Education, education, education

Over lunch yesterday, I had an odd moment of ‘home’ life gate-crashing my temporary Ugandan existence. I checked my phone (which I’m mainly using as a watch given the lack of wifi and intermittent signal) and found a text informing me that Doris, my favourite 11 year old, had got into her secondary school of choice. It was March 1st and back in the UK that meant that children across the country are finding out where they’ll be going to school in September. For Doris, and the rest of her cohort in the city of Gloucester, this is made all the more nail biting owing to the fact that they still have the grammar school system – her mother’s text to me simply read “SHE GOT IN!!!” and that was all I needed to know that she’d got into one of the girls’ grammars. Not just any grammar in fact, the very one that educated me for the last four years of my secondary education.

I’m not going to launch into a tirade about selective education right now. (For all I know, I probably have on this blog at some point in the past. Suffice to say, aged 11 I didn’t get into a selective school, yet ended up at a world-class university. Guess where my views lie…) But what struck me was that just minutes before I received that text, I’d been hearing about the way in which education is valued in communities where PEP has been at work.

Nursery SchoolTeacher & pupil at Ogongora’s nursery school.

Like I mentioned when writing about women, PEP has helped families realise the importance of educating daughters as well as sons. It’s helped communities realise where gaps in education are and ensure that there is provision for as many people as possible. Profitable crops and businesses means that the fees and costs of education is affordable. In Ogongora, one of the gaps identified was in pre-school education – so setting up a church nursery school was high on their lists of priorities. Yesterday’s village had helped found two primary schools and improved facilities for secondary education, next on their list is beginning a nursery school. In order to give the next generation the best start possible, access to education is essential.

Bye! Till tomorrow...Children (in the pink & purple shirts) who have just returned from a day at primary school in Ogongora.

As we drove back yesterday evening, it struck me that it was the last time I’d have the chance to observe school kids on their breaks, or wending their way home along the roads in their colourful uniforms. It’s now the weekend and we leave late on Sunday night. It’s been one of my favourite sights in Uganda – the coloured shirts and dresses against the bright green trees and deep red dust. Yes, access to education is improving, but is it anything like the education system in the UK? No.

While waiting for the van to be fixed yesterday morning, Bex popped into the building next door to our guest house which happens to be a college of mass communication – being a digital media expert and an academic, she was naturally curious. There was no internet access and only a limited number of (rather old) computers. Much teaching in schools is done by rote and resources are hugely limited.

Local childrenChildren in Waila yesterday. We gave them some coloured chalk to play with & some sweets. (As my friend Jenni commented on Flickr, you wouldn’t want to confuse those two items…)

So there I was yesterday. Stood in a shop in a rural marketplace in Uganda, celebrating that Doris will be at a brilliant school this autumn, with great teachers, nearly unlimited resources, a performing arts studio, a library and everything she’ll need to get a good education – all virtually free. Around me were children who looked like they were old enough for primary school (which begins around 7) but who instead were sat outside the shop playing in the dust. In all likelihood this wasn’t truancy, this was indicative of their parents not being able to pay the fees (or buy the uniform). Yet again, it’s another example of how life is not fair and how things that seem massively important at home suddenly seem so trivial here.

Children greeting A delightful, yet slightly bizarre moment on the way home yesterday – these children had seen us coming from a long way off, and knelt by the side of the road to greet us. Humbled doesn’t even cut it. (Apologies for the quality – that’s what you get from the front seat of a van on a bumpy road.)

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