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 ūüôā 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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Someone has a passport!

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Someone has their Ugandan passport! Woohoo! We have applied for Myron’s visitor visa for Australia and now we are just waiting to hear… Would love to return to Australia for Christmas and Dan’s sister’s wedding in early December. Praying for a quick visa processing so we can book some flights!

Thief in the rain…

eight_col_heavy_rainWhen I was young and heading to bed on a rainy night my father would always say to me how he loved to fall asleep listening to rain falling on the roof. Here, the sound of rain at night brings a different message: a warning signal.

When it rains heavy throughout the night in Gulu there’s always a risk of theft – particularly if you have a tin roof (the noise is deafening!). This is a local fact, known by all in our community. The latest to fall victim was a good friend of ours who runs a local video hall (you may have read about this before, a room with a television and speaker and lots of seats; mostly to show Premier League football games and they are regularly packed!)

Last night, as the rain thundered down, the hall was broken into (a padlock on a wooden door). A flat screen television, speaker and DVD player was stolen (no insurance). Right next to the video hall is a small room which houses a generator, computer and DVDs. This small room is ‘guarded’ by the owner’s relative who sleeps on the floor each night. Almost a year ago, last wet season, the same video hall was broken into and the flat screen television stolen. The owner got a loan to buy a new one and had one repayment to go before last night’s events. The owner may take out another loan for a replacement television so his business can continue. There’s no fences, no gates, the video hall like many local businesses in our area, are on the side of the street. Tighter security is not financially possible. It’s not what you could call a lucrative business. And what would the options be? Two relatives to sleep on the floor of both rooms? There is no simple answer.

 

Three milestones in a day!

Three milestones and incredible achievements all falling today!

October 25, 2018: 

  • Myron has been in our family for two years today! We celebrated tonight eating out.
  • We hosted a full day of lesson observations, presentations and discussions with the Director of the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre and three others in her team. Intense but great discussions – report more later (after a much-needed chick-flick and some sleep. After two 16-hour days I’m spent!)
  • Our first year student teachers at our nursery teacher training college had their external supervision for their school practice today from Makerere University. Reports are they went great! Thanks to my incredible team who helped to make this happen whilst I was attending to our NCDC visitors (Kelsey and Aleks – you guys rock!).
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Cake! Happy family birthday Рtwo years! 

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The head of early childhood and lower primary at the National Curriculum Development Centre taking photos of a P3 phonics lesson at Kirombe Primary School. The teachers did a great job teaching in front of quite an intimidating audience. 

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One of our student teachers works with a group of pupils on reading and writing words during her external supervision with Makerere University. 

 

Kill those insects… we have important people coming!

‘Can you please kill all the insects in the toilets before tomorrow? They are landing all over me when…’

‘Oh, and we need to repair the window that fell out when cleaning the cobwebs.’

Anyone would think we have important guests coming. Well… we do! Sodas and lunch ordered. Room swept and mopped. Half finished our room displays. Projector charger needs a little operation before lunch. Tomorrow morning off to two local schools for practice observations, getting ready for the real ones: When the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre Director comes with her team of 6.

Invitations personally delivered to local guests and they’re coming to welcome our visitors too: District Inspector of Schools, Municipal Inspector of Schools and Municipal Education Officer.

We’re almost ready!

Please pray for a successful visit as we showcase some quality teaching methods and discuss how to improve education in Uganda – looking at the big picture!

NCDC or lamb roast?

Years ago there was a commercial in Australia about a lady turning down a date with Tom Cruise because she was having a lamb roast that night. Nowadays we chat, blog and ponder about who we would invite for dinner (if we could invite anyone in the world) Рour Ultimate Dinner Guest List: Albert Einstein? Hugh Jackman? actors, authors, politicians, scientists, entertainers, the list could be endless.

Well in Uganda, if I could invite anyone to visit me who would it be? Director of the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) Grace Baguma of course! The most influential person when it comes to curriculum change and what is taught in Ugandan classrooms. Today I got confirmation from Grace that she is planning a field visit to Gulu to meet us and see first-hand our work in schools. And she’s not visiting alone, she’s bringing a team of 4 others from the NCDC and one representative from the Ministry of Education. We are still finalising details, but the visit is planned for next week (October 24-25).

I have had a rocky journey when it comes to meetings with national government representatives. But this is potentially our biggest meeting yet! Please continue to pray that it goes ahead! And that we would plan wisely for what to share and for our time together.

One step closer…

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This piece of paper took six hours queuing in Kampala four weeks ago, numerous phone calls chasing it up, to soon discover the Kampala office wasn’t happy with a couple of the documents. So… we collected the paperwork again, re-lodged in Gulu office last Thursday and…. BOOM: Here is Myron’s birth certificate.

One more piece in the paperwork puzzle.

Next step: Myron’s Ugandan passport (lodging his application tomorrow). Then visitor visa for Australia (including a medical check).

We celebrate these small victories as we are closer in our journey to visit Australia and unite our family and friends together!