Monday, September 5, 2011

Future of Uganda’s Educational System

With a 21.4% inflation rate in the last year, Uganda’s educational system has been forced to alter their fees accordingly. What does this mean for the students attending these schools?

As we’ve noticed in northern Uganda, many families already choose not to send their children to school, as the fees are just too expensive. Uganda is under the universal educational program but unfortunately, having the ‘universal’ title does not mean it is all inclusive. School fees still exist and this is due to lack of government funding, and privatization. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school and thus, thousands of students across Uganda are missing out.

In the past few months, we have also seen the threat of a teachers’ strike across Uganda. Teachers face risk of not getting paid monthly, not finding work, and have been continuously underpaid. We are waiting to see how the government will respond in assisting the people that will help mould the future citizens of Uganda.

In the last 20 years, education has reached more Ugandans than ever before, but with the additional increase in living expenses and educational fees, what does this mean for students now? Will more children be held back to help their family at home? Will more students have to drop out because of the increase in fees? Will families hesitate to send their children to classes? Will teachers continue to receive low pay or will they make change through striking?

All of these questions will be answered in the next year but it also brings to light that many things should be open to adjustment in the Ugandan educational system. If change does not happen, we will continue to see thousands of students lacking essential education. As the new term begins this month, I hope that the government takes time to sort through these issues and make the future of education a number one priority. We can only wait and see.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Child Soldiers as adults...

Last week, the first Ugandan war crimes trial opened in northern Uganda. Thomas Kwoyelo has been charged with 53 counts of willful killing, hostage-taking, destruction of property and causing injury. Thomas, now 39, has denied all charges.

This trial has me thinking a lot about the use of child soldiers and the implications of a child growing up within an army environment. It has been reported that Thomas joined the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 1987. That would make him 15 years old when he began his life with the Ugandan rebel army. Did Thomas really have a say in his role? Did he have a chance to be a teenager? Did he want to commit the crimes that he committed? As evidence has confirmed, Thomas played a leading role in the conflict led by the LRA during his adult years. However, did Thomas have a say when he first joined the LRA? Did he have a choice when he was forced into committing crimes under his commander’s orders?

In both Police and Paicho primary schools we promote peace, understanding, and human rights among students. Things change though when someone’s life is put at stake. We can teach children to pursue peaceful behavior in their lives but when adults take advantage of children in a conflict situation, many will be forced to go against what they believe in and what they believe is the right thing to do.

As the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers states on its website, ‘The use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned as abhorrent and unacceptable. Yet over the last ten years hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in conflicts around the world.’ As a child you do not have a say in whether you fight; it is something you do to stay alive. Thomas is responsible for the crimes he has committed but did he really have a choice in his initial involvement? When it comes to fight or die, as a 15 year old, which would you choose?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Children poorly taught in East Africa…

This week an article was printed in the Daily Monitor entitled ‘East Africa children poorly taught – a report’. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t surprise me.

IPEP has been working in northern Ugandan schools now for 2 years and we have seen the ins and outs that go on in primary education. Our staff has met with the Board of Education, the National Curriculum Development Board and many consultants involved in education here in Uganda. Unfortunately, the same conclusion always emerges; the education system in Uganda is failing more than succeeding.

The problem is not only in the classroom though; it is the entire structure of the educational system. Ugandan teachers are not supported and most of the time not respected. We’ve seen it time and time again where teachers do not receive their salaries, and yet they must stay or else they would be unemployed. When teachers are not paid, they are not motivated. Therefore, they tend to not show up for classes, do not prepare lessons, and do not really have a reason for working. The person that suffers the most in this situation is the student.

Daily Monitor reports that In Uganda and Tanzania, pass rates were at 4 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. “There is a crisis of learning in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Governments are proud of their achievements in expanding school enrolments. But they should now not hide behind these achievements, and focus instead on making sure that children in school are in fact learning,” reads part of the report released last month.

Our Program Director, Miriam Wertlieb, has met with education officials continuously and stated that ‘the current education system is not working, and this is why they are in the process of overhauling it completely to make the system better and improve the education that Ugandan children receive.’

This is great news and for the students of Uganda, we hope its impacts will be seen sooner than later.

Read more about the report here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peace Education continues in northern Uganda...

We are well into the second term of Peace Education at Police Primary School and it’s going great.

Before the term started we experienced a challenging time; as it was questionable whether or not the IPEP team would be returning to both Police and Paicho Primary Schools. However, we received the go ahead and the Insight Peace Education Project is reaching the students in Gulu District that need it most.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with us, you know that we had a Master’s student, Gwen Bogels, in Gulu earlier this year researching the ins and outs of the project. We wanted to share with you what our IPEP students shared with Gwen:

“I love it [peace education], before I didn’t know anything about conflict. I want it to continue, it is important. I should not be the only one to know about conflict, more people should. It can help other children to know what they didn’t know. I learned a lot. People saying these are your rights, but I didn’t know. But last week we got to know 26 of them, that should continue. It helped to know what happened in other countries, because we saw pictures of it.” - Ojok Benson, P7 student, 16 years old

“The goal of peace education is for children to have respect. When Miriam started coming, children talked about bad things. Now there is some improvement. We were used to fight, but now there is reduction in fighting.” – Akwero Jeneth, P7 student, 14 years old

“Last year I heard about peace education for the first time. This changed my life.” – Okema Timothy, P7 student, 14 years old

In a region divided by conflict, peace education is encouraging these children to ask more questions, to develop their skills, to know their rights and to fight against violence in their schools. Peace education does not just teach students what to think, but rather how to think critically. It does not only affect the individual, it concerns the community at large and how the next generation of northern Ugandans can grow in a region of continuous peace. We’ve been in Gulu now for almost 2 years and we see the potential this region has. With lasting peace, there is nowhere to go but up.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thank you for another great year!!!

The end of term 1 has finished here in Gulu and all primary teachers and students have returned home for holidays. It is also the end of the second phase of the Insight Peace Education Project. This year was instrumental in judging the need for a continued peace curriculum throughout Gulu. It was unanimous that the project has succeeded in the pilot stages and the local Ministry of Education agrees. “After years of insurgency, the need for peace education in our schools is essential,” says District Educational Officer in Gulu, Akena Caesar . Peace education is not just about the now, it is about the future and by maintaining this project, sustainable peace in northern Uganda is possible.

To commemorate this amazing accomplishment, all IPEP staff, volunteers, teachers, and their families from Police and Paicho Primary Schools came together for a celebratory dinner. Not only are these teachers changing the way children see themselves but they are changing the way they see the world as a whole. We wanted to make sure our teachers know how special and important they are in keeping northern Uganda a peaceful place. In addition, we recognized a pioneer teacher that has gone above and beyond his role in implementing the IPEP curriculum at Police Primary School. Komakec Romanson (pictured below with Educational Services Manager, Miriam Wertlieb) was awarded with the ‘teacher appreciation’ award for excellence in his contribution to IPEP. It is our hope that in the next year, IPEP will continue to train more teachers and teach even more primary-aged children in peace throughout Gulu.

We would again like to extend our thanks to all teachers and volunteers involved in the Insight Peace Education Project, because without you, the program could not have reached success!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Me in Three

If you were asked to describe yourself as you see yourself, as others see you, and as you truly are, would you know what to say?

This week at Police Primary School, the P6 class took a shot at answering these tough questions. I sat at the back of the classroom and observed while so many students eagerly raised their hands to contribute. They seemed to know exactly who they were, or at least they were trying to understand. “I am a fat girl. I am stubborn. I am strong,” one student said. ‘Others say I am a polite girl. I am a hard working girl,’ another added.

This lesson is part of a complete unit regarding ‘identities’. Identity is said to relate to self-image, self-esteem, and individuality. Throughout our lives we are often changing and questioning our identities but in adolescence, it is when youth first begin to distinguish themselves as individuals. It is a critical time for one to ask themselves these questions, especially if they have never lived in a peaceful society. In northern Uganda, over 25,000 children were abducted to become combatants or sex slaves during the 20-year conflict; 7,500 of those children were girls of whom 1,000 returned from LRA captivity having conceived children of their own (United Nations). During that time, I’m sure many of them questioned who they were, where they were going and if they would even survive. Their identity was so construed that many didn’t even have the chance to ask the questions a typical child should ask.

This is why the Insight Peace Education Project has taken the unique approach to providing students with the opportunity to raise these questions. ‘Who are you in your own thinking? What does it mean?’ Instead of someone defining their roles in society, they have a chance to think for themselves. Now, more than ever, northern Uganda must continue to promote peace. These students need to continue to ask these questions. They need to question who they are and try to understand it. These students are the future of Uganda, and when they have peace, the entire nation will too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the outside looking in...

My name is Gwen Bögels and I’m an anthropology student from The Netherlands. For my masters I am required to do 12 weeks of in-depth research. Over the past few years I have grown more and more interested in peace education and I decided I wanted to research this topic. I am trying to find out what the perceptions of children are on war and peace and what their strategies are to resolve conflicts between each other, but additionally between themselves and their parents or teachers. This is why, over the past few weeks, I have chosen to talk to the oldest children of the two schools where the Insight Peace Education Project is implementing their peace education curriculum.

My interest in peace education started when I was taking a course called Education and Development, and the professor introduced me to the topic of education in conflict areas. Education is, according to me, an important feature of a child’s development. In school, children not only learn how to read, write and add numbers, but also how to interact with other children. School is where children learn how to share, how to quarrel, and how to resolve these quarrels. Next to that, children represent the future, so we should invest in them; even when a country is at war. Or maybe it is even more important to invest in education when a country is at war? School makes life a little bit more normal and it is a place where children can be themselves within these ‘bad surroundings’[1].

Since the beginning of this century, many organizations have begun to see education as a part of humanitarian aid. Next to food, medical care and shelter, more organizations support education in conflict affected areas. Although Gulu is a post-conflict area now, there are many NGO’s here working with education, children or youth. One of the first things I noticed driving north to Gulu from Kampala was that all signs featured the name of one or even two NGOs. But now, five years after the conflict ended, many of these NGOs say their work is finished and the number of organizations is decreasing. Luckily, and hopefully, the Insight Peace Education Project will continue with their good work, at least if there is funding for the next year(s).

As I mentioned before, I have been interested in Peace Education for a while now. I have read about it, wrote about it and now I finally see it ‘in real life’. It is amazing to see how the children and the teachers respond to the Insight Peace Education Project. In January my time at the project started with a two day workshop for local teachers. After the workshop, the teachers were asked if they wanted to stay involved, and they all did. I have also observed a couple of Peace Education in-class lessons. These lessons are unique because finally, the children don’t have to sit at their desks. They can also go in front of the class to sign their class contract. The contract is simple; the children make their own class rules, and with the contract the children all sign these rules. This allows them to stay engaged. It’s amazing to see how accurate these young children can describe peace.

The first thing I noticed, when I started talking to the children at both schools, is that they are incredibly smart. Sometimes I think they know more about the world than I do. Actually, I’m sure they do. These children grew up in a world that I could never imagine growing up in. War has affected all aspects of their lives. And even now, when I ask them if they think that Uganda is a peaceful nation, some say there is no peace in Uganda. They still cannot go out in the night to the bathroom (because it is too dangerous) and people are still displaced. Uganda is officially in peace (although the LRA never signed the peace agreement), but some children and even teachers still say it’s not.

That makes you ask: What is peace and what makes a country peaceful? I don’t think I know the answer, but I think some of these children do. They say they can make peace, can be good to their friends and the people of their community. And yes, I do think that when you want to make a country peaceful, you should start with the people who make the future: the children. My hope is that the war in northern Uganda will not return. What I know for sure is that the people in Gulu do want peace, and they try to be peaceful. But is that possible after seeing all the misery of a 20-year war? Let’s hope so!

Apwoyo matek,


[1] The title of the book about the war in Northern Uganda: ‘Living in Bad Surroundings: War, History and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda’ by Sverker Finnström.