also support other children realise their career dreams?” he says. And learning about the Teach for Uganda fellowship made the dream a reality.
To Francis Bizooza Bigirimana, a secondary school teacher (Literature and English), currently teaching English to Primary Four pupils at Lusenke Church of Uganda Primary School, primary school is the foundational level and should be given a lot of attention.
“I was teaching in a secondary school which had a neighbouring primary school. Whenever I looked at how the teaching was done, and the struggles I went through to teach Senior One students from that school, I thought it important to dedicate much more time to primary school,” he narrates.
Since graduates are from different academic fields and not necessarily teachers, they are trained for two weeks on personal and community leadership, pedagogy and curriculum standards from the National Curriculum Development Centre. The next four weeks are then spent in the classroom on school practice and later, these are licensed by the ministry of Education that permits them to teach after which they are placed in a given school for two years.
In Primary Five at Lusenke Church of Uganda Primary School which Gayonga teaches, the pupils are being taught algebra. Before the algebra lesson; three volunteers standing before the class are given lemons, books and pens each from which the pupils to collect like items.
“One of the challenges we had at the beginning was that pupils did not know even the basics in Mathematics. But I appreciate that they are improving including those who previously could not score a mark before,” the teacher says.
Apart from employing the use of teaching aids, they also focus on student-centered learning, using examples pupils can relate to. “We give them live examples that they can go back home and experiment with and appreciate what they study in class,” says Gayonga.
In addition to teaching, fellows are also expected to impact the communities where they are placed. To Bigirimana, this is something he has been proud to do.
“I started by trying to ensure that the mentality of our fellow teachers at least comes closer to what we thought was the best way of teaching. Through my networks, I connected with GEMS Cambridge International School that gave us a chance to take our teachers to see how they teach in an international school,” he says.
This, to some extent opened the eyes of the teachers and Bizooza trusts they came back different. “That was the start of us doing things different. We started using our learner centered methodologies, taking extra hours speaking to individual pupils, creating a good relationship with them and doing home visits to engage the parents too,” he reveals.
Some of the challenges pupils face is the lack of scholastic materials and to curb this, the teachers started a savings scheme for children in Primary Four and Five. “We got them piggy banks, so everyday, when they get some money, they save and records kept. When a pupil needs a pen or book, we buy one from their savings,” Bizooza explains.
At Nabutaka Church of Uganda Primary School (UPE), another school in the neighbouring Nabutaka village where two other fellows were placed; Decimon Wandera, teaching Primary Five (English) and Bernard Kyobe, an electrical engineer teaching Mathematics to Primary Four and Five emphasise sessions where pupils teach fellow pupils.
“The pupil plays the role of a teacher and teaches a lesson the teacher has already taught; the teacher oversees the session,” Wandera says. This is done in the afternoons after the normal classes.
Why the fellowship
“It’s not because poor or vulnerable children are not smart, but they lack opportunities. This idea is an international movement that I came in touch with in India. I saw graduates from IBM, KPMG coming back to the slums of Mumbai to teach in their own communities and some of these children, the poor of the poorest were now winning Science fairs and awards. The idea was if graduates can go back to their communities and teach to improve the learning outcomes of the children, mentoring, supporting and coaching them, we would have improved learner outcomes. When it comes to placing, we still work with government to identify districts that really need help.”
James Kassaga Arinaitwe, Co-founder Teach for Uganda.