New Year’s Gift

Christmas is over. Presents have been opened. Some are in use, some consumed, others returned or ready to be regifted. Some of you may have opted for less tangible presents which help improve the environment or the life of others. Today I’m asking you to consider giving a New Year’s gift to children in northern Uganda – the gift of education.

Watch our short video below to find out about READ for Life and how we are improving children’s literacy through teacher training. We can’t do this alone!

 

Surviving the cold…

It’s FREEZING! But we’re here!

Excited to report that a few days in Myron has settled in wonderfully to visiting England (he’s already told us he wants to live with one of our friends and we can go back to Gulu alone – so clearly all your prayers must be working!)

Myron has possibly adjusted better than us to the weather – can’t quite remember it ever being this cold! We are walking around like catalogue pictures donning our friends’ wardrobes: brilliantly kitted out by about four people and three charity shops ūüôā

Have tried to ease in slowly, as slowly as can be when that includes a trip to see Paddington on Ice at Winter Wonderland. Although I think a visit to Waterstone’s book store is also high on the highlights so far too. And finally Dan can say he has been on the dodgem cars with Myron (he was pipped at the post for this claim to fame by his cousin and uncle a year ago in Australia).

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Final preparations… UK here we come!

Tonight we fly to the UK! This will be Myron’s first trip to England and second time to leave Uganda. It has been a little over three years since I visited the UK and connected with my UK friends, and five years for Daniel!

We feel we have three primary places of ‘connection’: Uganda, Australia and England, a reflection of our somehow-nomadic life. We are stretched over three continents but are really looking forward to reconnecting with many close friends over the next month.

Last year when we visited Australia Myron found this particularly challenging – understandable with so many new things to see and experience! We are sure Myron will also find England a little challenging and possibly over-stimulating. In an attempt to prepare him for this new adventure we have made a little cardboard book to introduce him to some of the people we will see in England. As we prepare for our journey can you please join us in praying for Myron: for minimal tantrums and meltdowns and for a smooth journey and holiday. They he may feel safe, for incredible resilience and that he will handle the change very well.

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We need teachers!

Myron attends a small ‘homeschool co-operative’ in Gulu. The phrase ‘homeschool co-operative’ doesn’t really describe it well: it’s more of a school supported by like-minded parents – many who are missionaries and several Ugandan parents who want an alternative education for their children. We currently employ a few Ugandan teachers and follow a UK curriculum.

Myron does love it. He is extremely social (if you haven’t realised this already) and loves interacting and learning with the other children there.

However this may all end very soon. Unfortunately one teacher has left to seek employment in Kampala, another is about to follow at the end of the year and currently we can’t find any quality teachers and mentors willing to join us!

Parents are involved in a wide range of services to the community, ranging from a parent who is a lawyer and works on child protection; a geologist who works with increasing access to water and community bore holes; a speech therapist helping to mentor and establish a local speech therapy outreach; church pastors; parents working in the area of discipleship and many others.

The video below is several  months old now (one teacher in the film has already left, another finishes at the end of this week), however it does help to capture the feel of the school.

We have moved to a beautiful new premises and we now need some more teachers! I have been helping occasionally with teacher supervisions, however I can’t throw myself into this project when I have our own organisation READ for Life to oversee.

Some of you may also think, how odd – we have a teacher’s training college but can’t find quality teachers! Our college focuses on early years (teaching pre-school age children), and the greatest need at the moment at the homeschool co-operative is to be teaching primary-age children (6-9 year olds).

This post is a request for prayer: please pray that we can find some teachers pretty soon! A combination of a couple of great Ugandan teachers who are quick learners and willing to try something new, as well as an expat teacher who can help mentor these new teachers.

The alternative looks pretty grim: we may all be forced to homeschool full time, which for some will force them out of the country. And for those who will try to juggle homeschooling and our work here, our work here will certainly suffer. If you do have any leads, please get in touch!

And… pray!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bedside reading chats over liver

invitation graduationNursery graduation number two

Today I represented our team at READ for Life as the ‘Chief Advisor’ at one of the local nursery schools we are partnering with. I was actually looking forward to attending this particular graduation because children at the school did brilliantly in our recent Early Grade Reading Assessment. The school climbed from position number 18 on the ladder to second place this year! And the P1 class came equal first, reading 56 words per minute – a great achievement for this new school branch.

The rain hindered the morning preparations. I arrived two hours late (thinking I would be about on time), but of course I was early. I was quickly ushered into the director’s office/home. Her living room was completely empty of furniture since it had all been relocated to the school field for the graduation celebration (I later enjoyed sitting on her lounge chair all afternoon as I took on the role of ‘chief advisor’).

With no furniture left, I was whisked into her bedroom where I was asked to take a seat (on her bed) and then served a plate of liver and a glass of drinking water. Yes, that’s correct – a plate of liver (with no accompaniments). As I boldly munched on the liver (my first time) she then climbed up on the bed too and inquired how their school went in the reading assessment. So… both reclining on her comfy bed and me nibbling the plate of liver, we then discussed her school and their improved performance.

When my plate was done (I was pretty proud about that) and the rain had eased, it was time to walk down and begin the proceedings.

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Bwaak bwaak, congratulations!

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Our diaries are quickly filling with invitations to graduations – nursery (preschool) graduations. These graduations are a pretty big deal in northern Uganda and today was the first one for us to attend for the year. There are 12 children graduating from their third year of nursery at this particular school and parents have gone ‘all out’ to congratulate their children with these gifts. I would say that children receive more gifts from their nursery graduation than they do at Christmas time. I wonder which child will be enjoying chicken for dinner… Henny Penny wasn’t wrapped up but is waiting patiently to be awarded as a prized gift.

‘Injustice’ under the leaves

Last night a local thief was killed (suspected mob justice) not that far us for trying to kill a goat.

My regular boda driver recounted some of the brief details to me before taking Myron to school this morning. During dinner tonight Dan asked Myron (attempting to be tactful): Myron, was there a man laying on the road, maybe sleeping, on your way to school? ¬†I hope you didn’t see him. (I tried to whisper to Dan that Myron probably knows all about it).¬†
Myron’s reply: No. he was dead. And he wasn’t there, they had buried him under some leaves.
And… moving on to a different conversation…

Mob justice is quite a crass way of describing this act. One local journalist believes calling it ‘justice’ is an affront to justice and prefers to call it ‘mob action’. Unfortunately, ‘mob action’ is common in Uganda and the latest statistics (from the Criminal Investigations Directorate) claim that six people are killed each week in Uganda from this method.

Advice from a student…

Madam, the deputy head teacher came up to me and asked me how we have been trained from here in managing children. He wants to know how I have been handling children in the classroom and what I am doing apart from beating the children. He wanted to know some ideas and to ask advice.

From one of our student teachers. The day after ‘zero day’ it was encouraging to hear that school leaders are going to our students for advice!

It’s a zero day

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 5.04.16 pmWe are on the fifth day of our annual Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) among Gulu municipal primary schools. This year there are 98 schools we are testing – every primary school in town – but this number grows every year!

We weren’t sure how we could physically do it, but thankfully this year we have joined hands with some organisations and individuals who believe in what we do and wanted to lighten our load and do it with us. We even had five government school head teachers and representatives travel 10 hours from western Ugandan to learn how to conduct the assessment (and help us out whilst learning), so they can return to their own schools and assess reading.¬†These ‘helpers’ have made a huge difference and on day five we have clocked 49 primary schools.

For the first four days this week we focused on private schools, which finish early for holidays. Two days ago I was floored with confident readers in one particular private school. The reading teacher had memorised their school position from last year (19) and had clearly worked hard this year on teaching reading. I was not only impressed with being served two bottles of water, two sodas and two cakes, but also with how fluently children could read and comprehend what they read (even in the first year of primary school). I quickly ran the numbers last night and that particular school has reading levels better than our best school last year! So encouraging!

But oh how the tables turned today. Our western Ugandan visitors are returning tomorrow so we wanted them to test reading in some government schools to see the difference before they leave. I was with a head teacher from Budibugyo this morning in one of our neighbouring government schools. It can take a while to complete the assessment with just two people testing, however today we went at a super fast pace. Unfortunately our speed wasn’t a reflection of how smooth we were at our testing skills, it was because children were scoring so many zeros that we couldn’t complete the whole assessment on them. Some children in their third year of primary school were not able to read any two-letter words! And many children in their first and second year of primary school could not say letter names or simple sounds correctly.

The even more depressing part is this school has been trained in effective methods of teaching reading! And has had many opportunities to receive further training since. They don’t even need to get transport to our office or training room, it’s a short stroll away. But there is a difference between being trained and implementing what you have learnt. Something we have learnt very well!

We were the first to return to our office, no surprises there. But unfortunately our colleagues soon followed, also with deflated faces and showing us their scoresheets plastered with ‘zeros’.

Some of the schools we visited today had received a quick surge in children’s reading improvements after training, some two years ago, others three years ago. However now these schools’ results are on the decline – and at a rapid rate! I quickly crunched the numbers from this morning when returning and P3 (grade 3) was reading at a rate of 39 words per minute last year, this year they dropped to 25 words per minute.

Our team leader was not surprised. Many of these government schools had stopped implementing phonics. There’s multiple reasons and it’s hard to pin-point exactly why in a concise manner. Some government teachers say they want extra money to teach, others say they teach too much already and don’t want to teach anything new, others just lie and say they are when they aren’t.¬†Possibly many government schools are after a ‘quick fix’ to improve education. However there are no quick fixes and overnight miracles to transform and teach children how to read.

On the contrary our private schools are improving even more and I am confident the gap between government and private schools is going to be bigger this year, possibly bigger than ever before. They flock to training, beg us to observe them and demand for more and more professional development – they just can’t get enough!

At least there are some victories. If you can afford to send your children to a private school, then there is hope. If you can’t, then I’m not sure what the answer is. We are a little over half way through our reading tests, but we will wait to see what the numbers tell us. But I know we need to sit down early next year and work out a plan for helping our resistant government schools.

Permission to discipline my son :)

When your son appears on your supervision sheets for your student teachers on School Practice: permission to discipline Myron a little more…

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