School improvement planning in Uganda is quite different. Actually, the words 'school improvement planning' are a multiple oxymoron. Most of the time, sadly, schools just don't improve and they certainly don't plan. In fact, over the last few years, for all sorts of reasons, educational standards have been declining - and not slowly, either. 'Plummeting' would be a better word, and not just since we arrived. Those of us working in the field feel rather like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. (Apologies for the mixed metaphors.)
|Fred to the rescue - not quite the Lone Ranger|
A couple of weeks ago, Stuart and I had the pleasure of accompanying our Gambian colleagues (Lynn, VSO volunteer, Tawsu, Ministry official, and Matarr, headteacher) around the west of the country, dipping into different stages of Link's school improvement processes. And what makes Link's work so special? It is the fact that it encourages genuine community involvement in planning.
We started off in the Kamwenge area, observing community participation in a couple of rural primary schools. The school I went to with Matarr, Fred and Edith (Link officers) was similar to many we had seen before; nothing special here. Some lessons took place out of doors, as there weren't enough classrooms, but the latrines were quite new (thanks to an NGO), the accommodation was quite sound (thanks to another NGO) and there was a nice new water-harvesting system (and yes, there was a third one!).
|Outdoor classroom, with new blue latrines beyond.|
|Solidly built classrooms with water harvested from the roof into the big black tank.|
|School uniforms washed and ironed - visitors on Wednesday!|
|Daub falling off wattle (or vice versa)|
Ah, here they are.
|A well-ventilated mud and pole classroom.|
|The church was in rather better condition than the school - always the case I'm afraid.|
It's a questions of priorities. God always comes before children.
|Preparing the refreshments|
|A clear agenda, beginning with the inevitable prayer.|
|School management committee chair, with a teacher helper|
|A good attendance in the church building for the school on the hill.|
|Parent, not as much in the dark as she appears.|
|Chair of the local council with strong views on parental responsibilities.|
|and confident and articulate pupil|
No holds were barred. In the session Matarr and I were in, the parents pointed out the school's low performance, ascribing it to poor teaching and teachers' poor attendance. They also said the headteacher was never in school.
A community member asserted that one of the problems was the number of teachers defiling (raping) the girls. At this a titter went round the young male staff body; smirking was the order of the day. (We found out later that three teachers had been arrested for defilement during the previous session. Well, at least they had been arrested, which makes a change.)
The vociferous male pupil (above) defended the teachers' classroom practice despite the mediocre Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results. He said they were good teachers but the problem for pupils was that unlike the teachers in neighbouring schools, they did not allow their pupils to cheat in the PLE. (Clearly ethical standards apply in some areas but not others.)
The headteacher came up with a number of limp excuses for the pitifully low rate of retention to P7 which at first sight made the inadequate PLE results look almost acceptable. The chair of the local council (LC3) said the problem was poor pupil attendance and child labour. The staff told the LC3 that it wasn't just their fault that pupils' attendance was so low. If he had seen the boys down at the shore getting ready to go fishing, then he should have 'arrested' them.
Well, despite the trenchant arguments, no one lost their temper and no one was lynched. Edith and Fred made quiet, sensible suggestions. At the end of a couple of hours, the community had agreed on the school's strengths and areas for improvement, using their own knowledge and the results of the external evaluation. They had also identified the key priorities for the improvement plan. Then Link left them to it. It was their plan, not Link's. Link would come back later to see how they were getting on with implementing it.
|School improvement priorities|
|Look out for Ugandan tea in your supermarkets!|
We stopped by a peaceful crater lake.
And caught quick glimpses of the Rwenzori foothills in between the trees.
We arrived at Kyenjojo in time to pop into a Link training session for external evaluators.
|Peter in full flow|
|Attentive audience of coordinating centre tutors and retired headteachers|
|Bog standard school building.|
|Condemned following storms.|
- improved performance in PLE;
- construction of a staff house to be shared by four teachers;
- improved retention of learners (ie reduction in drop out rate);
- provision of a safe school environment; and
- enhanced community support.
|The usual welcoming smiles from P3. You are seeing half the class in this photo.|
|Half-built teachers' house|
|The new staff kitchen waiting for mud to be put on its poles.|
To improve health and safety, parents were helping to plant a 'live' fence around the school. The school had provided water for children to wash their hands after visiting the latrines, and leaves for use as 'anal cleansing materials'.
The community had rallied around the school in other ways. More parents were now providing packed food for their children to improve concentration, attendance and retention. One interesting method the school was using to encourage parental support was to provide land for a parents' garden. Parents could use the produce to provide lunch for their children. They were also encouraged to visit classes while they were on school grounds, and sit under the trees to discuss any concerns with staff.
|The headteacher pointing out where the parents would plant their crops now the rains had come.|
On the whole, Godfrey was pretty satisfied with the progress the school had made. The headteacher was very appreciative of Link's support. We were certainly interested to see how external intervention from an NGO like Link had been successful in harnessing the energy and support of the whole school community, staff as well as parents, and had invigorated the headteacher.
So, all in all, a fascinating visit for all of us. Back to The Gambia for our friends, to mull over what they had seen. Back to the office for us to write reports and attend meetings. However, none of us will forget any of what we experienced. In particular, we will never forget the children. After all, they are what it was all for.
|Outside DES HQ. Back left: Stuart, Derek (Link international executive director) Tawsu|
Front left: Matarr, Lynn, me and Lilian (VSO education programme director, Uganda)