Schooling for the price of a game

18th February 2005 at 00:00
A teachers' exchange trip to Uganda is helping pupils to open their eyes as world citizens, reports Miranda Fettes

More than 100 P5 and P6 boys are crammed into a room in Edinburgh Academy junior school. They are listening, wide-eyed and mouths gaping, in fascination as they are told that in Uganda the average class comprises 80 to 100 children.

When Godfrey Sentumbwe ends and asks if any of the pupils have a question, a flock of hands flutters above their heads.

One boy wants to know what Ugandan schoolchildren have for lunch and where they eat it. Mr Sentumbwe is animated and gesticulates enthusiastically.

They all go under tree shade and have something like maize porridge with a little sugar, he says.

The boys' jaws drop still further when he tells them there are 40 to 50 different languages in Uganda. One boy wants to know if he speak them all, as another takes a picture of the grinning Ugandan. Mr Sentumbwe chuckles.

Not all, he says, but he understands a few.

Mr Sentumbwe is visiting Edinburgh as an ambassador of the Literacy and Basic Education project in Uganda, which is run by a non-government organisation and supported by Education Action International. He is a former secondary school teacher and now a teacher trainer.

Edinburgh Academy junior school's headteacher, Caroline Bashford, went on a week-long trip to Uganda organised by EAI last October with a small party of teachers. "It was a fantastic experience for me and it's been a catalyst for a huge global awareness exercise for the boys," says Mrs Bashford.

Upon her return, she showed each year group photographs of Uganda and talked about her experience. The fact that only pound;23 a year is needed to give each Ugandan child an education really struck many of the boys, she says, "because it's less than the cost of a GameBoy game. They realised there was some comparison they could identify with."

Since October, the boys have been thinking up ways to raise Mrs Bashford's target of pound;5,000. Already, they have raised pound;4,000.

Two P6 boys, Fergus Nimmo and Freddy Thomson, organised a Christmas cookie fare, which earned them each a global citizenship award from their headteacher.

Another boy found pound;5 on the street and handed it into the local police station. When it was not claimed, he brought it back and donated it to Mrs Bashford's Uganda appeal.

"I was keen to have some kind of international dimension to capture the boys' imagination and help them to think beyond their own front doors," she says. "I hope Godfrey's visit will also be a stimulus for that."

"They've come to an appreciation of how lucky they are and the differences between education here and in Uganda," she says. "With Godfrey coming and giving talks to the children, it all becomes more meaningful.

"It's also helped to boost their enterprise skills."

Mr Sentumbwe, who lives 20 miles north of Kampala, says the schools in Uganda have also gained from the teachers' visit.

"One of the direct benefits was linking expertise and experience," he says.

"The Scottish and Ugandan teachers were able to share and learn from each other. Long-term links have been established between individual schools and the Scottish teachers. I think I now have real, practical examples of how we can use our own resources to make learning more meaningful for children."

Mrs Bashford says: "I had an amazing experience, humbling in many ways. The long-term memories will be the warmth of the welcome, enthusiasm for education and the importance of political stability and the small part I could maybe play in helping education in the developing world."

One of the seven other teachers who took the trip was Hilary Ballantine, a maths teacher at St Margaret's in Edinburgh. She feels that what she learned was invaluable.

"The maths teacher I worked with, Paul Mukama of Mutereri Secondary school, was amazing and inspiring. He had one textbook, no squared paper, no protractors, no calculator, no rulers. He often wasn't paid, but he was an inspiring teacher dedicated to his pupils.

"You realise you don't need all these things. They rely on their natural surroundings, using things like sticks and stones.

"Us taking an interest makes them realise someone appreciates what they are doing and how hard it is for them working in difficult conditions. All the schools had no electricity or running water.

"The sort of thing the St Margaret's girls have got out of it is awareness.

The girls wrote letters to some of the girls there. They realised they couldn't e-mail, couldn't text."

As for the Ugandan children, she says: "There were no discipline problems.

I just noticed how cheerful and smiley they were. They would sing and dance for us, put on plays for us and made a huge effort to make nice food for us.

"I felt how fortunate but also spoilt we are."

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