Elizabeth Onen believes in motivation of pupils, parents playing their role

Elizabeth Emejeit Onen , the head teacher of Kitante Hill School has more than 30 years of service. PHOTO | OWEN WAGABAZA

What you need to know:

  • Elizabeth Emejeit Onen has risen through the ranks from teacher to head teacher. Now the head teacher of Kitante Hill School, she believes parents could do better.

With more than 30 years of service, Elizabeth Emejeit Onen has taught in elite, average and remote schools in Uganda, allowing her to appreciate Uganda’s education sector in its entirety.  First posted to St Peters SS, Nsambya where she taught for 15 years from 1991 to 2006, Onen has taught in Target Community College in Luwero District, Makerere College School, Mwerere Secondary School and Kitante Hill School where she currently serves as a head teacher.

Onen says, though St Peters SS Nsambya was not among the biggest schools in the country, it had systems and was moving in the right direction. However, the coin flipped when she was promoted to deputy head teacher and posted to Target Community College, a newly established universal secondary education (USE) in Luwero District. 

“The school was running on scarce resources, with students from underprivileged backgrounds who fortunately understood the difficult situations they were going through. These students could not afford tuition, had one meal a day, walked long distances to school, and have challenges with basics such as scholastic materials,” she says. 

“We nevertheless taught these children, counselled them, encouraged them and made them believe that it is possible to rewrite their destinies for the better. Because of the difficult situation the students were in, we rarely passed students with flying colours, but a bigger number would pass with the necessary grades to take them to the next level,” Onen adds.  

At Makerere College

In 2012, Onen was posted to Makerere College School, one of the famed traditional schools in the country. 

“Unlike at Target Community College, Makerere College School is an elite school with eloquent hardworking children from wealthy families. The school had well-established systems, the necessary infrastructure and a good team that I worked closely with. I also benefited through mentoring from Ms Agnes Ssebayiga, the then head teacher,” says Onen. 

After three years at Makerere College, she was promoted to head teacher and posted to Mwerere Secondary School in Wakiso District, a rural school under the USE programme.

Next challenge

Although Mwerere had the necessary Infrastructure in terms of classrooms, it had challenges including a poorly equipped science laboratory, a poorly-stocked library and an undermanned teaching staff.  The biggest number of students came from disadvantaged backgrounds but had the determination to change their fortune through education. 

“They loved education and gave it their all. Students persevered through all situations to achieve the set target. Together with my team, we worked tirelessly to ensure that we not only teach but provide a conducive and enabling learning environment for these youngsters to thrive and shine,” she says.  

To achieve her goals, Onen introduced compulsory Iunch to ensure feeding at school. At the time, feeding was optional which affected learning as some students would spend the day on empty stomachs at school. 

To further improve learning, Onen procured more books for the library, equipped the science laboratory with more laboratory apparatus. In the same vein, she renovated a classroom and transformed it into a boys’ dormitory, enabling students from far off, especially candidate classes to focus on their studies. She also had the school fenced to improve security.  

“I also encouraged co-curricular activities by ensuring that my school regularly participated in internal and external co-curricular activities. I also continuously lobbied the Education ministry to improve on my teaching staff and more teachers were posted to the school, though the challenge of understaffing remained,” Onen says.  

As a result of these innovations, the grades improved gradually with a big number of students passing in Division One and Two while grades three and four reduced drastically. The student population also increased from less than 800 to more than 900 students. 

To Kitante Hill School

In 2018, Onen was transferred to Kitante Hill School and she has spent the last five years forging a legacy. 

The Rev Moses Kayimba, the chairperson board of governors, says Onen is a workaholic, result-oriented transparent and transformative. 

“In the short time we have been with her, she has built an administration block, bought a school bus, procured 35 CCTV cameras to improve the security in the school as well as a biometric machine to track students attendance at the school,” the Rev Moses Kayimba says.  

She has also procured a school van, set up safe water drinking points, and a fully equipped sick bay manned permanently by a registered nurse as well as hostels to enable students from a far access quality and affordable education at Kitante. 

“The alumni have been on our case for years saying they want their children to attend the same school. Unfortunately, not all of them are near the school, we, therefore, had to find a solution. They have embraced the hostel idea,” Onen explains.   

To improve on academics, Mr Shem Musoke, the director of studies, explains that the school prioritises continuous assessment, and remedial lessons to boost candidate classes in syllabus coverage as well as the administering of short topical tests which help learners to master the concepts. Musoke says the school is already enjoying the fruits of these innovations through improved academic performance that has been registered in recent years. 

Calvin Kiggundu, a teacher and an alumnus of the school, says Onen is a mother figure at the school, approachable and always available to listen to school and non-school issues.

“She has groomed us into who we are now, I am proud to have worked with her,” says Kiggundu. 

Edgar Talent Kirindiro, the head boy, says Onen has moulded Kitante Hill School into a vibrant community.

“As head boy, I work closely with the administration, and I have had the privilege to benefit from Ms Onen’s unlimited wisdom. She is engaging, inspirational and prioritises the well-being of the students. She is also keen on co-curricular activities and as a result, Kitante has  more than 30 vibrant clubs,” says Kirindiro.

Swabura Mubiru, a Senior Six student and currently the school speaker, says Ms Onen has a big heart. I would not be here if it were not for her. I was almost dropping out due to the financial constraints that my parents had encountered, but I went to her office and shared with her my plight. After listening, she allowed me to continue by paying a certain percentage of the school fees (partial bursary).” 

It is not only Mubiru benefiting from Onen’s philanthropy. 

“Currently, we have six students who are not paying tuition. I always reach out to my financially able friends and plead with them to take on these students whose future seems bleak yet they are bright, talented and focused,” says Onen. 

Onen started reaching out to friends while at Target Community College and has since not stopped. 

“I started with mobilising scholastic materials, and sanitary towels and soon, I was mobilising school fees. A pair of twins at Target Community College who benefited from this programme graduated from Makerere University recently,” Onen shares.    

She calls on parents to get more involved in their children’s upbringing. 

“Parents have left their roles to schools. Although we are trying, we cannot do it exactly the way you would have wished. This is the reason we have a generation without basic manners. It is our responsibility as parents to raise a generation that we deserve,” she says.