Friday, 9 December 2016

Clerking and Parties

For the last fortnight I have been Uganda’s most overpaid clerical assistant.  I have typed and retyped holiday homework, registration exams, adult literacy exams, class reports and Registration Day posters including several documents entirely in Luganda!  All documents have to be proof read to make sure I have the nuances of Ugandan English correct. I then send the documents to Ange in the Kampala office for printing. The required copies get sent out with one of the drivers the following day and Steve and I collate and staple the resulting reams of printed matter. All this to a background of insistent drumming to the point where I wasn’t sure my heart would remember what to do without the drums to keep time with.
Holiday Packages - a mammoth effort!

Since the end of exams the students and teachers have devoted all their time and energy to training for the Talent show – a concert pitting ‘Colour’ against ‘Colour’ in categories of ‘set piece’, creative dance, traditional dance and folk song. The Colours are what we would call ‘houses’ and though they have names – yellow are Lions , blue are Elephants, green are Cheetahs and red are Leopards (I think!) – they are known as the Colours.

The ‘set piece’ was each choir singing the East African Anthem.  This is a relatively new song, I had not heard it before, and in Swahili. Each choir has been trained to sing it by the music teacher, Frank, who also plays it on a Melodeon. We heard it over and over!

The dancing and folk singing were all accompanied by traditional drums hence us having them ringing in our ears for the past fortnight. We also had a preview of the singing – both the traditional and the more European pieces the ECD, pre-primary and P1 presented.

Over the past week and a half there have been quite a few unscheduled staff meetings as concerns over the talent show were aired and discussed. These occasionally became quite heated and there was passionate debate as to whether each colour was getting a fair amount of time with Teacher Frank and had enough time to practice.

Choir singing Ugandan Anthem
So Thursday afternoon last week was probably not the best time for my foray into teaching a model lesson, as the minds of teachers and students were elsewhere.  With exams over, the students assumed the academic year was over and weren’t particularly interested in my revision lesson.  The teachers had reports to write as well as singers and dancers to train and weren’t in the mood either.  It wasn’t a total disaster but I’d have to say we were all a bit disappointed with how it turned out. Feedback was kind however and we were able to do WWW (What went well) and EBI (Even better if). From my point of view it could have been EBI I’d known I had 40 minutes rather than the 80 I’d planned for sooner than the 40 minute mark when the Teacher on Duty whispered in my ear that I needed to finish straight away as the children were being sent home! Being questioned during feedback about my time management was a bit tough‼

Unto us this Holy Night

On Tuesday we finally had the Talent Show  As well as the colours competition, there were performances in dancing and singing from each of the younger classes – ECD, Pre-primary and Primary 1.  We heard “I’m a little teapot” as well as The Wiggles “Unto us this Holy night”. The parents were all there and each item was greeted with thunderous applause and ululation - they were a most appreciative audience. The traditional songs and dances were particularly well received.

Folk song
Traditional dancing

The creative dance had a theme of preventing family violence. I found the pieces very powerful! Most involved a drunken father, a battered mother and a daughter denied an education, problems solved either by the local priest or policeman with the father repenting and promising to do better. The mime contained within each dance was very well done. I suspect my reaction to what was displayed was quite different to most of the audience who were cheering and laughing in places I thought quite inappropriate. And yet, for them it was real life, so who am I to judge?
Creative dance - mother & children

Wrapping prizes
The concert finished with “Prize Giving” with categories that would seem odd in Australian schools but seemed quite logical here – cleanliness, kindness, parental support. The prizes were 130 wrapped packages of toothpaste, shoe polish (Kiwi!) and shoe brushes. I helped present these, alongside the Chair of the Parent Committee. We must have smiled for a hundred photos as parents came up to be photographed with their prize winning offspring. It was a long day culminating with the announcement that Yellow had won the competition and the presentation to them of a goat that was to be slaughtered and roasted for them to eat at the party the following day. Student reports and “Holiday Packages” were also distributed to parents who had paid their school fees.

Yesterday we had the Children’s Party. It was a lot of fun! Steve and I contributed the music – we paid for a DJ with mixing desk and large speakers. He played local popular music – the same stuff we were blasted with at Forest Park – as well as imported music including Kenny Rogers and Neil Diamond! The children had a great time dancing and there were class level competitions. There was chicken and Irish potatoes for lunch as well as the usual rice, fish and ground nut and greens, and each child had a small bottle of soda. There was even a cake large enough for all 300+ students to get a piece! For the children it really was Christmas. They went home tired but happy after what is a long school year.

The Party

Pre-primary Dancing

The teachers still have a bit more to do before their well-earned break begins, as have I. More about that next time. Jenny

PS: On the electricity front we’ve had no more long outages, just fairly frequent little short ones. So the fridge has been doing the job and our meat, chicken and fish have been fine. Also warm showers have usually been possible and we’ve only had two coffee-less starts to the day. Well done Umeme!

Sunday, 27 November 2016


This time last week (Friday) we were very pleased with ourselves and with life.  We’d had a day in Kampala and had come home with all sorts of goodies – chicken fillets, fish, bona fide minced beef, cheese, butter and yoghurt. We’d been to the Driver Permit centre and been told that it was permissible to keep driving on our Victorian Driver Licences because, having no work permit, we were ineligible to get a Ugandan Driver Permit - we just have to show any traffic police that stop us our visas that show we are only here temporarily. We’d had excellent coffee from Endiro’s and bought good bread and roast ham from Quality Cuts. The drive in and out of Kampala had been incident and (almost) profanity free!

During the night it all started to unravel! The power went off and by Saturday afternoon our frozen meat was starting to defrost. Without power we had no way of cooking it to use it up and by Sunday it was getting smelly.  (We went to Mpanga Forest to console ourselves and I made some nice pics) Monday morning, 6 am, still no power, so I had a cold shower, emptied the freezer and unwrapped all the meat and fish. I washed the wrappings and put them in the bin of non biodegradables and Steve threw all our lovely expensive meat and fish into the paddock across the road to bio-degrade! 6:30 the power came back on but by then it was too late.  We went off to work, trying to be cheerful, knowing we were going to be asked “How was your weekend?” by everyone.

Monday night all was fine – we had eggs so I made a frittata and some Banana and passionfruit pikelets that we shared with our askari Richard and his mate. We also boiled up some beans ready for Tuesday night’s dinner. Tuesday Steve made his best curried beans and rice since we’ve been here and life was looking up. There was leftovers to put in the fridge for later in the week.

Wednesday was a very wet day and we were late leaving work. We decided to have a proper dinner at Danma Gardens (our favourite local eatery) and arrived home at 7:00 pm to no power. It wasn’t back on Thursday (we strolled to the corner to get a local speciality – the Rolex or omelet rolled in a chapati) and was still off Friday night when we arrived home. Steve had contacted Umeme (the electricity supplier) and they had said on Thursday that it was a planned outage for load shedding and should be back (it wasn’t!).

Tree being strangled by fig
At work the power is all solar.  The school has an array of solar panels and batteries that store the charge.  Sometimes though, on cloudy days, we just run out. I have been cleaning up the storage on the desk top computer that the staff use. The computer desktop is littered with documents saved with unhelpful names. There also many “New Folders” that have not been named.  I have put in a filing system in “My documents” and have tried to rename and sort docs into where they belong and to whom they belong. I’m waiting now for the queries about “where has my document / spreadsheet / picture gone?”. Hopefully I’ll be able to locate them. The power was going on and off as I was doing this and as there is no UPS (uninterruptible power supply) each time I restarted the computer it told me off for not shutting down correctly and needed to be coaxed into opening Windows 7 without the reboot it thinks necessary using a disk I don’t have. This task is hardening my resolve to avoid PCs wherever and whenever possible – Macs are so much friendlier and easier to use!

Black and white casqued Hornbill
Friday Steve got serious with the communication with Umeme.  Our biggest problem is that we cannot tell them where we live.  There are no street names or house numbers here.  We are in a village (no idea of the name – our landlord keeps promising to tell us but never does) and there should be a plot number.  We could track down the Local Councillor and ask but it has never seemed important until now. Any way Steve sent Umeme our exact Latitude and Longitude and a Google Earth screen shot of where we live. Another meal out – Forest Park this time – and home to a dark house. I threw out the left over beans and left the fridge open.

(Still typing, Saturday afternoon)

Friday, 9:00 pm the power returned. We shut the fridge and turned it back on. Then went to bed.

Today, Saturday, we braved Kampala again.  We tried a new Nakamatt Supermarket – very little there that we wanted – and went on to Game at Logogo where we could have bought a little butane camping stove – they had lots – but they did not have the gas canisters that power them! If we keep losing power we’ll have to invest in a gas hot plate.

In an act of faith we bought meat and cheese at Quality Cuts and came home. Just now the power has gone off again and we are waiting.  Will we be throwing out another freezer load of meat? Tears will be shed for sure if we do.  I’ll let you know.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Working hard

I’ve started writing this post from Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo National Park. It’s a little bit of luxury. We came here in October 2010 from Bukoba – quite an adventure at the time having to ‘export’ our little Suzuki then having money issues because of Ugandan Independence Day and empty ATMs in Lyantonde. This morning’s trip was far less eventful and the road has certainly improved though some of the driving we saw was just as appalling! See here for a report on that trip.

Crossing the Equator

Steve is writing his bird list for the day and I am reviewing the last week and a half – it has had its ups and downs.

Saturday a week ago we drove into Kampala to pay rent and buy stuff we can’t get in Buloba. As always it was traumatic – Steve says each trip takes another year off his life. We bought a fridge but could not get a convertor plug to make the stove with a Chinese plug that we’d bought the week before useable. Fortunately we found an electrician in the compound on Saturday evening and he cut off the offending plug and replaced it with the correct British one for an exorbitant fee. (Nothing new there!) We still have very little furniture but life in our new house is fine. Sunday we had a day at home – we are still cleaning up after the builders but an afternoon scrubbing ‘neat’ detergent into the bathroom tiles has made them good as new.

I started the working week at Mbazzi school. The director of Schools is based there and I had some things to run past her. Mbazzi school currently only has ECD and pre-primary classes.  Next year it will increase in size and go up to Primary 3 but at the moment there are just eighty tiny wee things who spend a lot of time singing the rhymes and nursery songs we sang as children. I have been getting together a resource of words and tunes of useful children’s songs for the ECD and early primary teachers at Mbazzi and at Katuuso. If you have any ideas let me know.

Zebras en masse

Wednesday we also spent the morning at Mbazzi school. Part of the reason was to spend time with the Director as I knew I wouldn’t see her again until the following week and there were some things I wanted to share, mostly concerning Bill Rogers but more about that later. The major reason was to have internet access as we followed the US election saga unfolding. We just couldn’t believe what was happening! In the afternoon we had the adolescent behaviour workshop at Katuuso. I haven’t had enough feedback on it (not a good thing) so may need to rethink workshop strategies. It’s difficult to know was it pitched too high, too low or just in the wrong place. Next Wednesday we have part 2 – management strategies. We’ll see where that gets us.

Thursday morning the Head Teacher asked me to lead the Primary 6 class in their review of the year’s work. This was my first classroom teaching experience here and done with no preparation! It was fun. It was not the way I would normally teach but everyone seemed pleased with my efforts.

African Pygmy Kingfisher
Also on Thursday Steve and I began typing up the ‘holiday packages’ the students will receive in the last week of term – only 4 weeks away! This is a review of the year’s work in the form of questions to be answered over the holidays. Every one, right down to the ECD class will get one for each subject! As with text questions and exams it is all low order thinking. Closed questions with one answer.  No room for creativity.  It is one of the things I am constantly railing about in the Ugandan (and Tanzanian) education system. There is no room for student led or project based learning if the curriculum is content dense and examined by memory of facts. Helpful ideas from Chalkie friends on what I can do on this problem also gratefully received.

Friday we went with the Head Teacher to visit some Teacher Training Colleges.  We met with some very enthusiastic young recent graduates, told them all about our schools and invited them to apply to work with us.  This week some have shown initiative and come to visit. They must have liked what they heard and saw as we have had many applications. Exciting times for us all.

Uganda's national bird - Grey Crowned Crane

I am still writing this post 4 days later and have had part 2 of the Adolescent Behaviour workshop on Bill Rogers’ consequences based discipline strategies (rather than the “Please don’t do that” strategy that isn’t working) and differentiation of the curriculum (rather than we all learn the same thing at the same time and they really don’t get bored strategy) The mouths said “Thank you” but the faces said “Really! Won’t happen in Africa!” Steve says it sounds like Uganda 2 / Jenny nil so far! We’ll see. I have promised to demonstrate what differentiation in a lesson looks like using a P4 Science class as a model.

Spotted green Bush-snake

I also was able to see the exams the Primary 7 students had sat the previous week. These exams and the performance of a school’s students in the exams seem to be what defines a school. Their reputation is based on it! The teachers are solely focussed on getting the most Division 1 results possible out of the students, to the exclusion of all else. The Ugandan government has ceded provision of education to the private sector.  There are private schools, many of them boarding schools, everywhere. There are boarding schools even down to nursery and pre-primary level! They are mostly “for profit” and reputation is very important to getting students through the gates and collecting fees. Government schools are few and far between, particularly in urban areas, and are managed by the churches and mosques. A government school may be Church of Uganda or Roman Catholic or Islamic. It’s a weird system!

Taking the all school photo
My schools are private but “not for profit” and very low fee but teachers still have the obsession with exam results and so currently most classes (including ECD!) are doing practice exams to be ready for the “promotion” exams to be held in two weeks time. Then we’ll have the frivolity of the House music and dance competition and the talent show before the final party and school closing in mid December.

I’ve put in some pics to decorate the post – not really relevant but will brighten it up! More soon, love Jenny

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The first month

We have been here in Uganda now over a month and I am into my 4th week at work. I have progress to report!
We are getting used to the 40 minute trek to and from work each day. Steve has been doing all the driving but now we have moved to our house and he has housekeeping responsibilities I will have to start driving myself at least a couple of days a week. The thought terrifies me!

Yesterday we thought we had car problems  - when we went to leave work the car wouldn’t start.  All the warning lights and electrical things worked, so not a flat battery, but turning the ignition key gave nothing. Turns out the car has a “don’t start” button.  If you push it in the car doesn’t start. We had no idea such an immobiliser thingy existed and no idea how it was activated. But it did make us think what we would do if we were stranded in the middle of nowhere with a car that wouldn’t go. First thought – ring Bosco! He is School for Life’s procurement officer and has been invaluable in finding us accommodation, car mechanic, water purifier and other essentials. He rang to apologise he hadn’t explained about the “don’t start” button. We were just glad to know about it and that there wasn’t something serious wrong.

The "don't start' button is the one on the right
I feel like I’m making progress at work too.  This week I’m finalising the first round of observations to establish baseline levels of proficiency. I’m no expert on pre- and early primary education but I recognise keen and engaged learners when I see them whether in English or Luganda and that’s mostly what I see. I’m still trying to get my head around what the students have to learn but as that is something I will have no control over it is in some ways irrelevant. Yesterday Steve could hear students reciting names of British sheep breeds.  If that’s what they have to learn then learn it they will to pass the PLE (Primary School Leaving Exam) but we have to find a way to make it active and fun!

I had a break of one week from observations while the students in all classes from ECD (Early Childhood) to Primary 6 sat their mid-term exams. These are essential! Community expectations are that students will sit three lots of exams every term – beginning, mid and end, and this being the “promotion term” they are indispensable. Parents will be at school for consultations with teachers this week to find out to what students will need to pay extra attention to do well at the end of the term. It is wonderful that the students get the feedback that exams afford – it didn’t happen in the schools in Tanzania where I worked in 2010/11. The difference is that the teachers at Katuuso feel confident to mark the exams and return them. The teachers in Bukoba District sometimes didn’t know the answers and didn’t return the mock exams in case their corrections were shown by the students to be wrong.

Last Friday Steve and I visited GEMS Cambridge school in Kampala. It is very grand and very expensive! There is a fish tank embedded in the foyer floor. A friend from Bukoba teaches there and gave us a short tour. The school is also the Uganda central office for the Varkey Foundation – a charitable foundation that supports teachers in government and low fee private schools to become more student centred in their teaching methods. My head teacher has had the Varkey training and has run workshops for the teachers here. They use all the strategies they’ve been shown and I have seen one or more demonstrated in all the lessons I have observed. The lessons all run to a pattern with explicit learning intentions, group work then individual practice. The teachers use an assortment of encouragement and praise techniques and short, active warm ups and wake ups during lessons. The children seem happy with this consistency of approach so any changes will be small and gradual.

THRASS Charts in the windows donated by Baimbridge College Hamilton
I have surveyed the teachers to find their perceptions of professional development needs and their expectations of me. The consistent response has been they want ideas for active learning and behaviour management so that’s where I’m heading.  We will have a seminar on Adolescent Behaviour and Management soon and I will introduce the upper primary teachers to Bill Rogers – my secondary school colleagues in Australia know him well! We will be looking at the effectiveness of students taking responsibility, and ‘consequences’, as opposed to the good talking to with no consequences, that we have now.

As I said earlier, we are in our house now – more on that with pictures next blog.  Jenny

Bed being delivered