Tag Archives: education

SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza, Lubaale Mubbe

There is a Luganda saying that goes like, “Bakuuma mbugo, Lubaale mubbe.” Its nearest English equivalent is, “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

This saying is purported to have been coined during the time of Kabaka Jjunju (1780 – 1797). Baganda families had gods they worshipped to suit different needs in their lives. Each family had a select member who was in charge of keeping these gods. It was a prestigious role that many envied. These gods apparently were “kept” wrapped up in bark cloth (mbugo). Due to one reason or another, these gods could be stolen or misused by a member of the family or someone else who had the ability to “steal” them. So, while the guardian of the gods thought that he had them in safe custody on behalf of the family, the opposite would be the case. The gods were already stolen and he was just keeping bark cloth. Hence the saying which is loosely translated as, “They are keeping bark cloth, the gods were stolen.

A while back, I wrote an article warning the traditional giant schools in the form of Namilyango, SMACK, Buddo, Gayaza etal that they were digging their own graves. Alot of criticism was directed at me including allegations that I was a hater among other flimsy pedestrian conclusions. Today, I came across the list of admissions for the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Makerere University, government sponsored and it read as follows:

No.

School

Number of Students

1

St. Mary’s Kitende

13

2

Uganda Martyrs Namugongo

12

3

Bishop Kihangire

5

4

Kiira College

4

5

St. Mary’s Namagunga

4

6

Kings College Buddo

4

7

Seeta High Main

3

8

Naalya Main

3

9

Mengo SSS

2

10

St. Julian

2

11

Gombe SS

2

12

Nabisunsa Girls

2

13

St. Mary’s Ruhoroza

2

14

Ntare School

1

15

Mbarara High

1

16

Seroma Christian High School

1

17

Seeta High Mukono

1

18

Ndejje

1

19

Gayaza

1

Namilyango College

00

St. Mary’s College Kisubi

00

The government scholarship admission for this same degree for those that joined Makerere University in 1993 had at least Ten (10) guys from St. Mary’s College Kisubi. It was basically an extension of old students from either Namagunga, Gayaza, SMACK, Buddo, Namilyango, Mwiri and a few other schools like Makerere College.

It is shocking to find that in 2017, Gayaza was just lucky to get only One (1) candidate on state sponsorship while SMACK and Namilyango contribute zero (0) students for this course. This is an abomination and a fulfillment of what I did warn a while back.

In a scathing article that I wrote on the traditional schools, I stated thus, “… 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 …

If there is one thing that defines old students of the traditional high performing schools, it’s the pride we exude as having been part of an elite class as well as littering the professions that are deemed to matter in the world of employment. While I am proud of the fact that I can walk into any office in this land and find someone I know as an OB or OG of sorts, I must say, the writing is on the wall for the traditional schools. Having taken for granted this superiority, they gave room to the minnows to work their way upwards and eclipse them.

I did come across an argument on Facebook where those allied to the traditional schools were busy bashing old students from St Mary’s Kitende claiming that the best they can do is to operate photocopiers in the various city shopping arcades. The results I just shared should be a wake up call, the Kitendes you have been underlooking are annexing every inch of land that you had been taking for granted as a birth right for over a century. First they swept the arts courses, now they are on an onslaught for sciences.

Traditional schools have always given their students this aura of invincibility and entitlement making them feel like royals of sorts. Unfortunately, in reality, like the luganda saying I quoted earlier, apart from the structures and historical legacies they have, these traditional schools seem to have nothing to offer lately. Lubaale Mubbe !!!!! Wake up guys.

I consider this a critical moment for the traditional schools. Over the past twenty something years, they have digressed from working towards the set founding goals of their institutions and instead opted to play to the gallery. By abandoning the core values they represented including sticking to the recommended admission procedures, they fell into the trap of populism. Matters were worsened when bribery became the norm. I know of someone whose son was not certain of getting to Kings College Buddo for Senior One and this led him to execute plan B which was SMACK where he got a place after parting with UGX 4 Million. Today he is happy and chest thumping that he has a child at SMACK but I want to remind him that, Lubaale Mubbe.

At A-Level, these traditional schools admit star studded students who do not even need the slightest push to excel. How the hell can you tell me that they can fail to convert them into nationwide leading performers at the University entry exams? It means that either the children that are admitted have falsified results or the teachers responsible for teaching them are sleeping on duty. Lubaale Mubbe.

The traditional schools in a bid to play to the gallery have opted to compete on the same terms as the private schools that are fast rising. They forget that what they were set out to offer is more than just good grades in class. They fail to impress this need upon the aspiring students or parents and instead lure them with the promise of high grades. If it is grades that one is pursuing solely, then they can no longer compete with many private schools that seem to have mastered the art of churning out good grades. However, if they can look inwardly and come up with a revised offer which has a linkage with the vision of the founders, they will retain a lot of relevance despite not churning out high grades academically. After all, we all know that success in life is not necessarily directly proportional to the grades scored in school.

As for King’s College Buddo and St. Mary’s Namagunga, with 4 a piece heading for the Medicine class, I don’t encourage you to chest thump. It is a sign that you too are slowly descending to the place where Namilyango and SMACK have already bought plots of land, Zero (0) contribution.

Time for change. To effect this change, there is going to have to be a total overhaul of the mindsets starting right from the Board Members of the Schools, School Administrations, Old Students Associations, Students and Parents. Otherwise, Bye Bye SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza; Welcome St. Mary’s Kitende and Uganda Martyrs Namugongo.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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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

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.

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/=.

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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.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

I sat for PLE at 42 Years

The year 2016 begun in an uneventful manner, just like the previous years of my life save for the fact that it would culminate in a life changing exam, the Primary Leaving Examination. The last time I had sat for this exam was in 1986 (30 years ago to be precise). Here I was, once again, faced with the daunting task. This time round though, I was doing it by proxy through my fist born son, Walter.

I hope my experience will offer other parents vital guidance on how to help their children go through the candidate year of Primary 7.

First we begun by training the young man how to read on his own in the night (usually from 8pm till 10pm in the night) and this started off in Primary 6 first term. All through P.6, with my wife, we made a great effort at ensuring that he plugged the gaps in his knowledge of various topics. Our emphasis was not to have him cram but understand and actually appreciate the topics from a broad and practical perspective. This definitely made our work more painful but we figured that the earlier we made him develop a broad databank of knowledge, the better.

Fast forward to P7, we begun the tortuous year. However, we didn’t want to make it a dreaded year for him. Actually, our goal was to make it as life changing as possible in all ways while also ensuring that he looked forward with anxiety to his right of passage to Secondary School.

The usual self study in the evening after doing homework was maintained albeit ending an hour later than what he was used to, with an addition of short tests that we set for him at least twice a week during the first term. We would then review his weak areas and help him out.

One discovery at this stage was the Youtube learning videos. We were able to find a lot of videos that taught crucial topics and by watching them on the home TV, not only did the learning style change but it turned out to be more impactful. From someone who had issues Converting Bases, calculating Square Roots among other weaknesses, the young man was able to up his game in no time. That is when I went on a spree and downloaded numerous videos addressing the various topical areas in English, Maths, Science and Social Studies.

Come end of the first term, we still had a challenge of getting him to appreciate that he was a candidate and therefore needed to start acting like one. Being the boy he was, the same old playfulness hadn’t yet left him. He only read in our presence and once we left, he would switch to other activities.

By the close of the first term, we had borrowed a stash of past papers from a close family friend whose daughter had completed P7 two years earlier. Revising these papers complemented those that we set for him. The journey continued through the Second term with a rundown to Mock Examinations. Walter begun showing some bit of response towards his candidature but a lot was still lacking.

When the second term ended, we cooked up an idea of taking him for some holiday studies (a move I have always detested). The major reason for this was our observation that while he was knowledgeable enough to sit for the exams, he lacked in areas like answering techniques, question comprehension (lately, lots of tricks are used to twist questions around), handwriting, among others. Unfortunately or is it fortunately, his school is one that doesn’t believe in using the rod against children even when they persist in not showing improvement in certain areas of weakness.

I then called up a cousin of mine who tutors a small little known school in Mukono Town that registers a high success rate at PLE. After chatting with him, a decision was made to enroll him there for holiday classes. This is when the real tuning for PLE begun. Not only are they meticulous at grilling kids to pass exams (cram work inclusive) but they happen to be disciplinarians who believe in the power of the rod to change children.

Within a week at Good Hope Primary School, Walter was able to realise that he is privileged enough by virtue of where he studies from. The benches at Good Hope were not only too uncomfortable but so was the lunch served which was standard Posho and Beans or porridge, a far cry from the burgers, chips and biryani at his school. He also got to appreciate the seriousness with which other pupils take PLE. The laid back attitude that he and his schoolmates had for PLE was all of a sudden exposed.

By the end of the second term holiday, I could see a change in the young man for the better. However, I realised that he needed to polish up a lot when it came to techniques. Besides, the harsh approach to marking of tests at Good Hope helped him also realise that if he was to pass UNEB well, he needed to stick to certain guidelines while answering questions. The teachers in this neighborhood school seemed to understand this well. After all, they train their pupils largely to purely pass exams; as to how they fare years down the road, only God knows. I then decided that he continues studies at this school for some more time during the third term before returning to his official candidate school.

Now for the grueling part. During the third term, Good Hope P.7 children have a programme that sees them start class at 3:30am ending at 10:00pm in the evening from Monday to Saturday. Sunday is the only rest day. I had to ferry the young man daily as early as 3am to school, get back home, prepare myself for the day and then take the younger ones at 6am on the one hour trip to their school. Upon return in the evening, I had to then pick up the candidate at 10pm in the night. Over the past two decades, I have not had such a stressful, tiring period like those two weeks in third term that my boy spent at that school. During all this, we always had open talks and I noticed that he appreciated the extra mile that was being taken by us to ensure he passes PLE.

Eventually, he returned to his candidate school and resumednormal studies albeit with a much more mature and changed mindset. He now knew the goal he had to attain and used to read on his own till late in the night. At this point, we concentrated on question answering techniques like interpretation, organisation of work, handwriting among others. I am more than convinced that most children fail PLE due to poor techniques.

The message I continuously shared withWalter was; “We are reading like this because PLE demands that you do so if you are to go to your first choice school. The way exams are marked lately is less about rewarding knowledgeability and more about encouraging cram work. So, let us gather the right techniques to help you pass, after all you are already knowledgeable.

Are you a parent with children in Primary school? These are some of the tips I have to share with you:

  • Start engaging your child and taking keen interest in their academics at least as early as Primary Four, if possible, even much earlier. Ensure they learn as much as possible while not yet under pressure of national exams like PLE.

  • Expose your child to other school settings in order to gauge their abilities. You see, different schools have different strengths and weaknesses. When I took my son to that local neighbourhood school, the weaknesses that had been perpetuated by his school were exposed in no time.

  • Actively play a role in your child’s learning. Show them you are interested and genuinely care. You might want to replace some of those trips to the swimming pool with visits to the Wildlife Education Center, a farm (if you have one or know who has one), village retreats etc. They learn a lot from such experiences. I do not for example have to teach my kids about mulching and various farming practices because we do practise that at home in the garden on a daily.

  • Get the child to realise that while studying is fun, its also a serious engagement that demands very serious attention from the pupil. This is one challenge many middle class parents are likely to face due to the comfort zone their children are always in. I always urged my son to Read Like an Orphan.

  • Start preparing for PLE as early as Primary Six first term. Ensure the child does a lot of study especially in topical areas of their weakness. Do not subcontract this because some coaching teachers are merely money makers. By perusing through their assessment tests, you can identify these weak areas easily. Keep increasing the heat of preparation slowly but significantly for every subsequent school term.

  • Past papers. Gather as many past papers from different schools as possible. Right from P5 to P7. The final PLE usually consists of at least 75% from the P5 and P6 curriculum. Examine your child with them and revise jointly if need be. It is a sacrifice you have to make. Do not put your trust entirely in those coaching teachers.

  • Try utilising modern forms of delivery like multi-media. I found it much easier to teach my children about Mountain and River formations using Youtube Videos. During the pre-PLE week, watching Science videos on the Eye, the teeth as well as mathematical videos on Volume of cylinders, prisms and the like helped the young man a lot. When he met the questions in the final exam, it was just a roll over for him.

  • Motivation. Work out ways of motivating your child to read hard. You know them best (in case you do not, then better find out what drives them). Show them the Holy Grail and give them a reason to yearn for it. In my case, the Holy Grail was, qualifying for the first choice school.

  • Last but most important is Prayer. In life these days, one ought to go spiritual otherwise “tojja malako” (you won’t achieve much). Teach your children how to pray and then join them in the exercise regularly. Get the child to appreciate that above all the physical preparation you have engaged in for the exams, there is a spiritual layer that can only be handled spiritually.

My focus now turns to Nina. She is in Primary Six. We’ll touch base at the end of 2018.

Wishing you luck.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Earth and Space studies in Uganda’s O Level Curriculum

When you look at your house and compare it with the city you live in, it pales in comparison. Compare that city with your country and the city becomes a dwarf. Compare your country to the entire earth and you struggle to find something smaller to define the comparison. The sun is at least 100 times bigger than the earth in diameter. The sun and all the planets that rotate around it form the Solar System with the Sun being one of the 200 -400 billion stars in the Milky way Galaxy. A galaxy is a large group of stars, dust, gas and dark matter held together by gravity. The Solar system is part of the Milky way galaxy which is 100,000 light years wide.

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Milky Way Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Frankfurter Rundschau 

Why light years? Due to the astronomical distances between planets and stars, the kind of numeracy required to keep track of Kilometres and miles gets crazy. So, scientists came up with the measure of Light years which is the distance covered by light in one year. Light moves at a speed of 300,000 Km per second giving us 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers per year. So, when we say the Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 Light years wide, we mean it is 950,000,000,000,000,000 Km across.

Wow!!! Do you realise how much we pale in comparison to the universe? Remember we have not yet dealt with the other galaxies that populate the universe like Andromeda among others. Phew !!!

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. Now to the subject matter.

We have complained and continue to do so about the falling education standards in Uganda. We keep demonising the government for not doing enough to turn around the situation. When Universal Primary and Secondary Education came up, the corruption that dogged it become the hallmark of such a well intentioned initiative. Over the past decade, the National Curriculum Development Centre has been painstakingly working on curriculum reviews that already saw the Primary Schools convert to a thematic guided curriculum and next is the Ordinary Level (Senior 1 -4).

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New O Level Thematic Curriculum

My biggest excitement about the O Level curriculum is not only the thematic approach that allows students to pursue their competencies from the word go but also the inclusion of a futuristic subject called Astronomy (referred to as Earth and Space in the image).

A young man Ghazali Mohammed has been foresighted enough to already have begun outreach in rural Ugandan schools teaching children the marvels of Astronomy. It is guys like him and the Fundi Bots honcho Solomon King doing similar outreach in Robotics that will show the way to those of us who are content with mere criticism.

Take it or leave it, within the next 30 years, we shall have human colonies on Mars and the moon. Space tourism is likely to be the next big thing (Shiyaya stand warned). Those that have excelled at attracting tourists to Gorillas will now have to compete with man’s curiosity with Space travel. Our children or grand children are likely to be part of expeditions to other planets and solar systems. Comets are seen as a likely source of mineral matter for us to utilise. The moon is already allegedly being mined of Helium 3. Elon Musk has indicated his strong desire to retire to Mars for the rest of his life. We already have probes currently billions of kilometres away from earth sending back updates of what space is like. Technology is advancing so fast that in the not so distant future, we shall cover millions of kilometres in a matter of minutes if Faster than Light (FTL) or Light Speed travel is achieved. That, is where we are headed.

For any curriculum to make sense in Uganda today, we need to look at the future of this world of ours. To be competitive, a good understanding of where we are headed as well as preparing our future inhabitants to harness the opportunities will be the best thing we shall have done for them. Every child today needs to learn about Astronomy. It is not enough for you to know how many Square miles of land are occupied by Uganda. Horizons are expanding, new states are likely to be formed. Like the europeans who ventured out across the oceans and founded colonies in North America, we shall have new countries or even stateless cities and countries on various planets while others could be floating in space above planets like Venus. While this may look far fetched, incremental improvements on knowledge are what will most likely get us there and this is the time to start.

Currently, the moon is slowly but surely moving further away from the earth at a rate of 4cm per year. [I see you laughing] What does that imply? If it ever leaves us, disastrous weather related consequences are expected since for example it has an effect on the tide in the oceans. However, it is believed that before the moon does this to us, the sun will have taken care of the destruction of our earth after achieving the red giant phase.

While such predictions of earth’s demise are billions of years away, the time is now to start enriching our interplanetary knowledge and make it as basic as the operation of a mobile phone. As a specie, we are going to have to migrate from this planet one time for it definitely will eventually become inhospitable. Who better to prepare for that eventuality than our school going children today?

My question though is, how ready are our teachers to teach such subjects like Astronomy? Can they tell what a Star, Black Hole, Pulsar, Quasar, meteorite, Galaxy or Dwarf star is?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Why Raise School Fees?

Ever since the Minister of Finance read out the Government of Uganda’s Budget proposals for the financial year 2014/15, we have been treated to numerous threats by the some proprietors of Private Schools under the umbrella body of National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA) to increase the School Fees charges. This came up as a result of the Government proposing to remove the Income Tax Exemptions currently enjoyed by the Educational Institutions.

As a parent I feel insulted by these continuous attempts to blackmail not only the Government but we parents into joining the crusade of these capitalists involved in our education industry. Do they think that they are dealing with illiterate parents who have no understanding of how the taxation system works? Do they somehow wish or hope that as parents we shall rise up based on mere emotions and lack of proper comprehension of issues to back their pleas?

Having read the Minister’s budget speech in its entirety, she stated; “… I propose to terminate the exemption on income derived by a person from managing or running an educational institution for commercial gain. This is consistent with the principle of equity and transparency in tax regime, and broadening the tax base by bringing more tax payers into the tax net.”

With all due respect and knowing that the proprietors of these institutions are all out to contribute to the Educational advancement of our population, why would one not want to pay tax on income accrued as a result of pursuing this agenda? Working class Ugandan citizens are taxed left right and center and Income Tax is one of those that they do not survive. While the Government might have given the Education industry a tax break in this regard, it didn’t mean that it would last a life time. Besides, the challenges that brought up this decision years back by Government to waive income tax seem to be no more. The proprietors of these institutions should just be ready to file their income tax returns and pay up.

I don’t see an argument of being over burdened by taxes as holding water. This tax only applies to those schools that are making profit. If no profit is made, then it doesn’t apply. This therefore means that the so called struggling schools will still not fall victim to this tax.

To simplify this, add up all the School income from school fees and any other sources then subtract expenses like costs of feeding, salaries for Admin, teaching and support staff, utilities, Local taxes among others. Whatever remains is expected to be the profit and that is what the 30% Income Tax is applicable to. Profits after expenses belong to the business owners and that is probably the bone of contention to many who have been enjoying a free ride making massive untaxed income.

Another argument that is being forwarded is one of loans that are even causing some of the schools to close. The performance of a school in regard to loan repayment cant be directly attributable to the existence or lack of Income Tax. In Uganda, most financial institutions lend against assets. It is highly unlikely that a school with assets worth Ushs 100 Million will be given a loan of Ushs 1 Billion.

It is a good idea for all actors in the Ugandan economy to realise that as we move towards full funding of our national budget, we have to bear the brunt of raising the much needed financial resources. This definitely might mean us remaining with less in our pockets in the process but lets avoid looking for scapegoats. Increasing school fees by the proprietors is not the solution to the Income tax resumption on the industry. Let the business owners readjust their expectations and those that have been stashing away massive profits, its the time to share the loot with Government. As for that poor struggling school that hardly makes a profit, they have no reason to be bothered by this tax resumption.

Fellow parents, let us not be drawn into this well orchestrated scheme by a few who want to continue earning untaxed income. Any school fees increments should be justified with facts.

@wirejames

Parents Lets Teach our Children in 2014

As a father of three children sired over the last decade, I have been both a participant and an observer in the game called parenting. Having grown up in a family where Mom and Dad were tougher than the average Ugandan Cop, I was no stranger to corporal punishment when I broke the rules at home. The arrival of Daddy at home meant most of us taking cover and avoiding him otherwise he always asked the wrong questions at the wrong time and we nearly always had the wrong answers for them.

Becoming a parent meant a lot for me because I decided that I wanted to break that trend and ensure that I am a friend to my children. This view I later realized was shared by most of my peers. Unfortunately, along the way, I realized that how we defined ‘friendship’ with our children differed. While some believe that leaving the kids to do anything and everything they wished without raising a finger at them and at best trying to reason with the 3 year olds was the best way to remain friends; others believe that making sure the children have everything they desire anytime anywhere including the right not to eat certain foods like Posho (Ugali/Maize meal/Pap) and beans that are perceived as ‘food for the poor’ in Uganda.

We have chosen to do all to ensure that material provisions for the children are readily available but the one thing that seems to be missing out is the ‘Me Time’ for the children. We have chosen to relegate any form of learning to the schools and the rationale is that one gets an expensive and sometimes preferably International School to ‘teach’ our children on our behalf. Any form of home learning is left to the Mass Media and Maids.

The current perception is that a Good Education is now directly proportional to the money one is ready to fork out. It’s the reason why many schools are always under pressure to ensure that the students pass with flying colours irrespective of the means used to get them to do so.

Now that 2014 is on the roll, its time we took back our role of complementing the school based education with the home based learning especially in the Life skills area. What use is it for one to have a child that has scored distinctions all their life and even graduated with a first class only to start the ‘post school’ life without any understanding of financial management, planning, community engagement, culture, cooking, communication and many other life skills? I know we can always say that the schools will teach them that but you will agree with me that there is a lot that a parent has an opportunity to teach their child through daily interactions as opposed to what a teacher will achieve in a class room whose primary goal is to teach children to pass exams.

It took me close to a year from the time I got my first salary as an employee to get used to handling money. This was mainly because of how I had been shielded for long from it basing on the wide held fear by many of our Ugandan parents then that money would spoil the children. Today I ensure that my children by the age of six years are conversant with handling money, saving and planning their expenditure.

One of the sins I have been committing in the past is blatantly blame the Education system and raise the red flag about the ill fated destiny of our children because of Government’s failure to give us a better system in place. Today, I choose to put less blame on the Government and heap more blame on we the parents. We are not doing our part in educating these children and somehow expect the Government to come up with the magical bullet that will turn our kids into Einsteins. Globally there are complaints galore about the deteriorating education standards and this is not a preserve of Uganda alone.

The United States, Britain, China, India among others all have their tales as seen by the countless stories available online regarding their Education Systems and these are the countries that the average Ugandan Middle Class family is more than willing to send their child to.

My prayer is that we as parents can rethink our expectations of the schools to which we send our children and reduce the pressure we put upon them to focus on our children passing exams as opposed to getting an education. We also need to figure out ways in which we can complement their learning on a daily basis, only then are we likely to have a better workforce ready to take on the challenges that this world has to offer.

I promise to spend more time with my children and teach them something at every opportunity from now onwards. Its my belief that on top of the material provision, this is the best way in which I can be their friend and avoid the “Daddy is home, lets run and hide” scenario that I faced while growing up.

What about you?

@wirejames on #Twitter