follow our volunteers on their African adventure…
Rebecca Swain discusses the differences between the UK and Uganda:
I teach in a secondary school in North London and as a typical teacher, I love a good moan. To be honest, I’m not going to promise that after this trip I’m going to change on that front… But spending a week visiting schools here in rural Uganda has opened my eyes, that’s for sure.
Throughout this trip I have been asked to make comparisons between teaching here and in the UK, and clearly there are the obvious differences. In fact, the lack of basic resources in some of the schools we have visited makes drawing comparisons almost impossible. When you see a class of students being taught under a tree with no books, seats, chairs, shoes, blackboard or trained teacher, it seems a bit of a futile exercise to make comparisons between teaching methods across the two countries.
However, there are some differences that really did strike me during this trip. Firstly, there are some huge issues here in access to education that we would never see at home. In the schools we have seen there is little to no provision for pupils with special educational needs, and there are some huge cultural barriers that keep girls out of school.
Whilst teachers at home are striking over pay, here we have met teachers who are paid only £25 a month, and who have told us that they earn less than half the salary than for example nurses or social workers. The sheer numbers of pupils in some classes is another astounding difference– up to 300 students per class –I moan about my class of 30!
On a more positive note though, I have seen some really great practice that I would love to see in my own school. For example in many of the schools we have visited, teachers have been educated by Build Africa staff in how to grow their own food to feed the students at school, not only providing an education for teachers and pupils in agriculture, but creating a sustainable way for them to feed themselves in a healthy way, and keeping the children in school all day.
I have also seen parents taking real pride in their local school, particularly when they have come together to form their own schools because their sons and daughters have had to walk 15 or more kilometres to reach the nearest state-funded alternative. At one of the schools we visited, more than 50 parents came to meet us to talk to us about their school. I know I would certainly like that kind of parental support in my current place of work.
Another difference is the attitude of the children. Whilst I might have a loud and boisterous class of 15 students, here I have seen classes of over 200 students silently waiting for their teacher to impart information. By and large, pupils here are focussed, attentive and happy to be at school, and have a whole different level of enthusiasm for learning than children back at home do. ‘Edu-tainment’ is certainly not needed here!
Despite the differences though, what also struck me was the similar issues that teachers are facing across our two countries. Every teacher I spoke to about their job echoed everything you hear in the UK: Long hours, excessive workload, lack of parental support in state-funded schools, a narrow curriculum with a lack of vocational courses, a lack of resources and a lack of respect for the profession from both politicians and wider society. Obviously the resource issues in Uganda are much more extreme, but this gave me a sense of solidarity with the teachers here.
Tomorrow I am going home, and when I get there I am going to continue to moan. But I am going to try to moan less about silly things, like the photocopier running out of ink, or the printer not working, and more about the things that really matter, like equal access to education for all. I am looking forward to going back to my school and sharing my experience with pupils and staff at my school, showing them how lucky we really are and getting them involved with supporting Build Africa, who are making a real difference to children’s education by creating suitable school buildings and training local people in creating sustainable solutions to poverty.