As schools prepare to reopen for finalists, we celebrate all the teachers who are willing to put their lives on the line to have learners continue with their education.
Representing all teachers who have stood out despite the challenges and threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic, some teachers share how they have continued supporting their learners and communities.
Solomon Kamukama, St. Kizito Primary School, Nabutaka, Luwero District
After schools were closed, Solomon Kamukama had planned to travel back to Kamwenge, (Western Uganda) to be reunited with his wife and one-year-old daughter, whom he hadn’t seen for months.
However, knowing that his learners needed him more than ever, he instead chose to stay in Nabutaka village, Butuntumula Sub-county in Luwero District where he is based as a teacher at St. Kizito Primary School, Nabutaka. He opted to send a subsistence allowance home, determined to help children in his community to continue learning.
With the conditions of his community in hindsight, he came up with a basic, but effective strategy for engaging learners within his reach in Nabutaka, regardless of which school they attended, or their class level.
“The first thing I did was to do home visits. I would move from house to house seeking to answer five essential questions…” Kamukama explains.
He wanted to find out: How many people were in each household? How many of these were school-going (at all levels)? In each household, was there anyone with a smartphone? How many households had a TV and/or radio? Is any of the parents/ guardians in each household educated (able to read and write) to help their learners continue learning?
Community in need
In one and a half weeks, he had reached 56 homes. Shortly after he had finished that exercise, the government also announced its intention to help children continue learning using radios and TV.
“From my simple survey, only two per cent of the households owned a TV, two per cent had smartphones and 21 per cent had radios. The remaining percentage didn’t have any. But again, even those with radios and TVs, the parents didn’t know how to read and write, so I knew that it would be hard for these people to fully benefit from the government arrangement,” he notes.
After seeking the permission of parents, Kamukama embarked on a task of voluntarily teaching learners from 18 households that had allowed him to help them.
The two households that had smartphones also had two learners in high school (S.6 and S.3). The best he could do for these, was sending learning materials via the phone.
However, for all primary school learners, he drafted a timetable allocating time for all households he had to teach, and he started moving from house to house, teaching.
“Firstly, I was educating all families about the health guidelines put in place by the government and by the first week, every home had at least a handwashing point,” he notes.
For Kamukama it didn’t matter how many school-going children each family had, or their different levels. He allocated time to all the learners in every household.
“Some families have up to four school-going children. I teach them all depending on their classes. I move around with my materials and normally, we sit outside, considering social distancing and all other safety guidelines (masks and handwashing). I use materials from the school where I teach; spelling books, reading books, past papers, and other materials that my coach gave me to help the learners. Gradually, I got to know their different weaknesses - like reading and so, I would plan lessons to help them in those different areas,” Kamukama explains.
In homes where he left behind exercises or past papers, he would give them time to accomplish these and then return and go through what they have done, mark them and make corrections together with them.
Within the first month, he had held between four to five lessons with every learner in their different households.
Later though, he got challenges when some community members reported him to the authorities that he was illegally teaching learners. “I went and explained to the LC 1and 2 chairmen exactly what I was doing, and how I was going about my work and the fact that I was adhering to the health guidelines. The chairman LC1 then okayed me to continue with what I was doing.” he gladly says.
So far, Kamukama is helping 30 learners in 18 households.
Esther Chebijira, teacher Kalagala Primary School, Mayuge District
Originally a secondary school teacher, Chebijira got the interest to teach in a rural primary school largely from her own experience. “I never got a chance to go to a good school. I went to rural schools down in Kween District until I joined university. It seemed impossible to move from there to even join Makerere University for a Bachelors in Education (English and Literature in English),” she explains
Coming from a place of limited opportunities, she wanted to be the hope and inspiration children in a rural school had. She applied for a fellowship with Teach for Uganda and after training, was placed in a UPE school; Kalagala Primary School, Mayuge District to teach English language to Primary Four and Five in 2019.
Moved to aid the disadvantaged
What struck her in her first few months, however, were the high dropout and absenteeism levels for girls. Out of the 98 girls that had joined the school in Primary One, only two girls sat for Primary Seven.
In a month, girls were absent for at least four days and after talking to the pupils themselves, teachers and members in the community, she learnt that the issues were surrounding menstrual sanitation. The lack of pads would make girls stay at home while in their periods. Secondly, to parents, menstruation was a sign the girl was ready to be married off.
Even while school was open, she started an initiative to have talks with girls and boys about menstrual hygiene, early marriages and pregnancies and to parents; to play their role of keeping girls in school. This she did every Wednesday afternoon.
Pads for girls
Aware that with the lockdown on schools, girls were facing more challenges in regards to menstrual health and hygiene, Chebijira, who had knowledge on how to make reusable pads was forced to look for funds to teach her learners how to make these too . She wrote a project proposal and requested for a mini-grant from an organisation called Peace First. Luckily, her proposal succeeded and received $246, an equivalent of about Shs900,000. She used the money to buy materials for making reusable pads.
“Another colleague of mine also knew how to make reusable pads, so together, we embarked on training the girls in groups of four to five: mindful of social distance, and other SOPs. We have so far trained 88 girls in the last three weeks,” she proudly says.
Among the effects of school closure are the high early pregnancy rates of school going girls. In June, during the lockdown, one of Chebijira’s pupils got pregnant and was married off. This triggered Chebijira and her colleagues to start a home to home sensitization campaign to sensitize parents and girls in a total of five villages (Kalagala A, Kalagala B, Bukanga, Matovu and Kikunu) on early pregnancies and marriages.
“We also wrote the same messages on manila paper and camped on the main roads to spread the message of increasing sexual harassment cases, rape, pregnancies etc in this lockdown ,” she notes.
They also used the village megaphones from time to time (community radios) and talk to parents about safeguarding their girls and children from these darts and since then, they have not registered any such cases.
“We have also made ourselves available to these children. In addition to teaching them, we want to be confidants and several of them have come to us with cases of sexual harassment, forced marriages and we have played the mediating role,”Chebijira says adding that impactful teaching is one that goes beyond the classroom.
Frida Aduno Ekum, teacher at Clarke Junior School, Bukasa
If there is anything the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has taught us, it is capitalising on technology to bring education to the doorstep of learners. Like many teachers, Aduno has been using Google classrooms and Zoom Cloud applications to ensure continuity of learning to her learners.
As a school in general, they capitalised on these since their learners were able to utilise them. However, as a Primary Four teacher of English language and Special Studies, she had to adapt from the normal teaching to something totally different.
“To be effective in my teaching, I had to find other ways to package the lessons so that learners could understand and achieve learning outcomes of the lessons without seeing me,” she explains.
Following the syllabus, she also makes content / lessons largely using videos created by her or videos that capture her teaching, pictorials, audio clips that make the lessons enjoyable, interactive and creative to the learners. With other teachers, they also do interviews as though they were on a television show to teach some topics to the learners.
The school also had television classes and all these challenged her to step up from the normal.
“If for example, I am teaching about ‘People in our district’, I can use a pictorial that shows people from different social statuses and walks of life to tell the story I want them to learn. In the pictorial, I also add a narration with my voice, so the learners listen as they watch the pictures as well. At the end, I can ask questions for them to answer. At the end of the week, we can then have a Zoom class to discuss what we learnt,” Aduno further explains.
She also has one on one interactions with learners that may be having challenges on Zoom when they reach out.
It is however to be expected that this turn of events from the normal is challenging.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled to act like a presenter in a bid to host a talk show on a topic I am teaching, or how TV cameras all centering on me teaching was challenging. Today, the teacher has to be everything. You have to be the teacher, the presenter, the editor and the designer,” she notes adding this too, is a blessing since it has heightened critical thinking and analysis skills, problem solving skills and creativity of teachers to keep the learners learning against all odds.
Computer skills have also been acquired, making everyday a day to keep discovering and learning and unlearning.
Ultimately, Aduno believes that the teacher who will be able to survive in such times is one who is willing and able to adapt to changes, be flexible and on top of their game.
The National IT survey 2017/2018 found that 65.3 per cent of Ugandan households owned a radio, 21.8 percent owned a Television set, 5.9 per cent had access to a computer at home, 10.8 percent of households owned a household telephone, and 10.8 percent of all households had at least one member who had Internet access. Of the households with internet access, 99.1 percent used their mobile phones to access the Internet. The survey also found that overall, 70.9 per cent of all individuals owned a mobile phone. Only 1.3 per cent had a working desktop computer and 1.8 percent had a working laptop. 84.2 percent of all those surveyed had used a mobile phone in the past three months while 83.4 percent of households owned a radio and 77.7 percent had listened to radio. Only 12.1 percent had used the internet in the previous 12 months.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled to act like a presenter in a bid to host a talk show on a topic I am teaching, or how TV cameras all centering on me teaching was challenging. Today, the teacher has to be everything. You have to be the teacher, the presenter, the editor and the designer,” notes Frida Aduno, adding this too, is a blessing since it has heightened critical thinking and analysis skills, problem solving skills and creativity of teachers to keep the learners learning against all odds.