A day in the life of…Shebah Nakirya
I wake up at around 6.30am, and help students in the dormitory get ready for the day. As we are located in a rural area in Uganda, dormitories enable students to attend without long or dangerous walks to school. The dangers vary, especially for girls, but include harassment and potentially sexual attacks.
Before Pioneer High School was built in this community, over two-hours West of Kampala, students from 15 primary schools had no secondary school to progress to.
The village where our school is located is in a coffee growing community, 10km from the tarmacked Mityana Road to Kampala with no other secondary schools close by. Since Peas (Promoting Equality in African Schools) opened the doors of Pioneer High School, this community has completely changed. The school is the focus of the surrounding area and the local families are pleased a low-cost school is now available for this generation of children. We set up a Parent Teacher Association and visitation days so the local community can understand the benefits that a secondary school in the area could offer and be involved themselves.
We have over 350 students and, along with teaching English language and literature, I am responsible for girl guidance and support at the school. I constantly see improvements in my students and it motivates me that we are seeing positive changes in attendance and performance.
Girls in Uganda face more barriers to education than boys but, in just two years, they have improved from obtaining school leaving exam results behind the national average, to above the national average.
For so long in our culture, education beyond primary school was not seen as something for a girl. Financial constraints and no academic role models means that many families are still reluctant to send their girls to school. But we are starting to see a change.
Teaching is something I love to do and when I see the difference it makes, it pleases me. I have been teaching for five years and I am inspired by the passion I have when I see children achieve their potential. We have a 96 per cent pass rate for girls at our school and we have achieved this by making school facilities safe, using gender-sensitive teacher training to build comfortable and supportive learning environments for girls, and also a new programme to improve literacy teaching.
For so long in our culture, education beyond primary school was not seen as something for a girl
But girls are not alone in their educational struggles. Boys also face education barriers including financial, peer pressure and carer responsibilities at home. It is an ongoing battle, but we won’t give up.
Lessons finish around 4.30pm and students often attend after school clubs. I run the “Girls’ Club”, empowering girls to aspire for better and bigger careers. Unique to Uganda, we teach all students about leadership skills and handcraft to give them better chances for employment when they graduate. Getting free reusable sanitary pads from the club has made a big difference to girls. In rural and poor communities, where Pioneer is located, the stigma of menstruation is a huge challenge. Many stop attending school when they start their period, or could miss up to 24 days per year. Girls tell me they are no longer too embarrassed to go to school – this sanitary pad initiative has kept these girls in the system and attendance has increased.
One thing that has made a real difference to our school has been solar power. Students attend teacher consultations and revision sessions in the evenings and this has been made possible because of solar energy. Before the panels were installed, teaching, learning and personal revision sessions were futile after darkness fell. It has changed school life completely and more local families want their children to enrol to learn ICT skills and benefit from the power supply.
It is even more important for me to set a good example and demonstrate that education does not cease by improving my ICT skills, too. I’m excited about the future for these students and for myself as a teacher.
Peas works to alleviate the barriers facing girls who want to access secondary education, as part of DfID’s Girls’ Education Challenge
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