What a homecoming!

It has almost clocked one week exactly since we touched down on Australian soil – the first time in four years. The lady of the hour was certainly Elyce Unterrheiner – Dan’s sister who married on Saturday. Dan, Myron and I were honoured to be involved in the day: I was a bridesmaid, Myron was a page boy and Dan was the MC with an apparent South African accent. We are still reeling from this day, possibly surviving on adrenalin but just so blessed and thankful that we made it here just in time. It was an absolutely stunning wedding on the Unterrheiner farm, and without a doubt the two highlights (apart from the beautiful bride of course) was Hannah Unterrheiner’s matron of honour speech and ‘flash dance’ with Dan taking a lead role; and the originally decorated surroundings with a vintage-like feel and ‘grazing table’ fit for royalty.

It has been an incredible reunion with family members and friends and I am completely blown away with the marvellous welcome Myron has received, along with how incredibly well he is fitting in with everyone and adjusting to such a foreign environment! He’s hit it off smashingly with his cousins, and already bossing some of them them around. Looking forward to many more firsts (can already tick off vacuum cleaners, carpet, seeing the beach, sniffer dogs, crabs, and eating squid and lamb!)

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Last minute hiccup… 11th hour answer!

We booked our flights on Thursday but never received our E-Ticket or booking confirmation.

Over the past few days I have spent many hours talking to staff from South African Airways trying to get to the bottom of the issue to no avail. I was told by the Ugandan team just to come into their office (5 hours from Gulu) to sort it out. Drop in hours before flying? Like I believed that one. I continued to call multiple staff members: South African head office; then Perth office. We were told the booking was not paid for even though we had confirmation from credit card statements that the money had left the account.

We prayed and I was extremely anxious about the flights. But we just left the South African Airways office in Kampala and they were right – they sorted it all out! They knew it was us as we walked in, had the manager informed and on stand-by waiting.

We now have our tickets in our hands – praise God for answered prayer! We left the South African Airways office with a big hug from ‘Milcah’ who sorted it all; along with her business card and a request to meet up when we return to Uganda.

And now on our way to the airport to catch a flight that leaves in a little less than 5 hours.

See you soon Australia! Now we can get excited! Xx

Guess who’s going to Australia?

Guess whose visa was granted today to visit Australia? Yep – Myron’s!

Thanks to the many friends, family and colleagues who have been praying for this visa! And also to our relatives who were chasing it up with our Federal MP back in Australia. Myron’s visitor visa was approved today!

So let’s fly out… say… Monday! And book… now! (How many exclamation marks can I make it one paragraph?) And make Dan’s sister’s wedding next weekend! Woohoo! We’re calling this one a miracle (at the 10th hour).

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And action…

Today we filmed a demonstration of a phonics reading lesson at Obiya West Primary – one of the local schools in Gulu. The filming is part of our set of teacher training and professional development DVDs READ for Life is creating.
Although Teacher Catherine did the main teaching, I was so proud of the classroom teacher, Teacher Dickens, who had taught his class beautifully throughout the year! Group work in a class of 80! And after two years of schooling they could read and write!

We must give an ENORMOUS THANK YOU to Fairfield Church in the UK which is funding the production of the DVDs. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the church’s support! These DVDs are being created in response to local demand: teachers wanting more professional development resources; especially schools from across the country which we struggle to visit in person.

This is the third DVD we are in the process of creating. The first two are: a demonstration of a Set 1 (P1) phonics/reading lesson; and a training DVD. We are in the process of making covers for the Set 1 demonstration DVD and in the editing stage of the training DVD. We plan to film the Set 3 (P3) demonstration lesson next year.

We’re excited that some of these DVDs will be available for our January training where we are expecting teachers to travel from across the country for our training.

Here’s a few snippets of the Set 1 phonics demonstration lesson:

It’s a reading test party!

Last week we celebrated the end of our yearly Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA). It was a big effort, testing children in 86 primary schools in Gulu municipal, with the last school finished the morning of the party (Wednesday). We celebrated with pork, chips, pizza and doughnuts, as well as a few speeches (of course) and some prizes for those who could correctly recall some of the reading words from the test, and the fastest reader of the passage.

Our best EGRA story comes from one of our volunteer helpers: a local teacher (Everline who works at Connect Education Centre). She was allocated a stubborn school which we had not worked with in the past. We sent a letter ahead of us to the school written by the Municipal Education Officer stating that we would be carrying out the reading test soon in their school. The school tried to avoid the reading assessment, and when that failed tried to insist that we should pay them the privilege to test their children (called a ‘sitting fee’). Haha! Teacher Everline is a sharp one, took the bait, arrived early at the school in her finest school attire and led them to believe she was from the Municipal Education Office and carried out a short school inspection before the reading test. They welcomed her with open arms! And how were their reading scores? She recommended some training.

We had a good laugh about that story during our reading test lunch; which followed by a mini photoshoot and of course a photoshoot with Myron 🙂

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Teacher Everline – thanks for your quick thinking and humour!

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Teacher Everline with Myron 

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Teacher Kate with Myron 

Goodbye student years!

One week after my final uni assignment was due, I have now submitted it! Thanks Sydney University for taking your time to fix the online system error – I can now finally feel relieved that my university days are over!

No longer a student! Woohoo! What will life be like? I’ve been studying for years (too much of an effort to calculate how many)! And I can’t quite remember what life is like without study (one post cadetship journal course through a university; two Bachelor degrees in Education and now a Masters in Education) – I’m one highly qualified teacher you don’t want to mess with!

Dan will certainly be relieved too; but I can’t guarantee I’m no longer going to live like a student: I think I will still cook 2-minute noodles and show my lack of prowess in the kitchen; and I don’t think I will drastically transform and become a clean person!

Looking forward to reading other things apart from academic journals and government reports which makes me completely out of touch with the world! What has happened in the world in the past 10 years? Ahhhh pass! Apart from what’s happening outside my gate (and there’s a lot going on out there), I’m none the wiser. But I can talk to you for hours about all things education!

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System error preventing celebrations

Two nights ago my final university assignment for my Masters in Education (International Education) was due for submission. I had been counting down the weeks, and then days until this moment would arrive! I sacrificed some very valuable DVD watching time to read through journal articles and write 6000 words of seemingly sensible ramblings about education in Uganda. And now I’ve made it to the end!

I want to celebrate the end of my university days – this is my fourth university course and I would love to say my last university assignment ever! However I feel I need to hold off on celebrations until I have actually submitted my assignment. Due to some silly conflict in submission dates between Turnitin and the university online portal, the system is down – it has been down for the past two days. I’ve covered my butt though: I rang IT Help Desk; emailed my completed assignment to my supervisor, head of subject and head of the course; forwarded IT emails to the same people; and rang IT again today.

Still awaiting for the systems error to be corrected before I can actually submit my assignment and celebrate the end of this journey!

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Racing to the finish line for reading tests

Over the past few weeks we have been sweet-talking education workers, friends, organisation partners and even neighbours to help us complete reading assessments in every primary school in Gulu town. With the high population of children in Uganda (about 50% of the country is under the age of 15 years) – there’s a lot of primary schools around: within the municipality (town) this year we reached 83 primary schools!

We have been testing a random sample of 15 children from each class in P1, P2 and P3 classes (the first three years of primary school). We have been following a slightly adapted version of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) designed to test pupils’ early reading skills in low-income countries. Our aim is to complete the tests this Friday – and by then we would have listened to 3,735 children read! That’s a pretty good picture of what early grade reading looks like in Gulu. And a very exhausted group of testers 🙂 I think many of us have been falling asleep and dreaming of that comprehension passage!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has been involved in carrying out these reading tests. Your commitment to improving reading in Gulu, and also Uganda, is deeply valued and appreciated! 

After collating and analysing all the results we will then share summary reports with each school individually, an overview of results to the local education office and also national government. But our biggest aim for the reading tests is to dictate our priorities for next year: which schools need a lot more support and how we can best help them. There’s already been a few very encouraging stories which we plan to share very soon.

Below is a letter written from a P3 child at a local government school in Gulu. I was handed a few letters today when I visited Layibi Central Primary School today for reading assessments. We have been working with this school since these children were in P1, and it is exciting to see some steady progress and improvements in reading! We certainly don’t need to see these letters from pupils, the reading test results are proof enough – but it is very encouraging nonetheless! Although the letters thank me personally, we wouldn’t be able to achieve any of this without many of you taking part in this journey with us. Thank you! 

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A P2 pupil in a Gulu primary school participating in our round of Early Grade Reading Assessments.

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Marking off our reading tests…

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A letter of thanksgiving from a P3 pupil at a government school in Gulu – she is thankful she can now read!

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National leaders visit…

My persistent nagging and questions to the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) paid off two weeks ago when they came to visit us in Gulu! The national director – yep that’s right the chief of Uganda’s future education – came personally with her team of curriculum specialists to hear from us in person, and to observe some of our work in local schools.

It certainly was a frenzied period of preparation, visiting two schools beforehand, helping teachers lesson plan, doing some practise observations, working on displays in the training room and preparing reports and a few presentations.

We had planned a gentle welcome on the afternoon of arrival, after all they had travelled 5 hours from Kampala to get here. The main ECD and early primary curriculum specialist didn’t really want to tread water or splash in the shallow end, she wanted to dive straight in, and so we did… lots of hard-hitting questions but certainly some stimulating and challenging discussions about our teaching methods, possibilities of replicating and how to improve reading levels on a national scale. Both the national director and curriculum specialist said they had travelled up to Gulu to learn from us, which was so humbling and encouraging to hear!

On the second day we had organised two school visits. The first school was Mama Cave Primary School with our dear friend and P1 teacher Mary Margaret who edited our local language phonics manual. Margaret is passionate about our work and was excited about the opportunity of being observed. She taught two lessons to our ‘guests’; the first was an English reading lesson and the second was in local language; all visitors did not speak Acoli, however it was such great teaching that they could read a little by the end of the lesson! There were a few moments in the second lesson when six-year-olds were independently reading sentences in their mother tongue without any assistance from the teacher – job done! This was more powerful than any presentation we could give, and certainly impressed our visitors, one in particular who could hardly stay seated and filmed most of the lessons.

It was an extremely exhausting, yet wonderful two days. I finished by sharing my ‘wish list’ on a national level for how to improve literacy education in Uganda. A little bold, but it was well received. We have been given some ‘homework’ from the NCDC to present reports of our work, with detailed data, and to also expand to further districts and document the success. We’re excited and so blessed that we had this opportunity to share with the NCDC and are hopeful that this dialogue and communication will continue.

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Kirombe Primary School teachers in action teaching a reading lesson observed by the NCDC. NCDC Curriculum specialist Debbie Magera (right) is filming the lesson.

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NCDC Director Grace Baguma (centre, back) observing a phonics reading lesson with curriculum specialists in Gulu.

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Mama Cave P1 pupils participating in a writing activity during a local language lesson observed by the NCDC.

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Mama Cave Primary School P1 teacher Mary Margaret teaching local language to her class, observed by the NCDC.

Off the printing press…

Our Set 3 phonics readers are now out! Quite excited to have this long-awaited final instalment to our early readers. Now we have built up our sounds bank we finally have some real stories for children to read! Ugandan traditional tales retold by a local teacher,  edited into our phonics order and illustrated by a local artist.

We have been working on this project for a few of years  – it’s a relief and also exciting to see it all come to fruition! Can’t wait to see children reading these in school…

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