Every January 24th, we celebrate the UN International Day of Education and champion all the teachers, students and communities worldwide who are striving towards peace, equality and change through the power of education.
The past couple of years have been challenging in regards to education. With schools shutting down, moving virtually or quickly changing lesson plans, students around the world face setbacks that impact them for a long time.
We thank all people worldwide, from teachers to parents to community members, who are stepping up to ensure that gaps in children’s education are minimal.
Beatrice, a headmistress for a CFTC-supported elementary school in Uganda was interviewed on how education has changed during the pandemic, and how teachers like her are striving to create equal opportunities for all students.
BEATRICE, HOW LONG HAVE YOU TAUGHT AT THIS SCHOOL? WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO TEACHING?
I’ve been at this primary school for six years now. What led me into this profession was my strong love for children. When I was still a student at my professional college, I used to babysit for local families. I strongly believe that I picked the inspiration and the love for children and the passion to mentor them from my Sunday school teacher Mrs. Jane who showered us with a lot of love and care growing up. I remember her intriguing storytelling style and reading sessions and I must confess that I have until now, never forgotten a single story of the many she narrated to us. She unknowingly invited me into the teaching and mentorship profession.
COVID-19 HAS BEEN VERY HARD FOR STUDENTS. HOW HAS IT AFFECTED YOUR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY?
The effect of all this is clear. We have not been able to receive some of our students back because some families relocated to the rural areas - they could not cope with the increasing cost of living; others cannot afford educational materials and the school administration fees that we require of them for the day-to-day running of the school. We know of girls who experienced gender-based violence, trafficking and early pregnancy during lockdown. There’s girls who have been forced into early marriage, or some who face self-esteem and mental health issues, and no longer want to return to school when they opened.
In addition, forced migration and child labour has effected our students. These children want to help their unemployed parents by working themselves, and feel they cannot quit their jobs to return to school since the family needs them. They’re used to a life of work now but we need them to get back into the classroom.
AS A TEACHER, WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
We have struggled to reach all our students at home to make sure their education continues. The government was going to lift lockdowns and immediately thrust students into their exams, but as teachers we know they weren’t ready for that. Fortunately, we could adjust our teaching calendar and prepare the learners so they can still take all the mandatory exams.
WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY’S RESPONSE TO COVID AND HEALTH & SAFETY?
When schools opened up, we were able to put in hand washing facilities with soap and water, asked our teachers to always put on face masks and asked parents to do the same and to provide their children with masks. We also decongested the previous seating arrangement for our pupils to allow social distancing, bought a temperature gun for measuring the temperature of all those coming to the school on an everyday basis as well as recording their names.
CURRICULUM DELIVERY? DID YOU MOVE REMOTELY OR ONLINE?
The government, through local councils, gave out learning material for use by learners during the lockdown and we constantly encouraged parents to pick them up and to help children at home as they revised.
We also, time and again, implored our parents to support, facilitate and encourage their children to attend Radio and TV teaching programs which were aired on the different local TV and Radio stations during the lockdown. We did this through SMS and this was done with Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC) donor support.
CFTC donor support also allowed some of our teachers to reach a fraction of our students and to deliver reading materials to our candidate students, assess how they were making use of those reading materials and learn about the challenges they faced and how they could overcome them.
HOW DID YOU SUPPORT THE EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING OF STUDENTS DURING THE LOCKDOWNS?
As I mentioned before, so many of my students didn’t need to just worry about their studies. Some live in unsafe situations at home. For students with special situations that require a lot of observation due to their family life, I set up a committee of teachers to check in personally on the children. In those meetings, we monitored their wellbeing and mental health, and went the extra mile to even speak with their parents to sensitize them to the issue their children face.
HAS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON TEACHING CHANGED DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Truth be told, there is a special way the school environment shapes the focus and attitudes of our children. We find that when children return to the classroom after being at home, their emotions and feelings have changed. During the lockdown, I actually received four calls from four different parents, thanking me for what we do with their children as they were finding home schooling to be difficult. Getting their children to focus and concentrate on schoolwork at home was proven difficult for many parents. And you see, such positive feedback is what encourages us to continue to do the work that we do.
I’ve also noticed the shortcomings that we face as teachers with technology. We don’t have those fast running computers, we have no internet, many of my teachers have no smart phones, majority of my parents are also still in the analogue regime –have no smart phones and yet, circumstances now demand that teaching be conducted online.
It’s challenging, but I know that programs can be in place to elevate us to that level where the majority of Ugandan children can also be given the opportunity to continue learning.
WHAT DO YOU WISH FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR STUDENTS?
Any teacher prays for their children to excel in terms of passing exams with the best grades and also to study to and through tertiary institutions, as well as secure good jobs thereafter or create good jobs for themselves. That’s my prayer too. It’s the wish I have for the children that I teach.
I want them to be influential citizens in this country, to occupy those big offices in the country and to be able to make Uganda a country everyone can be proud of.
DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH CANADIAN SUPPORTERS?
On behalf of this community and this school, I want to say that we are so grateful to the Canadians. The report that I found here when I had just joined this school and the many things that have happened within the time I have so far been here, it’s all amazing. You have lifted this community up.
The picture album that I saw of how this school looked before and how it looks now, look, you people (Canadians) have done us a great job. You gave us that multipurpose hall, look at that water harvesting system, our children take purified water - so safe for drinking. You constructed that wonderful kitchen facility and we are now able to prepare meals for our students and teachers in a safe and clean environment. You have done so much. You have trained our teachers and given them so many skills and I am glad to report that the difference is visible, they have improved in their performance and equally, the performance of our children has improved.
The list for the support you have extended to us over the years is too long but we thank you.
Thank you to all the dedicated teachers worldwide who are working hard to provide emotional support to their students as well as preparing them for future successes both in and out of the classroom. As well, thank you to all the parents who are stepping up as in-home teachers during numerous school lockdowns.
Everyone together can change the future for children by nurturing their education despite these short and long term challenges.