Swapping sticks for carrots

22nd April 2005 at 01:00

In Masindi, west Uganda, the number of private primary schools has almost tripled since free compulsory education for younger children was introduced in 1997.

The Ugandan government's commitment to education for all has been held up as example for other African countries, but it has struggled to cope with the influx of pupils. Private schools are part of the solution and the number in Masindi has risen from 10 to 28 in the past eight years, while pupil numbers have mushroomed from 40,000 to 126,728.

Derek Nkata, the Masindi district education officer, said: "Private primaries work hand in hand with government schools as the latter cannot solely educate those who want to learn.

"Many government schools have become a sorry shadow of their former selves, so parents prefer to pay for the best education. Around 13 per cent of schools are privately-owned, but there's a need for more to bring primary education to all in Masindi."

Now a group of schools in the UK is helping to spread good practice to both state and private schools in Masindi.

Asaba primary is one of Masindi's high-performing private schools, despite having a 1:40 teacher-pupil ratio and a shortage of textbooks. Geoffrey Tibaita, its headteacher, said: "The school's survival depends on performance, so we set work targets."

In 1998, when Mr Tibaita became head, five pupils achieved Grade 1 in primary leaving examinations. Last year, 70 gained the top grade. But he is striving to improve the school further via a link with Hotwells primary school in Bristol, one of a cluster of partnerships set up by Mr Nkata in 2002 to share expertise with British schools. Six primary and two secondaries are benefiting from the links, which are funded by the UK's Department for International Development, the British Council and Link Community Development.

Government schools find it hard to achieve such good results as they have to contend with high drop-out rates and parental apathy. Stephen Harvey, of LCD, said: "The big issue with universal primary education is parents abdicating responsibility.

"Many parents are poorly educated and feel intimidated by teachers. We want to encourage family involvement by organising events, such as Granny of the Year competitions, which have worked well in South Africa."

When Mr Tibaita visited Hotwells primary in 2004, he learned that he could make cost-free improvements to the school by forward planning, better time-keeping and staff communication.

Impressed by Hotwells' classroom management techniques, Mr Tibaita plans to raise money to Tarmac the school compound and lay carpets so pupils can enjoy circle time.

He has also decided to abolish corporal punishment and replace it with positive behaviour management strategies learned in the UK.

His deputy, Susan Nakirya, says this has brought "tremendous change".

Teachers have better relationships with their pupils.

But as the sun dips and the pupils line up to go home, a thwack resonates through the crowd and a girl falls to the ground in tears. Mr Tibaita still has to persuade some teachers that the carrot is better than the stick.

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