One more brick wall…

This week I was expected to train teachers from three schools in a neighbouring district but instead I training two schools. The reason why the third school didn’t come: the director thought the training would only benefit the teachers and not the school. And if the teachers gained new skills, they may leave the school and transfer somewhere else. How sad.


Where am I? Globalisation…

Tonight I returned from Lira (a two-hour drive) where I was doing some teaching. I took an eight-seater Noah van home (you could almost call this public transport: 12 of us crammed into the eight seats). Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers boomed through the speakers for the first part of the journey. The guy sitting next to me started chatting. Our conversation centred a lot around DVD series, particularly Vikings: ‘What do you think is going to happen now?’ He was asking me. ‘Do you think Ragnar’s sons will go to Wessex? What about Lagatha?’ For a moment I forgot where I was, could have been anywhere in the world. Then I realised my leg was numb from balancing my backpack on my knees containing my prized possessions and I had no room to reshuffle my legs; one bum cheek squeezed onto the seat (the other hung off); I recall my position then return to the conversation.

When you cannot read…

This is why we do what we do:

My 13-year-old neighbour bought me his P3 (third year of primary school) exam paper for first term. One year ago he couldn’t read anything. Now, he is a struggling reader, slowly on his reading journey. When you can’t read, you can’t access other parts of the curriculum, including word problems in the maths paper. His maths is actually not bad, but reading and writing is a barrier to performing well in maths.


ICT taught on the blackboard :)

I walked into a classroom yesterday where the contents were still left on the chalkboard from a weekend class, possibly a secondary school class or a Diploma level class.

The subject was ICT. I chuckled a little when I saw some of the headings: youtube, whatsapp, Facebook, features of Word, pornographic contents…

Can you imagine teaching about the internet without the internet? Or without a computer or even electricity? Then I stopped chuckling. And just stared at the board for a while speechless.


The laziest… with no sense of urgency…

Hitting the news today is: “Ugandans have been ranked as the laziest people in East Africa with the lowest labour productivity in terms of value-added per worker.”

Thankfully, I work with some extremely hard-working Ugandan teachers – possibly I caught the ‘Pearls’. However I can say that this certainly rings true with many employees we encounter in the field, just part of the mix of everyday challenges 🙂

If you want to read the full article click here

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There are two things that made my day today. This first is this message below from Katie, one of the two incredible Peace Corps volunteers working with me. The second is that I taught today at the local Primary Teacher’s College and when I arrived I found a student teacher cutting up cardboard boxes to make his own set of flashcard resources. For the message below: EGRA means Early Grade Reading Assessment, it’s a reading test we are conducting in 20 government schools in Gulu. We do it at the end of each term. Today Katie was in a new control school (school we are not working with yet) with Caroline (a local teacher who is now working with us – she was a star phonics/reading teacher in her former school at Layibi P7 Primary School).

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Taunted as ‘pigs’ because they look different

Here’s a depressing article about how Albino children are treated in my current district. There is a slightly happy ending: the children were moved to a ‘town school’ where hopefully they won’t be referred to as ‘pigs’ or considered ‘aliens’. I work with the school they are moving to: praying for an easier education journey for them.

Read the article



More than the worst thing we have ever done

Originally posted on Ugandapanda:
“You have to wash! Look at you! I’ll tell the school matron to beat you if you don’t wash!”Kenneth’s mum scolds him, inspecting his uniform and behind his ears. Its visiting day at Gulu Primary Boarding school. Its true, Kenneth is looking a bit grubby. But he isn’t roaming the streets stealing…

“90 would be easier”


A P1 teacher managing her class of 126 pupils during a reading/writing lesson – she walks around to give pupils individual feedback during writing time. You can’t see many of the children in the photo. 

On Thursday I visited a local primary school to observe early literacy (reading/writing) lessons and give teachers some feedback. I started with sitting at the back of P1 class (first year of primary). The day’s attendance was noted on the board – total: 126. There were four rows of benches (rather than the standard three), to try and squeeze in all the children present. The middle two rows were pushed together and were impassable. There were possibly a good 40-50 children that the teacher had no access to. There were about 10 children on the floor out the front of the class (no room left on the benches). I could see learning charts glued to the cement walls with my handwriting on them from three years ago (I guess the alphabet doesn’t really change, lol).

The teacher did quite an incredible job of managing those 126 children (without any assistance from another teacher). She beautifully followed all the steps we had trained her in and it was so encouraging to see children reading and writing independently on slates.

The pace of the lesson was slow – but that is to be expected How do you attempt to give 126 learners individual feedback day-in, day-out when you are the only one in the class? But she did a pretty awesome job of it! The teacher did comment on the class size, how it was difficult to manage (understatement), and if she had about 90 how much better that would be.

P2 was a similar story, although there were 110 children in the class, a little less crowded than P1. During my individual conversations with the teachers I enquired about the reason for the large class sizes. Both their responses matched my thinking: money. The school gets 5000 shillings each child as an ‘entrance/administration’ fee (£1.10, and around AUS$1.80). Schools also get a ‘grant’ from the government based on enrolment, at around 7500 shillings per child for the year (£1.70; $2.70). The more children in the school, the more money the school receives. Easy logic, simple motivation. Sadly, considering the impact class size has on the quality of education does not surface in discussions.

In Uganda, the pupil-teacher ratio is at 55:1 – 55 pupils for one teacher. Clearly 126 is a little over that and 126 was the number present that day – there were more than 140 on the register. Schools justify large class sizes by employing two teachers for one class, claiming that they can then double the class size and easily have 110 children in one class. But 140 is still well beyond that.

During my long discussion later with the school’s deputy on how to possibly improve reading and writing at the school; I ended with the discussion on enrolment. I enquired why the class size in P1 was so large and he replied that the school couldn’t deny children a place; they would be taken to the ‘authorities’ for denying children a place in the school. The irony is, you can also be taken to the ‘authorities’ for beating a child, charging school fees and having long school hours beyond the government timetable…

The horn is your friend…

This week we took a little two-day break away and I did my share of driving – still gaining confidence driving on Ugandan roads. With Dan as my instructor/critique, here are the top three tips I could now pass on:

  • Always drive in the middle of the road; only go to your side when another car is coming.
  • “The horn is your friend” – Dan’s words exactly. Honk, and people and motorbikes will get out of your way.
  • Never swerve for an animal. Goats, chickens, etc, no swerving. But if it’s a cow, then don’t drive straight into it, try and hit it at an angle.