Wednesday, September 8, 2010

School has started...

Uganda is a country of the young.  You will see scarcely any old people in the streets, such has been the impact of HIV/Aids and terrible periods of conflict.  Life expectancy is fifty two years.  Now the birth rate is rising sharply and half the population of this country of 33 million is under fifteen.  Ugandan families are large, with about seven children on average.  The country lost an entire generation but was  significantly more successful than many in facing up to, and dealing with, Aids.  An effective programme of health education, media coverage, partnership among the main religious groups and community projects  all contributed.  Unfortunately, for a range of reasons which we will write about later, the infection rate is now rising again.

So what about all these young people?  This week we have seen them on their way to school, scrubbed and polished in smart uniforms which are ironed and spotless whether they come out of suburban villas or slum hovels.  Many of them, particularly the younger ones, carry small brooms for cleaning the school.  Uganda has also been more successful than many other countries in its progress towards providing universal primary education, one of the Millennium goals.  As a result, there are schools in every street and round every corner, some looking just like the one down your own road, and some like the shacks the pupils come from.  Communities which cannot afford to send their children to the existing schools, because of the cost of school fees, text books and uniform, often start up their own.  Classes in most schools are large, quite often a hundred or more, with pencils, textbooks and desks shared among several pupils.  Being successful in bringing children into school does not mean schools have the funds to support their learning, or can meet their varying needs.  Sadly, standards of literacy are falling as the numbers rise.

We haven’t been out to schools yet……. that’s for next week……. but we have read some of the inspection reports.   Not only are children failing to reach basic standards of literacy, there are major issues in health and safety and care and welfare as well.  Some headteachers don’t turn up to their schools for a month or more.  In some areas, difficulties between the headteacher and the local community presents in the form of accusations of witchcraft. Teachers are often absent, making large classes even larger.  Children may not have access to any food or water during the school day, despite having walked for miles in the heat.  Latrines may be non-existent, or locked or filthy or insecure.  Discipline may be harsh.  And children’s days are long.  When we drove out of Kampala after work today on our way to look for a golf course (that’s a trailer for the shortly to-be-published Golf courses in Uganda: Part1), we saw them walking along the road fetching water for their families in large yellow plastic containers.  The young people in the hostels were drying their washing on the school fence and on the grass.  Boarding accommodation – a necessity in most secondary schools and a lot of primary schools – can be very basic.  We read of children sleeping on the floor, and of ill-trained or irresponsible matrons.  National expectations of all aspects of education are clearly stated, but the reality described in the reports is often very different. 

And who writes these reports?  The inspectors, of course, between one and four employed by each of the 112 districts, averaging out to a couple of hundred in all, supplemented by ‘associate assessors’.  And the people who pull the reports together and monitor the quality of inspection and overall national standards are the centrally deployed inspectors in the Directorate of Education Standards where Stuart and I are working.  There are nine of them in Kampala, and about forty across Uganda in four regional offices.  Not many at all.  They have available an inspection framework and use quality indicators which would be very familiar to anyone who has been around Scottish education for a while, though most inspections do not actually use these approaches but are basically data-gathering exercises for donor countries.  With the help of advisers from outside the country, Uganda has produced guidelines and templates for self-evaluation and school improvement planning, and lots of evaluation tools and checklists. Let's hope they make a difference.....  Tomorrow we will look at them with our new colleagues and on Saturday we will attend the national training for inspectors.  

And soon school will start for us too.

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