Every morning, just before 6am, the school's resident rooster wakes me up. I live in the teachers' quarters of Nyero Peas (Promoting Equality in African Schools) High School, deep in the rural east of Uganda. Despite having a young family, I have had to take up residence here during the week because of the distance between the school and my home.
The journey to school is a serious obstacle for many of our students. Uganda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce universal secondary education, but access to high-quality, affordable schooling is limited and provision is often focused in urban areas. A lack of public transport means that even getting to school presents significant risks, particularly for girls. This is a potential deterrent to parents who are deciding whether their children should continue beyond primary education. And such challenges mean that 334 of our 574 students are boarders.
A colleague and I take the boarders for a 2km jog before the school day begins. I believe that extracurricular activities are just as important as lessons for improving pupils' confidence. Once we've finished exercising, I supervise the students in their daily chores, which include cleaning their dormitories and helping with the upkeep of the compound. We also have chickens to feed and vegetables to harvest.
Lessons begin at 7am - I teach chemistry. When the first break begins at 10.30am, I sit down in the staffroom and have a cup of tea and some bread, while the boarding students eat hot porridge cooked by the kitchen staff.
Teaching here is rewarding but also challenging. I have between 50 and 80 students in each class and we have limited equipment, so the children mostly focus on theory rather than practice. For science, practical learning is extremely important: you can talk all day about a microscope but you won't know how to use one until it is placed in front of you.
Our students also have personal challenges to contend with, especially the girls, who are often pulled out of school to help at home. If they are day scholars, they usually have domestic work to complete before school starts and in the evenings, which can take up a lot of time. The boarding students also face difficulties and often lack necessities such as soap, pens and books because parents cannot afford them.
Despite the challenges, I love my job. The students are enthusiastic and the lessons we teach go beyond the curriculum. We're breaking down barriers - particularly between girls and boys, who initially tried to stay apart. We have created a culture of equality, which is important because the children we teach today are the leaders of tomorrow.
I can see that the students understand what I am teaching them. When I see a child's life changing, as they are transformed into a better person armed with knowledge, I genuinely feel that my life has also improved.
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