10 Mar 2014
Teaching students’ once-in-a-lifetime Ugandan experience
Five students from Teacher Education travelled to Uganda recently to share British teaching practice at schools in the country.
For the past three years, Teacher Education at Loughborough has been involved with a Ugandan project to create a new school – the Shalom International School for Lifelong Learning – in the Teso region of the country. The school provides educational opportunities for people of all ages and aims to be a model of best practice for other schools in Uganda.
The project is support by TESS (Teso Educational Support Services), a charity based in England, set up by Loughborough resident Margaret Stevens.
Teso is in North East Uganda, which over the last 30 years has experienced war, insurgencies, as well as devastating floods. Of its 1.25 million residents, half are under 15 years old. There is free primary education but families must pay for their children’s secondary and vocational education. With a third of the population living below the poverty line and the 8th highest HIV/Aids death rate in the world, this is out of reach for many.
TESS invited the Loughborough trainee teachers to visit Uganda to share creative teaching practice with the Ugandan teachers and pupils.
One of the students, Lauren Cox, describes the trip as one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of her life. She was based at Bukedea High School.
“The classrooms are built from a mixture of mud and concrete making them unbearably hot in the Ugandan summer, and they contain little more than wooden desks and chairs, all pointing towards the blackboard,” she explained.
“There are between 95 and 125 students in each class and often only one text book between four or five students. I had to learn very quickly to be resourceful – I had to try new ideas, adapt and change my plans on the spot. Most of all I learned that good teaching relies on a good teacher, not the availability of material things such as laptops, iPads, interactive whiteboards or even text books.”
Libby Ashworth’s experience was similar.
“I was able to watch a sports day at one of the schools. The children were running in bare feet and doing the long jump over a big stick and into dry mud. The school shared just one discus and one shot with other schools in neighbouring villages,” Libby said.
“I saw how you can run a whole school event without equipment, but with willing staff and enthusiastic children. It made me think about whether major events that run in this country need to involve so much.”
The students also found very distinctive differences between the teaching styles in Uganda and those in the UK. Lessons are taught very authoritatively, pupils aren’t allowed to ask questions and teachers don’t offer any help once the work is set. Students simply copy silently from the blackboard and never work independently or in groups.
Lauren Cox was impressed by the students’ dedication and ambition, however.
“They strongly believe that education is their way out of the poverty they live in and therefore they often attend school as early as 5am to read around their subjects. They want to become doctors, nurses, government officials, pilots. They want to change their country. Meeting such determined young people was a very humbling experience,” she said.
Trainee PE teacher Sam Rendi found she had to expand her remit during the Uganda trip.
“The school I was at, Mukura Memorial, didn’t offer PE as part of their curriculum, but it did, however, alter its timetable to incorporate PE lessons for the time that we were there. I was able to provide the pupils with the chance to learn outside the classroom, to have fun, interact and enjoy learning.
“I also contributed to the English lessons, helping to improve the pupils’ pronunciation, but by the end of my time at the school, they all had a Yorkshire accent!”
The student found their visit had a positive effect on the teachers as well as the students.
“Some staff were eager to learn from us and watched our lessons from beginning to end, asking why we used certain techniques, said Lauren.
“One biology teacher said we’d changed his way of thinking and that he wanted to use some of our ideas because he knew that the pupils had really learned from and enjoyed the lesson. We exchanged email addresses with him so that he can continue to ask us questions or we can send him ideas or example resources to use in his lessons.”