Monthly Archives: February 2017

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

Advertisements

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.

img_9329

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.

IMG_1156

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/=.

img_9327

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.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter