Education

In September 2000, the largest number of world leaders in history met together to adopt the “UN Millennium Declaration.” They committed to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, setting out a series of goals with a deadline of 2015.  One of these was to provide Universal Public Education (UPE) for all children.

Uganda had already taken steps towards UPE in 1997 by creating free primary education, offering many existing private schools government funding to become public.   For parents of poor families, it was an extraordinary opportunity. Enrollment in the government supported schools increased from 3.1 million pupils in 1996 to 8.4 million in 2013.

In 2019, about 47% of the population of Uganda was 14 or younger.

In many ways, Ugandan UPE has been a success, but serious challenges remain.

This huge increase in students in schools obligated to take whoever wanted to attend was met with too few classrooms, failing infrastructure, too few teachers, latrines, desks and supplies. While the goal is supposed to be no more than 60 students per class, classes may be even larger.  Teachers sometimes become demoralized and walk away.  School fees are free, but operating support from the government may be late and too little.  Parents may need to pay for uniforms, lunch, school supplies, etc., which leaves many of the rural poor unable to keep their children in school.

Academic performance, especially in rural areas, plummeted after UPE began.  An estimated 68% of children who enroll in primary school are likely to drop out before graduating.

President Museveni has warned school administrators that imposing fees on UPE students would not be tolerated.

The government goals are admirable. Achieving them difficult.

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Sources used for this article include:

http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Museveni-warns-UPE-schools-charging-fees/-/688334/2860488/-/yy9kaf/-/index.html

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/apr/23/uganda-success-universal-primary-education-falling-apart-upe

http://www.eenet.org.uk/resources/eenet_newsletter/news4/page7.php

Bwindi Watoto Primary School was founded in 2008 to offer opportunity to Bwindi’s most vulnerable children. As time went on the most gifted children from Bwindi’s families have also often been targeted.

Many of the children who attend Bwindi Watoto have no parents, or only one. It is common in rural Uganda that if a parent leaves the relationship and remarries, the children of the original marriage stay with either the other parent or with a grandparent, often elderly and without income. It is rare that the children are accepted into a parent’s new family.

It is hard for a single mother or a grandparent to support the children.  They must have a large “garden” in which to plant many crops or some source of income. Income is hard to find, and some families have no or a very small piece of land to plant.

One of the cultural realities in rural Uganda, is that when fathers are left as the sole parent, they sometimes become overwhelmed and break down. Tribal custom – which is hardly a step away in time, were that fathers did not become involved in child raising.

Parents die from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diabetes – and perhaps simply despair. Most of our families make less than $500 per year. Children are often imperiled, education not even a possibility.

The school receives no government assistance, which generally permits the school to keep class size small and the overall quality of education up. However, because Watoto takes no government funding, tuition fees and donations must support the school.

But there’s a catch. Because well over half of school parents live in extreme poverty, many cannot pay all or any of the school fees. Unfortunately, while BWS can manage to help a certain number of free students, it is very limited. The school is in a constant and difficult balancing act of deciding who must go home, and who can stay in school.

Without outside sponsorships and general donations, the school cannot pay its bills. Sustainability is a constant topic of internal conversation, but it is difficult to find a solution.

Today about 180 students attend Watoto. All sponsored students board. Boarding is considered the best way for children to be educated. It provides the best opportunity for consistent academic work, a healthy and positive environment and positive community and much more nutritious food than they would be likely to receive at home. All students receive both morning porridge and the midday, main meal ensuring everyone eats well.  There is a light dinner after school for the boarding students,

It is best if children can attend the three years of Nursery School (“Baby” class, “Middle” and then “Top”). Primary education lasts another seven years, ending after 7th grade.

Sponsorships are used to pay for everything from teachers’ salaries to food, to providing healthy sanitation, to supporting a full-time nurse.    

All sponsored children receive annual “packages.” Every newly sponsored child receives  a mattress, sheets and a blanket among a variety of other things.  Each year following, sponsored children receive other supplies, for example, school shoes, clothing, a metallic lock box, personal supplies, school supplies, etc. 

Prior to COVID, the basics of Critical Thinking were introduced into what is primarily a rote curriculum set by the government.  When school is in session, a little time is set aside every day for critical thinking. We hope eventually that it can be integrated to some degree throughout the day.

The specifics may vary term to term, year to year and sometimes even child to child, but the goal of Bwindi Watoto School and Educate Bwindi is always the same: to create a happy, healthy environment in which children can learn.

The same year we created a nonprofit for Bwindi Watoto primary school, we also contacted and began to send the top students in each graduating class to BCCK when financially possible.

It is the best secondary school in the Kanungu District where Bwindi is located. BCCK has developed a strong reputation throughout the Ugandan academic community despite its rural location and without the extensive resources available to wealthier schools in the capital, Kampala. 

BCCK has never failed to impress us by its on-going efforts to improve the school and education experience in every way. For academically strong students, it is the only choice. Every student who attends, even those whose grades may not seem the best, flourishes and finds a future.

Recently, BCCK began to develop a Vocational path, following the fourth year of high school (called O Levels) for students who might be interested in becoming an electrician or plumber or any of the “trades.”  These skills are often in high demand in rural areas.  Indeed, there is only one electrician in Bwindi and getting on his schedule is no small task!

Students flourish at BCCK and mature into young adults.  It is a joy to see the difference even between freshman and sophomore years.  

The cost is not inexpensive, but it is worthy of serious consideration.  

The first-year costs include a large package of personal and school supplies for all students.  Our students also need help with bus fare to and from school every term (all students at BCCK Board). They also receive some (very small) pocket money to purchase basic items as the school year moves forward.  

Every parent, grandparent or guardian also helps by providing the list of items we give them. While that list is simple and inexpensive from perhaps our point of view, when one is struggling to feed a family and always on the edge, it is a matter of pride for parents to be able to participate in sending their child off to BCCK.

Ugandan education follows the British model; the first four years are called “O” levels and for some vocational programs are adequate.  For students who wish to do vocational programs such as nursing or who qualify for University programs in areas such as engineering and teaching, students need to spend another two years at BCCK for their “A” levels.

For further information about costs and other questions please contact us at EducateBwindi@gmail.com or call Lorna at +1312.316.7386

Our sister organization, Bwindi Community Program, manages students attending BCCK and those attending vocational or University programs.

“…the rate of growth has failed to match the rate at which employment opportunities are created to both absorb the burgeoning labor force and improve livelihoods. 

The high population growth rate… has resulted in a high labor-force growth rate that has outpaced the rate of job creation, resulting in increasing unemployment and pervasive underemployment rates…  

… the annualized growth rate of discouraged workers—potential workers who would like to work but are unable to secure a job and so have given up on the process—is extremely high and more acute among Uganda’s youth.”   

Brookings Institute

Vocational Programs

Many vocational programs begin after the fourth year of secondary school, though another two years of secondary education is sometimes important.

Vocational programs offer a Certificate usually after two to two and a half years of study, depending on the program. However, often a diploma (five semesters more) brings more likely opportunities and better income. 

Trades, such as construction, utilities, plumber, electrician, auto repair and Nursery school teachers, to name a few make good practical choices for some students.  Nurses, midwives, and various medical technicians are also in high demand.  Depending on the student’s abilities and funding, the situation varies.

University

To be eligible for university, students must complete all six years of secondary school.  

People often ask if sponsorships exist for poor students.  There are only 4000 government scholarships for the entire country.   Most of these will be received by students graduating from Kampala schools – higher quality of education = more students with higher (and even perfect) scores.  Three scholarships are targeted for students in each specific District; the remainder are open to all.

Nonetheless, even graduation from university does not guarantee work. Many University graduates are underemployed or unemployed.    Some might say it is the same in the US and other countries, but Ugandan University graduates run a 52.2% unemployment rate, and underemployment is common.   

Because of these challenges, we restrict, with the sponsor’s approval, the programs for which students may be supported.  We believe it is EB’s responsibility towards both students and sponsors to approve only those in areas where there is a demand for jobs. 

Our partner, Bwindi Community Program, handles vocational students and funding for vocational program and for university with final decision making about paths approved by EB per above.

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