The priest who fell in love with Biology

Monday May 20 2019

Rev Fr Joseph Mary Ssekalega displays the

Rev Fr Joseph Mary Ssekalega displays the Biology text book for schools he authored recently. This is the second edition. PHOTOs BY Dan Wandera 

By DAN WANDERA

Priests are traditionally regarded a conservative and more inclined class of people out to explore a detailed knowledge and thought in line with their calling through evangelism. Venturing into writing on matters that at times downplay the miraculous works of God such as science, takes the courage of an individual with a passion for teaching.
Fr Joseph Mary Ssekalega, is one of those priests who fell in love with sciences, particularly Biology.
At the age of 66, Fr Ssekalega, one of the most experienced Biology teachers, and a retired secondary school head teacher, is not yet done with the advancement of teaching Biology as a subject for secondary schools.
He is now the prestigious author of the Second Edition of the recently commissioned Secondary School Biology Text Book covering the Uganda Certificate of Education syllabus approved by the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC). The book details the genesis and essential elements of the subject matter for both the teachers and students at O-Level.
While the priest is quick to point out the challenges he and other authors go through to produce textbooks, he says the poor reading culture and laxity of a section of teachers who do not update their respective notes hinders effective teaching of the subject.

Setbacks
Fr Ssekalega adds that teachers who give answers to their students have also compromised the teaching of Biology, leading to poor performance at both internal and national exams.
“The challenges authors of different textbooks face, especially those that teach examinable subjects such as Biology are very real. My experience as a Biology teacher between 1979 and 2018 when I retired from teaching, has an insight on how a section of teachers teach without updating their respective material, which has partly led to poor performance. As authors, we also face the challenge of a declining reading culture and piracy, among others,” Fr Ssekalega asserts in an interview.
He says Biology is a wonderful subject that turns out to be a basis for a cross-section of professional science courses and as such his former students persuaded him to write a book.
“My former students, many of whom are professionals, approached me to have the material that turned them into useful citizens put together in form of a textbook. I bought the idea and by 2010, I published the first edition of Secondary School Biology in 2010,” the cleric turned author explains.
The wealth of knowledge and experience as a Biology teacher saw Fr Ssekalega teach in a host of schools such as Kisubi Minor Seminary, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Kisubi Mapeera, St. Joseph High School Nakirebe, St Andrew Kaggwa SS Kasaala, St John’s SS Nandere and Mazzoldi College Nakaseke between 1979 and 2018.
Asked about the driving factor for writing and balancing his call to priesthood, Rev Fr Ssekalega says he is a professional teacher who majored in Biology.
“I carry with me the passion and zeal of teaching and ensuring that my students understand and grasp the basics of the subject,” the priest says.

Promote reading culture
During the launch of the second edition of the Secondary School Biology textbook in Luweero Town recently, the bishop of Kasana-Luweero Diocese, Rt. Rev. Paul Ssemogerere, acknowledged the fact that the reading culture in Uganda is at its lowest.
“It takes courage for one to write such material to be published in form of a text book in a country where the writing and reading culture is low. We need to encourage the young generation to grasp the basics and the need to read and consult material that is in abundance but is only found in textbooks,” Bishop Ssemogerere said at the launch.
Rev Fr Francis Xavier Mpanga, the Kasana-Luweero Diocese chancellor, is among the people who had the opportunity of being mentored and taught by Rev Fr Ssekalega between 1982 and 1988 at Kisubi Minor Seminary.

Teacher with a difference
“Not only did I enjoy Biology lessons but the illustrations and how Fr Ssekalega ensured that the entire class understood the topic he taught at any particular time, made the subject more interesting. I ended up pursuing Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB) at A-Level,” Fr Mpanga said.
Fr Mpanga is not surprised that his former teacher, a priest and disciplinarian, has authored a Biology textbook because besides teaching, the cleric was in charge of the welfare of sick students at school.
Rev Fr Joseph Mary Ssekalega was born in 1953 to Benedicto Kitasimbwa and Costa Namutebi of Buganga village, Mawokota, Mpigi District.
He joined Kisubi Minor Seminary after completing Primary Seven at Kankobe Primary School in Mpigi. From Kisubi Minor Seminary, Fr Ssesanga joined St Mary’s College, Kisubi and later studied Botany and Zoology at Makerere University. One of the former cleric’s students, Dr Andrew Ssekitoleko, is a doctor in Rubaga hospital.

Brief biography
Rev Fr Joseph Mary Ssekalega was born in 1953 to Benedicto Kitasimbwa and Costa Namutebi of Buganga village, Mawokota, Mpigi District. He joined Kisubi Minor Seminary after completing Primary Seven at Kankobe Primary School in Mpigi. From Kisubi Minor Seminary, Fr Ssesanga joined St Mary’s College, Kisubi and later studied Botany and Zoology at Makerere University. He later enrolled for a Postgraduate Diploma in Education at Makerere University majoring in Biology. Fr Ssekalega published the first edition of the Secondary School Biology textbook in 2014. He has taught Biology for 39 years and spent the last eight years as a secondary school head teacher before his retirement.

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