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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Africa: Education

Oh, my lovely high school is so disorganized. My poor students were given their program cards on the first day, and half of them had classes just MISSING from their schedules. Missing. About 1500 students hung out in the auditorium for the entire week trying to figure out which class they should have. Some students were accidentally scheduled in an empty classroom without a teacher. Most of them gave up after a day or two and just wandered the halls, only to be yelled at by the security guards, "Go to class!" Uhhhh, they'd love to, but...

Gotta love the awesome example of professionalism and organization that we set for our students.


After a particularly frustrating first week at school, I thought I'd give myself a little perspective and take me back to the schools in Africa.

This sign was on the school grounds. And it remains untagged.

We approached the school right at dismissal.
Most of the children walk about two miles to get home, but that day, they stayed with us for an hour just to play and goof off.

All the public schools require uniforms for attendance. If you're not in your uniform, you're not allowed to attend. Uniforms can cost parents more than a month's wages. Although girls attend primary, very few girls attend secondary.
The government pays for 40% of public school; therefore, the child's family must pay for the other 60%.
It costs $20/term, which equals $60/year.
Teachers make approximately $125/month.

Here is the library. Who needs chairs?

Here is one of the classrooms. There are approximately 100 students per classroom.
And no air conditioning, I might add!
Here is a girl holding her home-made backpack.
There is only one textbook per classroom, and it never leaves the classroom. Instead, students create their own textbooks on stapled-together composition books. Since they can't take the textbook home, they COPY everything: examples, directions, and homework problems.

Here is a boy (in the middle) holding his homemade textbook.

Here is a close-up of a stack of students' textbooks.

For them, education is everything. Since they have so many chores to do, they wake up every day at 4:30 AM to study for two hours. At the end of primary school, they take a VERY difficult test covering all subjects. If they do not pass it, they are not allowed to attend secondary. Instead, they must repeat. But let's say their test says that they are at P4 (primary 4th year) level. Instead of repeating P6, they go back to P4.

Unfortunately, there is some hidden discrimination against the poor. Although the national language is English, the government recently passed a law that requires teachers to teach primary school in the native tongue of that particular village. Therefore, students in richer communities like Kampala (where English is spoken) will have six years of a language advantage compared with those in the villages (who are taught in their local tongue). The poor stay poor, and often remain in their villages, repeating the cycle.

Here are the students walking home with us. Instant friends! The girls keep their heads shaved to avoid lice, so often (especially when they're younger) the only way you can tell the difference between girls and boys is by the girls' dresses.

Absolute sweethearts.

Brooke made up a song to learn how to say "Okay" in Lugandan:


  1. Love, love love your African stories and pictures. The colour of their uniform is awesome.
    Isn't it strange how, when it's being denied them, people really value something e.g. education.
    In Irish history, we had Hedge Schools; now with free schooling, lots of kids don't want education and spend their time disrupting classes.
    Enjoyed the story of "first week chaos" very much too-sometimes it happens, and it's good to know that it happens in other countries too!

  2. Thanks, Mimi! What are "Hedge Schools"? I've never heard that term before.

  3. Here's a link to Wiki explanation- it reads fairly accurate to me, though I'm no historian.

    OOps, I'm no computer whizz either! Don't know how to make this link, so can you copy and paste it into the thingy bar??
    2 weaknesses exposed in one comment- what's blogging coming to?

  4. Ha ha. Thanks for making California laugh, Ireland.