How and what do children learn in Uganda's schools?

The Russian author Maria Kasyanenko lives in Uganda. She shared interesting observations about the education system in this country.

Graduation parade of Nursery business school. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

The school year in Uganda ended in early December and the children went on holiday until February to celebrate their graduation. This year, they will have to rest even longer than usual. It will be until the end of February, as the government decided to postpone the beginning of the school year until the end of the elections. Children are happy,teachers are in mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's nice to have an extra month, on the other it is not accepted to pay people a salary on vacation. It is assumed that, if you do not work, then you should not receive money. The programme, of course, no one will reduce, and teachers will have to accommodate in two months all that was supposed to study for three.

Made to order gowns, sweetheart gowns, the orchestra, and other "pleasures" for the elite. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

All students, from three years to the end of secondary education, every trimester pass exams, and poor evaluation even in one trimester threatens to significantly spoil the certificate at the end of the year. And the failure of the annual exam will result in the abandonment of the second year (and for a three – year-old child, too!).

Parents will probably pay the University for these children-not only the full course of elite schools. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

The school year starts in January and is not divided into quarters or semesters, but into trimesters – three times three months each, and each trimester ends with an exam. The longest holidays separate one school year from another – but it's not usual summer holidays, and Christmas. However, there is no summer here – there is an alternation of wet and dry seasons.

State primary school in the village: in the class of about 50 students. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

 From three years to six years, children go to Nursery schools ("early schools"), which are an analogue of kindergartens, but with a quite clear programme that the kids will have to master during this time: usually a Nursery school graduate can read, write and count at least within twenty.

Primary school begins at the age of six, which is considered mandatory which does not mean that all children really go to it. If a child does not go, then no guardianship will come because of it. There are seven grades in primary school, so children from the poorest families often don't even finish it.

One of the exam tasks  for Junior high school graduates (3-4 years).  / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

After Primary school children go to  Secondary school, consisting of two "parts" – the “general” level (4 years) and "advanced”, which is often replaced by a vocational school-two more years of study. Formally, high school is also free and also mandatory, but the size of the contribution to be paid by parents for this "free" education (textbooks, food, etc.) for some reason increases from $ 10 per trimester to $ 50  minimum. This affects the number of children going from primary to Secondary school.

The teacher from Colosumchecks the test papers. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

Formally, Nursery schools are optional. The state does not support them because of this "non-necessity". Accordingly, frequent business offers caring parents not cheap service for those who are willing and able to pay for the development of their child: the minimum cost of staying from morning to noon  almost$40 (all prices – for the trimester), eight hours ( with breakfast and lunch) – more than $60. For comparison, the salary of a teacher at school is $ 25 per month.

At the same time, the quality of education varies greatly. The money is taken away by the Director, and no one cares about teachers. The unemployment rate in the country is very high.

But the main problem with Nursery schools is not educational, but that this system is dramatically widening the gap between rich and poor (which already seems insurmountable), almost completely depriving children from poor families of the chance to compete with their more fortunate peers.

In the first, and sometimes even half of the second grade, children mostly repeat the Nursery school programme, but still not everyone will be able to overcome the gap. Especially since the poor will be regularly expelled from school for non – payment until "parents bring money". By the third or fourth grade, the most persistent and motivated students will finally be equal to the graduates of Nursery schools, but in the fifth or sixth grade some of them will leave school.

Wycliffe – best graduate this year. He is six years old, he speaks English quite well and can read and write. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

For most children the school is strongly associated with constant humiliation and a sense of their own failure, so that, leaving it at the request of parents, many do not even feel deprived.

Most children do not have these toys at home , and hardly ever will. / Source: Photo By Maria Kasyanenko

The situation would be hopeless if there were no  Nursery schools.

For eight hours of supervision and training with breakfastand lunch parents pay only about$ 20 (for the trimester), but this amount is not affordable for many  in  Uganda (especially in its Northern regions). Many orphans and single mothers barely make ends meet. So, starting from the next academic year, we are introducing a new system – with the search for personal "sponsors" abroad for such children, who will be ready to pay for their education every four months in exchange for reports on the success of the "sponsored". And we  hope that this will give the most vulnerable children a chance to get out of the poverty and illiteracy that await them without this opportunity.