Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Improving learning and care in Royal Pride Academy

Welcome to Royal Pride Community Academy
Those of you who read our blog regularly may remember Royal Pride Community Academy.  This is the primary school in the middle of Mutungo, one of the dreadful slums not far from Port Bell, Kampala’s port on Lake Victoria.  Royal Pride has about 300 children aged 3 to… 12, 13, 14, 15 – as long it takes a child to complete the primary curriculum and sit the primary leaving exam.  The school is situated at the bottom of a valley, a mosquito-ridden swamp into which drains all the waste from further up the hill.  

Looking into the new building from the swamp.
The combination of Uganda’s lovely warm weather and frequent rain means that the aroma rising from the open drains and accumulations of rubbish (for there are no garbage collections) can be as pungent as the water is foul.  The school was given the land a couple of years ago by a local landowner, now chair of the school management committee (parent council).  Before then, it occupied a single hut and lessons took place out of doors whatever the weather.  Now at least the children are under cover, although the mud floors in those classrooms which are still at ground level retain the damp, and the playground is basically mud which never seems to dry out completely.

P3/P4 classroom without pupils

Damp playground with classrooms beyond
Royal Pride is a real ‘community school’.  Local people have worked hard and used their time and skills to improve the accommodation, raising one of the buildings above the mud and replacing the wood with locally-made brick.  They come and help in the school when they can, but have to spend most of the day just trying to scrape by. 
New building with proud pupils. 
Almost all the families which send children to Royal Pride are desperately poor.  However, the school is now developing a positive reputation, attracting children from the other side of the slum who walk quite a distance across the swamp every day in order to attend, and also a few better off children from elsewhere.  Many of the children are Aids orphans, often brought up by grandparents, and some are HIV positive themselves.  Many get malaria because of the swamp which reaches right up to the walls and fences, and a few have died of the disease.  The population of the slum is diverse and the school also has a few children who fled the terrible civil war in the north and who are in particular need of individual care and support.

General view of Mutungo, up the hill from the school

Welcome to Mutungo
Families pay what they can on a sliding scale of fees from virtually nothing to 30,000 Ugandan shillings a term (about £9).  The school turns away a lot of children who cannot pay even these small amounts.  We see children running around the slum during school hours every time we go.  The teachers are not paid at the normal rate.  They work for virtually nothing yet with enormous dedication and commitment. 

Godfrey, headteacher, with Irene, nursery teacher
The school has no running water or electricity and too few pit-latrines.  A ‘pit-latrine’ is basically a hole in the ground with drainage to a pit below or on nearby land, the standard form of sanitation for 88% of Uganda’s population. Stuart and I are among the lucky 2% with a flush toilet.  The other 10% of the population have no access to any form of sanitation.  The basic national standards which all schools are supposed to meet indicate that there should be separate latrines for girls, boys and teachers.  Given the wide age range of Royal Pride, it is particularly important that these health and welfare standards are adhered to.  At present the school just has one set of latrines, shared by all pupils.  It has no latrines for staff.  Water for washing hands is carried from further up the hill.

Pit latrines at Royal Pride
Royal Pride is not, of course, the only school operating in conditions like these.  We have also seen, and written about, some very poor rural schools and every day we pass other Kampala schools occupying tumbledown wooden huts with mud floors very similar to Royal Pride’s.  However, Royal Pride is a school that we know about and that we can help.  As you know, a good deal of work has already been carried out because of the generosity of people in the UK and the hard work of VSO volunteers.  We are particularly impressed by the spirit of the Royal Pride school community itself, its committed staff and the involvement of local people.  The school makes the best of what it has got.  Individual classes are rather smaller than in most schools, constrained by the lack of accommodation, and include pupils from more than one stage.  Across the country, the pupil-teacher ratio is currently one teacher to 78 pupils, with a target of one to 55.  We have seen classes much larger than this.  Even though the classes in Royal Pride are relatively small, teachers may be in charge of more than one class at a time.  The school currently has three full-time teachers, supported by a couple of part-time unpaid staff.

P3/P4 and their teacher
Royal Pride has minimal resources.  Staff make a lot of their own materials, with rather more emphasis on practical craft work than we have often seen.  

It's surprising what you can do with banana fibre - homemade ball
Traditional mat, banana fibre doll and the school drum
Blocks for the nursery
They have even made their own blackboards by coating scrap wood with a mixture of charcoal and mashed banana leaves.  Chalk in all Ugandan schools is very precious, and so it is here. The few books have been donated by well-wishers.

The distraction of a visitor is always welcome.

Nursery class with proud owner of a jotter
The headteacher, Godfrey, is very keen for his teachers to receive staff development support.  Our group of VSO volunteers will try to support the school as best we can, drawing on a wider network of skills where necessary.  As a start, Stuart and I are providing some management support to the headteacher and one of our colleagues is going to do some phonics training for early years.  We are all saving up cardboard and bottle tops so that we can work with the teachers to develop some practical learning activities for maths and other curricular areas.  Active learning and play in the nursery are also priorities.  We have been given some good ideas already but would very much like to hear of any others you may have, any songs or games which have proved successful.  Some of the approaches developed for modern languages in the primary school or primary science would be particularly welcome, especially if they do not require expensive equipment, so start thinking!  Approaches must use as few purchased resources as possible and be sustainable and replicable after volunteers have left.

Headteacher's office doubles up as store

Precious books must be locked away
As a priority, Royal Pride needs drainage, latrines and a safe water supply.  The classroom for the younger pupils needs to be raised above ground level.  In addition, children need learning materials. Families need help with school fees and advice on general health issues, HIV/Aids, diet and nutrition, budgeting and aspects of childcare. VSO volunteers are providing practical support, but some of this needs money. If you can help, please email and I will let you know how to do this, or send your donation by post to a member of my family or one of my close friends. If you work for HMIE, David W and Jane R have kindly agreed to collect donations in sealed envelopes.  I will be returning in January for a few days and can pick them up. £10 pays for one term’s school fees and helps with uniform and jotters, but any amount is very welcome.   I have sent David a short form for you to include with your donation. Many thanks for your interest and help.

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