Advice to my son joining boarding Secondary School

It has been a journey getting thus far. From the time you were born, the joy you brought to us your parents was unfathomable. We proudly took it upon ourselves to ensure that we were always there to raise you. When you started Primary School, we made it clear that you would have to leave home for boarding school upon joining Secondary School.

Now that the time has come, as you read this, you are already at your new school, enjoying your new found life. We have talked about many things over and over again as I drove you to and from school each morning and evening over the past ten years. However, as a departure from my forefathers, I prefer to pen down what we’ve been sharing for posterity’s sake. Listen to me.

You’ve gone to grow. Secondary school is a very interesting phase in life in that you leave the innocence of childhood behind and get initiated into the world. You find all sorts of characters, get introduced to all sorts of habits, hobbies and pass times. It is the time when you get awakened to the good and filth that society has to offer. This helps you to grow since in the process, you get a great opportunity to exercise your human sieve. Now that you’re out of the protective eye of Mom and Dad, the values we’ve shared over the past 12 years are going to be tested to the limit.

Learn all you can but don’t partake of it all. Learning is a good thing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning the bad or good things people do around you. However, as you learn, it doesn’t mean you have to engage in what you have learnt. When I joined Senior One, I was shocked when I got wind of the fact that homosexuals, alcohol and drug users were existent in my school. However, over time, I realised that such people will always be there, I just didn’t have to succumb to their advances. I must say that while I steered clear of homosexuality and drug use, as I was concluding my Senior 4, I succumbed to alcohol and cigarette smoking (you know this already). My advice to you? Never try it out, however romantically they may present it to you. Always recall what the Bible says about these things.

Leviticus 20:13 – If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.

Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

However, there are also many good things, if you for example come across sports lovers, Bible reading believers among others, I urge you to partake of such activities without haste.

Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Be careful who you make friends with. Your friends define you. If you team up with lazy people, you become lazy, if you team up with focused chaps, you will without doubt be focused. It’s very hard for one to do the opposite of what his gang of friends are doing. You and I have time and again discussed the priorities, I urge you to base on these priorities to determine who you bring into your inner circle of friends.

Go slow on intimacy with women. You’ve not gone to school on a dating spree. I know yours is a mixed school (a fact I really like) but let the presence of the fairer sex as well as your testosterone levels not supercede your mental judgement of what is good for you at your current stage of development. Sex, you will always have with your marriage partner when you’re an adult, so, go slow.

Do not abuse your freedom. I am definitely sure that you are celebrating your new found freedom. Freedom to do what you want without Mom or Dad giving you instructions. Congratulations!!! However, with freedom, comes responsibility. The decisions you make are definitely going to affect others around you either positively or negatively. So, exercise caution.

Remember your humble background. You know too well that you haven’t been born into a superstar family. We are a simple down to earth family. Always remember that while at school. I know you might get gripped by the star studded lineup of some of the students at school who might be coming from big name families BUT always remember your humble background.

Not all fingers are equal. Just like the fingers on our hands aren’t equal in size so are people. You will come across students gifted in different aspects. For some it is swimming, football, badminton, chess etc while others may be gifted academically. You also have those who by virtue of their privileged backgrounds can afford to dangle all sorts of toys around that you probably only see on Tv. Yes, such is life, do not get distraught. Instead, use these observations to work yourself hard enough to close that gap and become a long finger in future too.

Live within your means. While I was at school, I used to see some students leading lives that made me quickly conclude that they were from very rich families. Fortunately or unfortunately, as time went by, I learnt that some of them were choking on debts in order to lead those lifestyles. You do not have to spend your life living a lie. Be yourself, and let people love or hate you for who you are.

Books first, the rest follow. Remember, books are the reason you have gone to that school. Academic knowledge is key because it complements the other abilities we have in us. I for example love farming but the fact that I studied Agriculture even makes me execute this passion more than I could have. As your parents we want you to receive an education not merely to pass exams but to learn and solve problems in society.

As you get a good grip on your academics, you’re free to engage in any extra curricula activity. The school you’ve joined has such a diversity of activities that I am confident you’ll come out a much better and rounded individual by the time you’re done. So, do not let down opportunities to engage in drama, music, swimming, football, farming, work internships and all the other stuff that the rich menu at that school provides.

Self Education. In our days (30 years ago), self education was in the form of going to the library and reading books written twenty years earlier. Today, you have the internet as a massive library. Use it to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. If the syllabus introduces you to Compost Manure and only expects you to be able to define it, get onto the internet and arm yourself with more information (even when it may not be examinable) like; How compost is made, types of compost bins, Good and Bad materials for composting, etc. That is the learning that will make me genuinely proud of you. The average parent in Uganda may be purely keen on how many points their child scores in the national exams but I extend my expectations beyond that. Of what use is a student who scores distinctions yet he cannot repair a spoilt power plug?

Respect for Others. Always, Always Always take it upon yourself to respect others in your community. It does not matter what vice you know about them. You’ll most likely have the sickly, alcoholics, smokers, sexual deviants among others in your community but do not demonise them. Deal with them in a manner that shows respect and pray for them to change for the better (that is what a true christian does).

Avoid Alcohol and Drugs. Those two pass times are some of the leading causes of instability among students in school. There are many tales of young lives that have either been lost or gone to ruin as a result of engaging in these vices. Steer clear of them my son. I did share with you how I drank alcohol for many years and eventually quit. I am speaking from experience and whenever you feel the temptation is rising, call me and we’ll talk about it. Please do not take that first beer or smoke that first cigarette before talking to me.

Set a Vision. I know this is something even adults struggle with, but as a young man, I want you to start early. Set a vision for your life or if that is too much to fathom, set one for your school life. A vision will help you have a yardstick for measuring progress in your life. Each day you wake up, you will be able to gauge yourself and tell whether you’re going forward or not.

Be a problem solver. Many youths are being raised to be great employees but I have always told you that I’m not raising paper pushing employees in my family. I am raising problem solvers. The future is not going to be favourable to those that are merely waiting for instructions from above. It will favour those that can steer the ship even amidst a lot of uncertainty.

Take time to engage in critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, debate, conflict resolution among others. By the time you’re done, you will be an amazing product ready to steer this country to the next level.

I wish you the best in your new setup. I am excited as a parent to begin your teenage journey with you.

I’ll always Love you. Dad.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

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Has Uganda’s Education system gone to the dogs? #GuestPost

I have read James Wire’s blog post on how Budo, SMACK, Gayaza et. al. are digging their graves and thought I should take the time to share my thoughts.

Before I do, I’d like to establish my bona fides, since what I have to say may strike some as pretty radical. I am a product in part of the Ugandan school system. I sat for P.L.E some time in the late eighties. I knew my place at Kings College Budo was guaranteed, seeing as I had heard my name announced on radio as one of the best performers that year. After Budo, I won a scholarship to attend a leading Ivy League university. After four years there, I won another scholarship to attend one of the Oxbridge universities for a post-graduate degree. I have taught for many years at a local university and also been active in consulting and business. In short, I have been through the Ugandan education system, been through (what many rightly see as) the gold standard in education systems, taught in the Ugandan system, interacted closely with the products of P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E and for years employed them as well. I would tentatively suggest that I am as qualified as the next man to critique the system in broad terms, and to offer possible solutions to parents seeking to give their children the best they can.

James, though a careful and honest thinker, is dancing around a core truth: That the education system is fundamentally broken. That it makes no sense at all for a middle class parent of means to put their child through the current P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E system, and that those who are making money off the fiction are happy that no one is examining this system closely. The underlying, often unspoken, myth of this system is that top grades lead to success in life. Parents as a result are stampeded into doing everything to try and ensure their children attain those high grades: soul-crushing school hours, creativity-sapping rote learning, buying of places in top schools, etc. The result, in my modest experience, is a lost generation, unsuited to the world they will experience as adults. The problem is of course that the parents are as lost as their children. For some reason they don’t try to honestly assess current world trends (in terms of what those mean for future employment or work opportunities) or are too afraid to deviate from the norm.

First, let me restate the obvious. Given current trends, Uganda’s formal sector cannot possibly generate enough jobs over the next ten or twenty years to match the number of graduates (or indeed post-secondary leavers) the education system is putting out. The results are everywhere you look. The implied promise of the current education system is that if you get good grades, then you will get a good job. The jobs are not only few, with the current pressure on the grading system (where a 1 in a PLE subject may mean scoring above 96%), those good grades have become as elusive as the American Dream. The only people who benefit from this edifice are the schools, extracting ever-growing fees, and the education management bureaucracy.

Secondly, and again to restate what must surely be obvious, Uganda and Africa are brimming with opportunity and promise, just not so much in the regular, formal sector. I despair when I meet one of my former students, all shirt-and-tie-and-clerical-job, whose father is still struggling to run their family farm in Kiruhura District as he has for the last twenty or so years to educate his children. I despair because on close questioning, it soon emerges that his family is still making quite a good income living off the cattle. The son, if he went back, could improve the farm’s earnings even more, and have a vastly richer life (and experience) for it. Yet both father and son will not hear of it; success means Kampala and a Kampala life! I understand of course that this is borne of a system that was created by the colonialists to train city types, karani class, and that we haven’t taken the time to examine it and reform it for a new era. The city needs its workers, but it is surely not optimal that all our best and brightest are jostling for a piece of city life, and ignoring vastly richer pickings out in the wilds.

To put my money where my mouth is, I can confidently say I will not put my children through this system. I have no intention of raising their hopes, only for them to walk from one office to the next, CV in hand, begging for non-existent jobs. I have no intention of wilfully training karani. Africa’s future requires a cadre of widely educated men and women. Men and women who, whatever their formal schooling (doctor, lawyer, etc.), are able to quickly interpret new environments and make the right decisions. The ideal well-educated African of the next twenty years should be perfectly capable of earning a law degree and after that going off to Karamoja to establish a new game reserve on long-disused ancestral land. (Yes, the earnings, in twenty years, from a modest game reserve will far exceed those from lawyering away in apartments in Ntinda.) We have focussed too much on schooling and not enough on education.

And so, you might ask, what does this education of such a future African look like? Let me tentatively offer a random selection of my thoughts on this:

  1. Walk away from the P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E track. No half measures. You can’t put your child in that system and still protect them from its creativity-sapping, soul-crushing effects. The imperatives of this system are to generate top grades. That means long hours, masses of homework, cheating and all other vices. Instead, I recommend home schooling or (better) putting your child into one of several smaller institutions that follow ‘international’ curricula (typically A.C.E but there are other good ones). Most of these have grown out of home schooling arrangements. And they are growing in number. A key advantage of these schools is that the curriculum is much more focussed on your child understanding concepts rather than rote learning them. The pace is also a lot less soul crushing; kids get to play a lot more, which is great for mind development. I am not a huge fan of your run-of-the-mill international school; you know, the one charging thousands of dollars ostensibly to deliver a result our local system will not. First, because such schools tend to attract a certain type of parent (typically more money than time or indeed sense – see below) and so apart from breaking the bank, your child tends to grow up in a surreal world, second because I believe fundamentally that delivering an outstanding education is incompatible with the profit motive. Any time you are unjustifiably asked to pay huge sums for education, take a step back. That said I accept that some of these schools may in fact provide a good alternative for some parents.

  2. Education is not something you simply throw money at. A parent needs to be actively involved in educating their child. A parent needs to have time for their child. This means not only supplementing where the school may fall short – for instance I believe strongly that where the alternative system may not have a Ugandan or African History (or Geography) syllabus, the parent must step in and ensure the child is educated in these important contextual issues. Education is not merely about that which will be examined. While all children need to be given a strong foundation in Literature, Mathematics and the physical sciences, a good education is not about just these subject areas. Ensure your child picks up knowledge in lots of other subject areas as well (local/regional history, literature, etc.) Provide the exposure even simply by making key books available to them.

  3. Education is about learning your environment and what it takes to live and work with it. How often do you take your five-year-old child to market day at Nakawa with you? And if not, how will they learn about some of the realities of the country in which they live? How will they learn to parse local slang, learn to weave through Ugandan crowds, avoiding a boda boda here, a charcoal carrier there? Does your seven-year-old child sweep and scrub the floor, wash dishes or wash their clothes? Or are these considered jobs for workers? Does your twelve-year-old know how to prepare a full meal? Children must learn early to work with their hands, and consider it absolutely normal performing even the lowliest of tasks. Any child who grows up with lunkulu will find it hard to prosper in Africa. When his/her farm workers tell him it is impossible to trim a small bush, he will go hire a tractor, instead of picking up a panga and shaming them into action by doing it himself. The best leaders (and leaders is what you want to create) are those who don’t just tell others what to do but can show them what to do. That’s where the premium lies.

  4. Related to the above, education is about exposure. Allow the child to encounter (in a deftly controlled manner of course) a diverse array of people and settings. The Baganda had it all figured out: a future Kabaka never grows up in the palace. He grows up in the provinces as a commoner, interacting with his future subjects as one of them. Take your child to a rural uncle’s home and leave them there. Let them learn to overcome challenges their modern lifestyle would not ordinarily throw at them. Learning to navigate the modern world (iPads, Social Media, Dubai malls, etc.) they can learn later in life. What they will have difficulty learning at an advanced age is how to immerse easily in their own country, across social classes and across the myriad cultures of this land. Train your child for Africa. Not for Europe or America. They represent the past, not the future. Ensure your child speaks a local language well. Luganda is a must. (Yes, way!)

  5. Teach them patient self-application. I do not believe in giving your five-year-old child an iPad. That’s just stupid. (Yes, really.) I also don’t believe in TV, but I understand that a little bit of it may be acceptable. Instant gratification is the best way to destroy your child’s future.

  6. Expect to spend money on your child’s university education. A degree is still important, and will be important for years to come. I have met a lot of very smart, very capable people who don’t have a degree. They struggle. Not for lack of ability, but because the world demands that third-party validation that a degree provides. A degree essentially certifies that this person is educated. I know that this is increasingly not true in our country, but don’t start fights you can’t win; find the money, and send your child to a decent university. In Uganda, I rather like UCU and Nkozi. The rest, I am not so sure; many of them seem to have been overwhelmed by UPE products. Standards have suffered as a result. If you can afford it, and careful saving over ten or so years means for a lot of parents can, send your child to a decent university abroad.

  7. Stop trying to turn your child into a bog-standard ‘professional’. You know, lawyer, doctor, and engineer. Especially if that child is of above average intelligence. What no one tells you is that you don’t have to be that intelligent to make it in most of those standard professions. Allow your children to dream while at the same time having their feet firmly planted on solid ground. Teach them to measure success not in terms of ‘prestige’ but in terms of real value: How they improve society, what they build/create, etc. Teach them to find always seek to make/find a way, and not to accept defeat easily.

  8. Controversial as it may seem, ensure they have a knowledge of and fear of God. The arguments are long, but for now trust me on this one. While at it, do not allow them to become so narrow-minded in their beliefs that they are too quick to dismiss our traditional ways without first examining them intelligently.

Enjoy the journey. And try and overlook my failings in this article. Instead focus on the broader message.

PS: I don’t wish to become the story; rather I would like you, dear reader, to focus on what I have to say. To that end, James agrees not to reveal my identity, since it is not central to what I have written.

Budo, SMACK, Gayaza etal Stop digging your graves

All through his primary school studies, the young man had his eyes on Kings College Budo (herein referred to as Budo) as his school of choice for secondary education. His parents always reminded him that the only obstacle between him and Budo was obtaining Aggregate 4 in his Primary Leaving Examinations. He promised himself to get those grades and read like his whole world depended on it.

When the results came out, like the adage says, hard work pays, he had the required aggregate 4 to enter Budo as a star pupil. Celebrations ensued at his home with relatives, friends and neighbours congratulating him. His gait even changed to one befitting a Budonian (we all know how they be). After the school selections hat taken place, the young man wasn’t considered for a place at his most highly coveted school.

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I know of pupils that got Aggregate 8 and above who have already secured admission

This led him to stage a campaign of defiance that has seen him refuse to leave the confines of Budo until he’s given a satisfactory reason why he wasn’t admitted.

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Pupils at Buganda Road Primary School studying hard to join the much coveted traditional secondary schools like Budo, SMACK, Gayaza among others.

Reading that story in the Daily Monitor brought tears to my eyes. This is yet another injustice being meted upon the powerless. Having been born in a modest family without the trappings of political or economic power, the young man is being denied what is rightfully his. As anger welled up inside me, I recalled myself exactly thirty years ago, having passed with similar grades, I had chosen St Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) as my first choice and without any underhand dealings, was duly selected to join the school. What is it that has changed between then and now?

Towards the end of the academic year, many school head teachers in the so called big name Church, Government and Private schools rub their palms with glee as they fathom the upcoming windfall of money that is likely to exchange hands as parents venture as far as the moon to ensure their children join these highly coveted schools. In an earlier post on this issue, I indicated how the few available places in some of these schools are already over subscribed by allocations dedicated to various interest groups. Let’s take Kings College Budo as an example, the interest groups I know of are; Church of Uganda, Buganda Kingdom, State House, Ministry of Education and the Old Students Association. Their lists of students are the first to be approved even before considering the genuine cases of high achievers. This is what must have led to the scenario of that young man.

As a result, Budo and schools of its kind have become hotspots for those with technical-know-who as well as the moneyed elite. Budo is what it is because of the one hundred plus years it has been around churning out highly brilliant merit laden students who have gone ahead to change this nation and the world we live in. By going against the ethos that has seen them select students on merit, they are merrily digging their own grave, albeit in the manner of a slow killing poison. I keep hearing some pedestrian commentators trying to chest thump asking where students of the lesser known schools are and which sectors of the economy they are managing but my assurance to you is that most of these lesser known schools are hardly two decades old and their graduates are probably at best 38 – 40 years old. Using the law of probabilities, one might need to wait another couple of years before you see them swamp the economy. Their numbers are growing slowly but surely.

Back to Budo, with all this injustice they are meting upon brilliant students in order to please the selfish desires of a few who do not care about the school’s long term survival, I guarantee you the grave being dug will definitel be more than six feet. An analysis of the overall performance of schools nationwide reveals that those in Western Uganda are catching up very fast and shall definitely overtake the traditional Central Uganda big guns within the next five to eight years. They are achieving this by concentrating on the core issues while taking advantage of not being under pressure. Take time and ask State House, Church of Uganda and the Ministry of Education how many lists they send to schools like Ntare in Western Uganda and you’ll be hard pressed to find any worth talking about. That very Ntare is however one of the leading schools today according to the metrics in place. Don’t you really think there is a sinister plot to swamp the school with more students than it can handle, hence leading to a poorer learning environment which eventually yields half baked graduates? Think about it.

Another trait of bad manners these high sounding traditional schools have come up with is financially burdening parents. Look at the case of SMACK that is requesting for UGX 500,000/= as Special Development Fees to each Senior One student joining on top of an already hefty school fees sum of UGX 1,900,000/=.

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How is a low income parent expected to cope with such?

In Gayaza High School(Gayaza), a generator maintenance surcharge is required and a quick count indicates that the school can afford to buy a brand new generator each term at this rate. When will all this nonsense stop? Have parents been turned into cash cows? Should poor or modest family heads be made to slave away just to maintain a child in Gayaza?

The era of training 21st century students with a 20th century mindset has to cease. I am a proud old student of SMACK but one thing I can admit is that the prioritisation of quantity over quality has put me off totally to the extent that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a radical mindset like mine to take their child to those traditional big guns. It is time they rethought their strategy otherwise today’s perceived minnows will eclipse them tomorrow when their products excel where it matters, THE WORK PLACE.

Are you a parent? Remember, it’s your actions among other factors that are greatly contributing to this nonsense going on in our schools. If you and me say NO to bribing for places, NO to seeking special consideration, NO to depriving legitimate qualified candidates a place, NO to paying incomprehensible extra fees, NO to grilling our children merely to pass exams, NO to high teacher to student ratios, then we shall have begun our journey of making Uganda’s education system great again. Let’s fight from within.

To the student and parent that have staged a sit down strike at Kings College Buddo, thank you for that stand of defiance. I’m with you 100%. You’ve kindled the light that just might lead to a tsunami whose wake of destruction might actually save our schools from heading into oblivion.

In Bunyole, we have a proverb, “esoŋera ehugwa mwibwa nj’ehwenda (The fly that lands on your wound is the one that loves you)“.

To the likes of Budo, SMACK, Gayaza, Namagunga, Namilyango among others, I may be that fly today, irritating you with my dooms day talk but take it from me, if you don’t wake up, a decade from now, you’ll be history. It’s because I pride in your continued existence that I have taken time off to share my observations.

DUC IN ALTUM.

A blog reader who prefers to remain anonymous did contribute this article titled “Is Uganda’s Education System going to the dogs?” Read on, interesting analysis they’ve got.

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Bird Flu – A lesson for income diversity

The day begun just like any other. Namusabi (name not real), headed straight to the chicken coop as is her routine each morning. As she went through her motions, she eagerly anticipated the upcoming delivery of birds to one of her large customers. With the anticipated income, she had plans to pay up the school fees dues for her three children.

As the day progressed, a call came through from a friend who proceeded to ask her if she had read the news about Bird Flu. Namusabi had no clue and asked for details, only to be told that the deadly disease had been detected in Uganda. The news hit her like a lightning bolt.

Within days, orders were cancelled and it dawned upon her that she was headed for a financial crash. Rearing chicken has been her sole job and indeed all she can boast of in life has come from that business. Today, she is faced with the prospect of losing what she has worked for all this time. Basic survival is being threatened and she seems to have no where to turn.

This lady’s experience is reflective of many. We usually have single income streams and for as long as they run smoothly, we bask in comfort. Often times this works out well until disaster strikes. In today’s business environment, survival can be so fickle that loss of customers can be stimulated by seemingly minute incidents. The spread of social media has only made matters worse in this regard.

Something else we have to deal with is the seasonality of business. Most opportunities have seasons when they flourish and this essentially means that off season periods bring forth lower income. This is covered well in this article I wrote a while back. Most people that make it through life have always ensured that they set up multiple streams of income from diverse sources.

Are you running a business? Do you have a job? Is that your only income source? Have you ever asked yourself what could happen if that opportunity fizzled away? Does the thought of such an occurrence send chills down your spine?

You’re not alone. Do not sit back and merely hope or pray that it doesn’t happen. You have to do something about it.

It’s usually advisable to consider pursuing a secondary or tertiary business opportunity once you have secured your primary business (income stream). By having a secure primary income stream, you guarantee that you have relatively enough to cater for your current daily needs. This gives you the impetus to take on new frontiers with ease.

Going back to Namusabi’s case, once she weathers this bird flu scare, she should consider investing in additional business opportunities like; a Mobile Money stand, a retail shop, raising pigs, vegetable growing among others. She could take advantage of opportunities that are comlementary to her primary chicken business. Vegetable growing for example can benefit a lot from chicken manure, a waste product of her primary business. With a steady supply of vegetables from her garden she can set up a vegetable stand in the market to sell her homegrown vegetables. More ideas on small scale easy to setup business opportunities can be found here.

In case you aren’t interested in the active income opportunities, consider investing in passive ones. The Stock Exchange is a good example. Buying shares of listed companies can go a long way in helping you achieve your goal. Another passive opportunity is dealing in the relatively safer government securities.

Essentially, do not put all your eggs in one basked if your aspiration is financial security. Spread out your risk and without doubt, the net effect will be improved financial stability.

What is your view?

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Sala Puleesa – Your Child isn’t a Failure

While talking to a friend on phone, she narrated to me how someone she knew wept in her presence because her daughter had scored ten (10) aggregates in the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). She was all too furious and preparing to launch an assault of ISIS proportions upon her daughter. To her, the young girl had failed. She had let her down despite all the money that was spent giving her extra studies as well as taking her to a top school.

I keep hearing such stories on a daily and they depress me so much. As a parent of a 2016 PLE candidate, I too went through a lot especially in the last term as documented in this article. Uganda’s national examination system has become one that favours techniques as opposed to knowledgeability. Many of the candidates left the examinations clearly convinced that they were easier than the ones they had been accustomed to. However, they too had a problem reconciling the grades they got when the results came out. My son spent some time kinda depressed, his classmate spent an entire day crying out to his mother wondering how he got the marks he got, while an Old Boy of mine narrated the same about his daughter.

For as long as you are educating your child in the local Ugandan Curriculum, you need to ready yourself to appreciate two things;

  1. The examination of the students encourages more of cram work as well as toeing a pre-set line of thinking as opposed to giving candidates adequate breadth to contribute unique ideas and ways of thinking to the global knowledge bank. Why for example would you mark a child wrong for stating that Light bends when it is widely known today that under intense gravity, indeed light bends? The notion that light travels in a straight line has been surpassed by the studies in Astronomy that prove otherwise.

  2. You can never use the exam results of UNEB to gauge your child’s abilities especially when it comes to soft/survival skills. Some of the parents wailing and showing a lot of grief about the failure of their children are the very ones who have in the past praised them for being outspoken, go-getters, critical thinkers etc. Show me which UNEB exam tests such attributes?

Let us analyse my son’s results for example. He got Ten (10) aggregates and the points were spread out as follows;

  • Mathematics – D2

  • English – D2

  • Social Studies – C3

  • Science – C3

Under normal circumstances, a pedestrian parent will rush to shed a tear and wonder why he never got Aggregate 4. However, let us look at the results in detail. It is very clear that the grading was way up there.

Basing on the information I have from some UNEB examiners, I learnt that a Distinction 1 in Social Studies (which was the best done subject) started at 96%. This clearly means that with a Credit 3, my boy scored in the region of 85% to 90%.

A look at English implies that with his Distinction 2, he definitely scored more than 89%, same with Mathematics. The Credit 3 in Science could very easily have translated to marks between 83% and 89%.

After analysing this, I looked around at the pass marks for most of the professional qualifications that we pursue and this is when I realised that even the much revered CPA exams that professional accountants sit to become chartered accountants have their pass mark as 50%. One of the parents that was so disappointed with their child has sat these exams on two occasions and failed to pass. What moral authority do they have to declare that their child is a failure? Are they trying to imply that they too are failures?

It is an established fact that the level of scrutiny, marking and grading for urban schools especially in Central Uganda is so stringent that pupils who would readily have earned Aggregate 4 are condemned to twice that.

Another issue disturbing parents too is the desire for their children to go to the traditional Giant schools. Most of these are religio-centered schools with over forty years of existence. They are ready to bribe even the gatemen to ensure that their children get slotted into those schools. This is sapping a lot of their energy and lowering the chances for legitimately qualified pupils to access those schools. Imagine a school having to cater for the following interest groups; The Founding Church, State House, Ministry of Education, Old Students, Cultural Affiliation …. the list goes on and on. After those interest groups have taken up more than 75% of the slots available, then the legitimately qualified candidates are considered. Huh!!!!

My son out of peer influence had chosen one of those traditional religio-centered schools and I chose to let him have his way. However, despite being told that he could still get there using other channels, I bailed out when I learnt that it has class streams with upto 100 students, the dormitory setting is no different from sardines in a can, there is no more effort put into extra curricula activities among other things.

I woke up upon this realisation and decided that I will not allow him to kill his sports talent as well as other life skills all in the name of having the privilege to join a top name school. I am glad we are in agreement on this (Mom, Dad and Son) and have already made a decision to take him to a school we regard as offering a holistic package of education under the local curriculum. You want to know the school?

Anyway, back to my point, YOUR CHILD IS NOT A FAILURE !!!!!!!

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Stop the Selfishness, become Socially Responsible!!

Its that time of the year when most of us look forward to the Christmas/New Year holiday. Plans are diverse and usually dictated by which age-group you belong to. While in my mid 20s, I always looked forward to engaging in some serious liquor and entertainment related activities as a way of bidding farewell to the year and welcoming the new one. Today, the story is different.

The average individual is most likely engrossed in planning for a cross-section of activities largely pertaining towards the family’s enjoyment. While it’s important to ensure that family is well catered for during such times, I have grown up enough to realise that the tendency to only think about self is one of the worst habits humanity has gotten into.

Social Responsibility is an ethical framework that suggests that an organisation or individual has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. As individuals, we have a duty to perform social responsibility in order to maintain a balance within the societies we exist.

In Uganda for example, the typical middle class family is going to spend this holiday in at least one of the following ways; attend parties hosted at high class venues like the five star hotels everyone who is somebody wants to be seen hobnobbing at, organise parties at home or attend a string of parties at friends’ homes, take a trip with family to a holiday destination (local or international) or undertake a trip to the village with the family.

All these activities aren’t bad at all. However, when they focus on self then there is a big problem. While you’re out there spending UGX 350,000/= (USD 100) each night enjoying yourself;

upe_pupils

Pupils of a UPE School in Adjumani District, Uganda

  • Someone lacks UGX 100,000/= (USD 30) to pay school fees for their child who is getting into a candidate class.

  • A Universal Primary Education (UPE) School in your village needs just UGX 500,000/= (USD 150) to buy a full set of syllabus books to be used by the teachers.

  • Some students who have struggled through school are stuck at making carer choices and need a simple pep talk to show them the opportunities that lie yonder.

  • An elderly widow is struggling to shelter herself from weather elements in her structure worse than a chicken house.

  • A water well in your neighborhood needs basic protective works to ensure that nearby residents have better drinking water.

  • A health centre lacks basic cleaning tools like a scrubber, jerrycans, liquid soap all costing less than UGX 150,000 (USD 40)

The issues are immense, all it takes is looking around you and endeavoring to pick just one to act upon. You see, we do not live in a vacuum. Individual prosperity is not sustainable in a sea of poverty. If you have been blessed to have something, just know there are many that do not have at all. By exercising social responsibility during this festive season, you will have begun your journey towards being a socially responsible citizen.

You might say, well, am a tax paying citizen. The government should play its role. Just take it from me, we have cried for years without end to get the government to sort out some of the now chronic problems we are faced with but nothing seems to get done. As a responsible citizen, are you going to just look on? Imagine this, the fees of a pupil in a high end national curriculum school in Kampala is at least UGX 1.2 Million. Once I was in West Nile and came across a UPE school with 2000 pupils that received UGX 3 million per quarter. In other words, what you pay for two of your children a term in school is what the government assigns for 2000 pupils. It’s mind boggling and shocking at the same time to the extent that shouting yourself hoarse for change in this regard will be more strenuous than you mobilising friends to address some of that school’s challenges.

Stop being inward looking. Make your family happy but you too need to realise that putting a smile on others outside your nuclear family is a pre-requisite for a proper balance of social harmony.

As you do your thing this festive season, take time off to address a public need. I already have one lined up for me in Butaleja on the 28th of December 2016. A group of concerned Talejaz is launching Tree Planting and Education initiatives under our umbrella association of Naanghirisa Development Association.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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Uganda’s Pension Crisis!!! [Guest Blogger]

The tales of pensioners in Uganda are harrowing. Many of the retired and elderly have over time given up on pursuing their claims as a result of a system that has morphed into one big labyrinth of unscrupulous officials. Without doubt, the current approach towards managing pensions in this country has erased even the little left patriotism that our elderly had for our nation. They laboured for years without end, often under the meanest of circumstances with the hope that they would have a comfortable retirement while reveling in a prosperous country that they helped grow. It is no wonder that many who have not yet retired and have the means are engaging in grossly obscene corrupt activities fully knowing that they are trying to guarantee a comfortable retirement for themselves as well as a smooth start for their children and grandchildren.

A considerable number of public sector pensioners/retired civil servants have been subjected to untold suffering at the hands of the highly-incompetent and inherently corrupt Ministry of Public Service. The Ministry is unable to pay out pension benefits to bona fide beneficiaries in a timely manner and in the correct due amounts.

The print media has been awash with stories of pensioners who have made the dreaded journey to the Ministry of Public Service for many a year with no success. Some pensioners have died before they could receive their pension entitlements because of entrenched corruption, gross ineptitude and calamitous pension administration.

At the same time, several officials from the Ministry of Public Service including Permanent Secretary Jimmy Lwamafa, Principal Accountant Chris Obey and Director Steven Kiwanuka Kunsa were recently found guilty of fraud, corruption, false accounting and diversion of public funds. The officials that should be the stewards of public funds are eating from the trough and robbing the citizenry in broad daylight.

The Government has also accumulated arrears that relate to pension liabilities and there is no sense of urgency in clearing the arrears under the so-called Hakuna Mchezo dispensation. The structure of the public service pension scheme is also a source of problems because it is an unfunded scheme that operates on a “Pay-as-You-Go” basis. This implies that the funding for pensions is withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund as pension entitlements are due for payment. The Pay-As-You-Go system exposes pensions to the vagaries of the Government’s cash flow constraints.

The World Bank in its Economic Update of June 2014 entitled “Reducing Old Age and Economic Vulnerabilities” dealt with the Uganda pension system and provided some proposals regarding public sector pension reform. The World Bank drew attention to the fact that reforms were critical in order to ensure the transparent and proper governance of pension funds, building the institutional capacity specifically within the Ministry of Public Service and the financial implications of moving to a funded public service pension scheme. The report serves as a possible spring-board for the development and implementation of a pension system that addresses all the flaws identified above.

Against this background, it is essential that the Government of Uganda urgently sets up a fully-funded defined pension plan or defined contribution scheme for public servants to which employee contributions and employer contributions will be remitted. The management of the fund could be outsourced to a licensed asset management firm which would report to the Trustees appointed by the beneficiaries of the pension scheme. It is essential that the Pension Plan/Defined Contribution Scheme must be fully autonomous and properly regulated by the Retirement Benefits Authority.

No Government official should have any decision-making role and independent audits and actuarial valuations should be conducted annually as part of the accountability mechanisms.

These measures could potentially resolve the current mountain of challenges facing public service pensioners. The Pension Fund will also have an asset base that can provide long term capital for investment across the economy through listed companies, unlisted entities, real estate and government and corporate debt.

By John Rukundo, Financial Analyst/Guest Blogger

Are Kampala’s Elite juicing their way to Cancer?

If there is one thing I have respect for Kampala’s middle class, it’s their quick adoption of anything regarding healthy living. There was a time when the social status of someone was directly proportional to their weight. The bulkier you were, the higher the social standing you had.

We then got introduced to the world of Gym, Sauna and Steam bath. It became the rage around town. Someone worthy their corporate pedigree had to be seen to have a sauna/steam bath as part of their daily programme. The consciousness of weight loss begun at this stage. However, most of the disciples thought that they would still maintain their beer swigging, chicken and pork eating habits expecting the sauna to automagically take away the weight.

The sauna era then paved way for Jogging. To-date, jogging is still taken seriously with groups of drinking buddies or even corporates coming together once or twice a week to jog a couple of kilometers.

While this was going on, we were ushered into the era of Juicing !!!!.

What is Juicing? Juicing involves a process where the natural liquids, vitamins, and minerals are extracted from raw fruits and vegetables, this process strips away any solid matter from the fruits and vegetables and you’re left with liquid only.

Everywhere I turn lately, a friend or two are talking about juicing. They share marvelous stories of how it has changed their lives, how they’ve lost weight, the elderly have seen their ailments reduce, alcohol filled bodies have been successfully detoxed etc.

While I’m in awe of all these testimonies, I want to share a few pointers on the likely dangers a juicer would expose themselves to in Kampala.

The average urban shopper will purchase their vegetables and fruits from the traditional local markets, Supermarkets as well as roadside sellers. Often times the presentation of these products is so attractive that one can hardly question their origin.

However, a few disturbing issues are rife in Uganda’s farming communities and unless urgent attention is given to them, the consumers will bear the brunt through unintended food poisoning as well as disease accumulation.

Issue 1:

It is a fact that the presence of banned pesticides is rife in this country. This was in part brought about by the liberalisation of agro-chemical inputs which weakened quality control. Chemicals are banned for various reasons, majority of which are health side effects on humans. More insights on this can be got in this article.

Issue 2:

There is widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides. Once I went to the market and out of curiosity asked the tomato seller why the tomatoes had a whitish substance on them. She confidently told me that the substance was a pesticide sprayed after harvest to increase the shelf life of the tomatoes as well as prevent pest attacks during storage. I did corroborate this assertion with a friend that operates a retail shop.

tomatoesStandard agricultural practice does not recommend applying any pesticides to crops due for harvest within two weeks. This is due to the time it takes for the chemicals to breakdown and avoid entry into the human body. A 2013 Study among tomato farmers in Uganda found that no farmer was applying the recommended concentration of Dithane M-45. Their application varied from 3-7 times the recommended levels. This same Dithane is the one sprayed on the tomatoes after harvest. Its widely used on other crops like lettuce, onions and potatoes. Its active ingredient mancozeb is a known hazardous air pollutant and could cause cancer. It is known to have thyroid effects and when ingested by pregnant women can lead to impaired cognitive function and motor development in children.

Issue 3:

Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by most vendors is questionable. On an early morning trip to Buikwe district, I once found some vegetable vendors retrieving their greens from the irrigation canals of the Lugazi Sugar plantations where they had been stored overnight. As an avid user of this route through the plantation, I know how intense the use of chemicals when growing these sugarcanes is. For someone to keep vegetables there implies that they get into contact with these chemicals and the unsuspecting public become the victims of any health side effects.

It is also common knowledge that some vendors of fruits and vegetables in Kampala often store them overnight in water bodies like the Nakivubo channel among others. These are the very fruits you will gladly ingest raw after being nicely spliced and strategically positioned by the road side on a hot day.

Issue 4:

The relevant government agencies lack the ability to monitor pesticide residues in agricultural products. This is one of the reasons why we always wake up late when the EU is banning our produce. Farmers and agro chemical dealers are operating in an unregulated environment and it has become a dog eat dog world. They don’t seem to bear concern for the wellbeing of the food consumers.

What does all this mean to a Juicer?

Since juicing largely involves consumption of raw fruits and vegetables, the chances of one ingesting harmful chemicals while at it is high if they do not have knowledge of the source of the foods they are consuming. Take it from me, you can shop from the trending supermarkets or grocery shops and the agents there may convince you that their suppliers are carefully selected and regulated to ensure you get top notch products. As an individual that knows quite abit about the agriculture value chain, those are mere lies. Many of these retailers have no idea about the practices of their suppliers when growing the produce. All they see are clean vegetables and fruits presented to them.

As you juice, I advise that you consider growing your own stuff. Most of these vegetables and fruits can be grown in your backyard (if you’re serious) and the beauty is that there are groups like the Backyard Gardeners that have a good support network on WhatsApp.

If you aren’t ready to grow your stuff, then start today and scout for a good vegetable/fruit grower who is ethical enough to meet your expectations.

Otherwise, in the pursuit of great health, many are risking even worse ailments by merely jumping onto the bandwagon without assessing the dangers.

Happy Juicing.

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Transacting Online? Uganda’s Laws protect you

Nalule ordered for a TV set on one of Uganda’s e-commerce sites after being offered an attracitve deal. She went ahead to pay fully and wait for its delivery. From a two day delivery promise, it turned out to be a 7 day delivery. To make matters worse, she noticed that the product delivered had some slight variations from what was advertised online. Her attempts to question the variations were silenced by the smooth speaking delivery guy.

It eventually took a visit by a tech savvy friend for her to come to the realisation that she had been offered a previous model of the advertised TV set. Cursing herself, she just vowed never to buy stuff online and always go to the shops instead.

Nalule’s tale is not new at all. You might already have been a victim or know someone that has been. The bigger problem here is the failure of the victims to know their rights under the law. Uganda has laws that cater for such occurrences.

So, you ask;

  • How do I know that the online supplier is legitimate?

Whenever you reach any Ugandan e-commerce site, some of the basic information you should expect to find as a consumer is;

  1. full name and legal status of the person (company).

  2. the physical address and telephone number of the person (company).

  3. the registration number, names of directors and place of registration.

  4. the full price of the goods or services, including transport costs, taxes and any other fees or costs.

  5. the return, exchange and refund policy of the person.

  6. where appropriate, the minimum duration of the agreement in the case of agreements for the sale, hire, exchange or supply of products or services to be performed on an ongoing basis or recurrently.

Failure to locate such key information should trigger your alerts.

  • What precautions are in place to ensure I do not make mistakes while purchasing online?

Ugandan e-commerce sites need to offer you the opportunity to;

(a) review the entire electronic transaction;
(b) correct any mistakes; and
(c) withdraw from the transaction before placing an order.

  • In case I have already transacted (paid up) online and I realise that the e-commerce site did not give me adequate information to make the right decision. Can I cancel?

As a consumer you may cancel the transaction within fourteen days (2 Weeks) after receiving the goods or services under the transaction.

  • From the time I used the online services of [company X] I keep getting spam (unsolicited0 messages on email and my phone. What can I do?

Your rights in this case are;

  1. The messages should not be sent to you at a cost.
  2. You should be given an option to cancel the subscription to that mailing list at no cost.
  • I have problems with delivery. The supplier never delivers on time.
  1. Unless there is specific agreement between you and the supplier, you are expected to receive your goods or services within thirty (30) days. Failure to do so, you are entitled to cancel the order by giving a seven (7) day notice.
  2. If the supplier realises for one reason or another that they cannot supply you with the goods or services, they should inform you before the expiry of the agreed time and make any refunds for payments made within thirty (30) days.

Uganda’s legal system is steadily being upgraded to become compliant with the advancements in technology. As we consume technology enabled products and services, we shouldn’t do so in ignorance of our legal rights as consumers. Take time and inform yourself more about the relevant laws and regulations. Find more about them archived here.

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Denied Blood, The Baby Died – RIP

“… I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug …” This is an extract from the Modern version of the Hippocratic oath sworn by the Medical professionals in Uganda.

As the week of 14th November 2016 came to a close, a young lady, pregnant for the first time was rushed to Mulago Hospital, Kamuli to give birth. Upon arrival, she was admitted and the wait begun. On the 20th of November she gave birth to a baby boy. Due to some issues, the doctor recommended that the baby be given blood.

Come Monday 21st November, I received a message from a long lost colleague and the conversation transpired as indicated in the screenshot.

kamuli

Following the appeal for blood, I did get a number of volunteers but distance became an issue. However, with advice from someone who knew a medical personnel in Kamuli, we were told to find out whether the hospital actually lacked blood or what was needed was money to “buy” the blood? Mulago Hospital, Kamuli is a government hospital and some of these services are meant to be availed freely or at a minimal cost.

Upon probing, I was shocked when this colleague on the ground told me that he had been requested for UGX 100,000/= in order to access one pint of blood for the baby. The transaction was completed just as the little soul bid farewell to this world. With no name, he was gone too soon at one day of age.

Filled with emotion, I was taken back to a similar scene a year ago when my late father was struggling with cancer at the Uganda Cancer Institute and he needed blood. The personnel in charge had refused to give us blood claiming there was none. It took the intervention of the Human Resource head of Mulago (who happened to have a relation with us) for the blood to be released. Sad, So Sad!!!!

This reminds me about the hippocratic oath that the medical personnel are sworn to. Do some of them really mean what they say? When they vowwarmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife” do they really believe in it? Where is the sympathy when they illicitly expect a rural lady to raise US$ 30 for a pint of blood just to save the life of her new born baby? As a teacher, this is nearly half her monthly salary. The same oath they swear states, “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.” Do they realise the economic terrorism and human genocide they are engaging in? Stories of Ugandans losing their lives during birth due to such professional greed are abound, but it is time we started talking about it. We can’t let ourselves be sacrificed at the altar of selfish and corrupt medical personnel whose primary drive is financial gain.

Many times we are quick to blame “Government” for not paying medical personnel well and hence the reason for poor service delivery. This however does not justify killing our mothers, wives and babies in the hospitals.If they strongly believe it’s justified, should every lady that is broke turn into a prostitute?; Should every jobless man become a robber?

There are some actions that stem from our morals and mixing them up with other frustrations will never justify them. How can you have blood in the hospital and still go ahead to deny a young mother the joy of raising her first child? When they sleep at night, do they really ever think about the untold suffering and tears they have caused many as a result of their lust for money?

Following the experience I got while treating a cancer patient at Mulago, I learnt that there is a network of thugs and blood sucking mafias that has taken over most of these government hospitals. These crooks overshadow the good that most medical professionals are engaged in. These thugs range from medical professionals to admin staff like accountants, storekeepers etc. They often times work in a sophisticated manner that their responses are very well syndicated giving the semblance of truth in what they are saying.

Once a lady at the X-Ray department in Mulago simply rejected any effort of helping us to access the services because we opted to make official receipted payments. Shame!!! What a Shame!!!!

If we have any modern day terrorists and blood sucking vampires, they come in the form of some of these officials working in the public hospitals. Before am crucified for being overly harsh on them, I want to emphasise that my concern hinges on those fungi infested rotten tomatoes that are making an otherwise glorious profession be rated in the same vein with the Uganda Police.

People are dying as a result of intentional neglect. They shed their tears over what would have been. Take it from me me, you may rejoice in the quick money made auctioning government property and services but the curses you pile upon yourselves and your descendants will be hard to undo. Only Jesus Christ will be able to turn the tide of those curses. Anything short of that, you’re just booking chambers in the deepest pits of hell.

With sadness, I want to say RIP nameless boy and to the mother, put God in prayer, all will be well.

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Baby Photo Credit: The Nairobi Times