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Monday, 18 August 2014

Education: Challenge of a rural school child matching the urban counterpart in Uganda

By Sam Agona 
With the liberalization of the Ugandan economy, there has been a marked existence of dualism in almost all sectors of the economy, inessential to say all walks of life. This is a situation not exclusive to Uganda but common in almost all developing countries. In Uganda, there is a complete contrast between rural and urban schools which at the end of it all has a huge impact on quality of output from academic institutions. This article will base on the disparity in education between urban and rural at primary level (with a few insights into post primary education) which the author considers elementary and lays foundation for the later stages of education.
Towards every end of year, pupils and students sit for national examinations, which determine where one progresses to after results are released, exams are the same save international schools where pupils and students sit some exams set from institutions abroad. A close look at extremely rural schools and highly invested-in urban schools makes it clear that, these pupils and or students are not at the same level and probably should not be sitting for the same exams. Let’s have some insight:
Time school starts; the author had witnessed some children in and around Kampala, go school as early as 5:00am. They are picked by the school van by around 5:00- 5:15am, and head straight to school. A visit atGreenhill Academy revealed that school starts at about 6:30am and classes close by around 5pm when day-scholars are picked. In the rural impoverished setting, a pupil is sometimes still aching her way to school by 8:30am.
The rural child grows speaking vernacular predominantly, thus making English as the language of learning a challenge. Failure to grasp English by the average ages of 13-17 makes improving literacy level at the later stages very difficult thus throttling the overall quality of education. In contrast, children from urban and peri-urban schools grow up in households where English is the language spoken, they also interact with each other on their play grounds using English as their medium of communication.
In rural schools, teachers are poorly motivated and do not do anything to look for any input into their teaching material beyond what they found at the school years ago. This is a direct contrast with urban and peri-urban highly invested-in schools where teachers have access to internet-enabled computers, high-end hand held devices and are well facilitated to do their job thus enriching content that they eventually deliver to pupils boosting knowledge even beyond exam requirements.
It is imperative to note that times have changed, institutions have changed and processes have equally changed. A glimpse into some schools will show you how much is invested in content creation and dissemination, something rural schools cannot afford.  It is not queer to find some primary and secondary schools using screen projection as a means of teaching, not to ask too much from rural school, but also important to mention the untold disparity between such a school and one where pupils sit on stones facing a black board with is half broken. This is an uncouth study environment which can easily reflect on student performance.
It true that pupils walk to school everywhere (at least some distance) but the author has been to some parts of Uganda where pupils walk a distance of anything between 3-7 kms before reaching school, this means they reach at around 9-10 am when they are already hungry much as it’s a situation they are already accustomed to, then they cannot get lunch, cannot return home as well due to the distance, thus studying on an empty stomach.
In urban or elite schools, pupils either wake up from their dormitories and walk (30 meters) into class empty handed, because they have lockers where they keep their books enclosed in class. School going children in rural areas sometimes forget to carry their study material because they have to carry a hoe to go work in their teacher’s garden in the morning. A pupil forgetting their hoe is one of the biggest crimes they can commit. Needless to point out that for many people, the brain functions best in the morning hours, these children are somewhere in some teacher’s garden.
Modern schools have done a lot to sharpen focus on education. Paramount to that is noting that education has gone through global technological revolution. With costs of equipment plummeting, smart energy products becoming more accessible close to ubiquitous-ness, low powered options multiplying, increased access to broadband well beyond peri-urban areas. Schools like Greenhill Academy, Kampala Parents Primary School among others have internet enabled computer labs. On the other hand, our extremely rural counterparts, lack even the most basic  of learning equipment; as a case in point, in July, 2013 a survey trip in Kitgum, the head teacher of Dure Primary School (12 kms on Kitgum – Gulu road) saw the author holding a compass and a GPS, he literally begged to have this shown to his primary seven children who according to him were about to sit for exams but didn’t have an idea of how a compass looks and was willing to call off pupils from their break. Children do not have what to read, the cabinet list in the headmaster’s office is of when Hon. Amama Mbabazi was Minister of Security and Dr. Stephen Mallinga (RIP) was still a minister. No sincere soul will want to ask for a lot from such a school. The chart in the headmaster’s office showing board of governors has a senior three graduate as the Chairman board, and a primary four graduate as part of its members, with all due respect, the author cannot be sure of the broad decisions such a team can make.
In an average school, pupils and students have time for private studies and prep. In the author’s neighborhood pupils who study at Kampala Parents go to school at 5:30 am, and revise from 6:00 am to about 7:45 am when normal classes start. In boarding schools, it even gets easier, pupils and or students can afford to do private studies at any time, this gets them more acquainted with the study material. While in our rural schools, a pupil walks an average 1-3 or more kms to and from school, probably have to go collect water from a borehole or a well which is a distance away from home, then prepare dinner (for the rural girl child), by the time that is done, it is 10 pm, using a kerosene lamp, there is little energy for private studies. This kind of life repeatedly, direly reflects on the quality of a rural child’s results.
If it is true that a smart body understands better, then it is inarguable Physical preparation of pupils. Children in seemingly broad schools dress well, neatly and this boosts their confidence among their peers thus easing expression among others.
Gender balance in rural school; mention is important that mixing the boy child and girl child in a learning environment is beneficial to both genders.
In terms of policy, school resumed on 16th September, 2013, amidst a looming strike by teachers due to their standoff with government, on that day, observably, at Makerere College, Buganda Road PS, Lubiri SS and Mengo SS, students, Sir Apollo Kagwa P.S pupils were in class and teaching went on as desired. While in Kibaale, majority of the schools (UPE) were closed notably  Kagadi Model P/S that accommodates over 1,000 pupils is closed, even as near as Nansana, teachers at St Joseph SS were seen in their quarters doing their laundry as students loitered around the compound. However at the end of the year, they will all (students and pupils) sit for the same examinations. 
To conclude, it is just fair that these pupils from two “whole different worlds” do not sit the same examinations at the end of the year, they live way too contrastingly. 

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