Now that the last Uganda National Examination Board (Uneb) cycle is over, we can reflect a bit on an issue that has become cliché. The ubiquitous disaster that is the ‘village school.’
Here, failure rates have been so high with rock bottom grades that you think cannot get any lower. They still do.
A year or so ago, a thought on this issue crossed my mind. Johnson Grace Maganja wrote a small 31 page early learners book titled, The Adventures of Maganjo. He advertised his work on Facebook. In his post, was a grammatical error which I corrected and earned a free autographed copy. I bought several of them to help me actualise my ‘thought.’
That was to help in a small way in enhancing the literacy of pupils in rural schools by providing reading material.
I recall very many years ago, as teenagers, we became very great friends with Arnold Anyuru Okwanga. Our meeting point was old newspapers. His mother worked at the Central Bank and always carried home a week load of old copies of newspapers from around the globe.
We read every word and that fired our imagination. We ‘saw’ and ‘experienced’ a lot of things in our minds in the fields of politics, medicine, science and technology, business and finance, personalities, sports, the arts, music and culture, astronomy etc, that we had not seen (and may never see) physically
So my thought starting with the Maganjo book was that whenever I travel upcountry I will move with some books and old newspapers to give to young children and talk to them so that they get interested in reading.
Even seeing pictures in newspapers could be a little step for people who have nothing. Last week, I had a chat with a brother, Silver. He told me that he has been doing something similar for a school in his village. One day he carried along an old edition of The Independent news magazine with a cover picture of Gen Kale Kayihura. He showed it to the village chairman who did not recognise the man on the cover!
He told me that he once went out looking for a donation of a non-functional computer to give to the school because it lacks electricity yet the children had never seen a computer. The donors thought he was out of his mind. He just wanted them to know what it looks like. This school is about 60 Kms from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda a country with the one of the fastest growing economies in the world, in the 21st Century!
It reminded me of a child for whom I was privileged to pay school fees. One day I met the child and looked at the school work. Nice hand writing, yes but the content made me feel weak at the knees.
A particular question struck me. ‘What is ATM in full?’ Answer: Automatic terror machine. The teacher gave a huge tick and added ‘very good.’ I asked the child if they had ever seen an ATM, the answer was. ‘No!’
Yet many of these things including pictures are found in newspapers. Chances are high, that the teacher did not have a bank account; which these days come with ATM access.
Back to Maganja’s book, in one school, the star pupil in P7 struggled to read the book which an average P4 child in the city would breeze through, effortlessly. His intonation was so poor you could tell he would have trouble comprehending the story since he was reading word by word, with a lot of hesitation. The teacher who lacked confidence and annoyingly addressed me as ‘sir’ told me that he was good but he only lacked ‘things’ to read. His written work was similar. The sentence construction clashed with several rules of grammar.
The science and mathematics was wrought with similar challenges, I felt for the child. I asked him a popular P2 question, ‘which was heavier, a kilo of cotton or a kilo of stones?’ He said the stones were heavier! You could safely argue that at PLE, the guillotine was awaiting him.
Back to my thought. We can create reading centres or ‘public libraries’ at schools, village LC offices, the church or mosque.
It does not have to be expensive. A rudimentary shed with a box underneath in which we collect some old newspapers and books. Those interested may drop off ‘unwanted’ reading material as they go to attend a funeral or function in the village. You lose nothing even if it is burnt or stolen for you were going to throw it away anyway. With time we could add computers, pens, pencils, rubbers, crayons, geometry sets etc.
One could also talk to the students on the importance of reading and encourage them too. The village pupil will not pass with flying colours, but it is a good starting point, for when you read you don’t remain the same. Then if you perfect the skill it helps you to keep learning new things even when the teacher is not around.
In this era where ‘calling upon the government’ has also become cliché, something this small may prove to be big in the education and lives of pupils in the rural areas.
Nicholas Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @nsengoba
DAILY MONITORPoor rural schools could find treasure in old newspapers