From Bombo to Kidula, hope springs eternal

Pupils of Kidula Primary School in Kidula Village, Kamira Sub-county, Luweero District inspect the desks donated by women judges. Photo | Derrick Kiyonga

What you need to know:

  • The contrast was unmistakable. While Bombo Barracks Primary School is found in a peri-urban area just 34km outside of Kampala City, Kidula is a village located 25km away from the Luweero District headquarters

When there was a change in leadership at Bombo Barracks Primary School in 2020, a power struggle ensued. Mr Robert Okoro, who was one of the senior teachers, ended up being dispatched to the remote Kidula Primary School found in Kidula Village, Kamira Sub-county, Luweero District, as deputy head teacher. 

The contrast was unmistakable. While Bombo Barracks Primary School is found in a peri-urban area just 34km outside of Kampala City, Kidula is a village located 25km away from the Luweero District headquarters. 

“When I was coming, it was some form of punishment, but look at how this has turned out to be. We are changing this school,” Mr Okoro told Saturday Monitor. 

When he arrived at Kidula, the government-aided school was surrounded by shrubs. It had just a few pupils. The girl-child wore no undergarments, let alone sanitary pads.

Straightaway, Mr Okoro thought of engaging the friends that always came to his rescue while at Bombo Barracks Primary School.

Most of them were judicial officers such as High Court judges Olive Kazaarwe Mukwaya and Joyce Kavuma, as well as Chief Magistrates like Roseline Nsenge and Stella Maris Amabilis. Magistrates such as Rehema Nassozi and Ssebowa Jackline Kagoya were also sounded out.

In late February, the judicial officers under the auspices of the International Association for Women Judges-Uganda Chapter (IAWJ-U) sprung to the school’s rescue. They were armed with boxes of soaps and sweets for the pupils.

They promised to return on August 11, which they did with the Uganda Law Society (ULS) President Bernard Oundo in tow.

“With those desks, our children will now get where to sit. Sitting on the floor is humiliating and makes them dirty,” Mr Henry Ssekabunza, the head teacher of the school, said of the desks and tables that were offloaded from the truck. 

Kidula Village sits in the middle of the cattle corridor, giving it the hard-to-reach classification. For seven years, it has played host to Kidula Primary School. The school is symptomatic of what ails Uganda’s education sector. Uganda has steadily been ranked among the countries with the lowest proportion of learners who complete primary school, with less than 30 percent of the pupils completing the level.

From 2006 to 2008, the Education ministry indicated a performance level of below 50 percent across the country.   

“Twenty-seven percent of Ugandan children are not in school at any given moment despite free universal education. And it appears pupil drop-outs are on the rise despite these figures, routine data is available on pupil and teacher’s attendance,” a 2023 report by Twaweza Uganda, an advocacy agency, notes.

This trend unavoidably extends to impoverished schools such as the one in far-flung Kidula, where learning is seen as a luxury.

“The parents tell us that if they have survived without education, why should they bother so much with their children’s education?” Mr Okoro said. 

Justice Kazaarwe of the High Court’s Lands Division, told Saturday Monitor that they intend to “work together with parents and teachers to ensure our children complete primary school education.”

Whereas government-aided schools do not charge tuition, Kidula parents have to pay about Shs40,000 per term to cover teachers’ welfare, as well as help put up new developments.

“Many parents don’t want to pay that fee and I have to do community outreaches to sensitise them as to the purpose of education,” Mr Okoro said, adding, “Sometimes I use my own money to ensure these children, more so the girl-child, stay in school.”

There are green shoots at the school that previously had three teachers on the government payroll. Four more have been added, drawing Mr Ssekabunza to dream of “get [ting] more first grades and second grades at Primary Seven.” As a matter of fact, Mr George William Ssebizzi, the chairperson of the Parent Teacher Association, believes the school “will produce big people” sooner rather than later. With help from all of these people and us parents fulfilling our responsibilities”. 

“Teachers, doctors, and engineers will come from this school,” the 33-year-old farmer added.

Usually, teachers have to wait for pupils to trickle in at the start of the term, but this time, the youngsters, most of whom were dressed in their green uniforms, descended on classrooms without any prompting from their teachers. They opened their classrooms, got a feel of the white and blue painted brick walls, the new desks and cemented floor and pushed their heads out of the windows to call out to friends to share the delight.