Ugandan pupils sitting pretty thanks to equipment donation

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Welsh school sends furniture and staff to African partner as both enter redevelopments

When most schools create links with partners in developing countries it is to learn about a new culture and foster understanding.

But Newport High School in Bettws decided something more practical was needed. When moving into new pound;28 million facilities, teachers and pupils packed up parts of their old school and shipped them to Africa.

Desks, chairs and even football and netball posts were sent to King's Primary School in Bunanbutye, eastern Uganda. Cash raised also paid for exercise books, classroom equipment and water bottles.

The relationship between the two is part of a growing trend in Welsh schools to build links with developing countries. But a report released last week warned that such connections can create racist "neocolonialist" attitudes in pupils.

The ongoing inquiry by Exeter University said partnerships can suffer from badly-trained teachers who leave children with the impression only that other countries are poverty-stricken.

"I'm not saying all the partnerships are wrong, or that teachers are unable to act with understanding up to a given point, I don't want to create a blame culture," said Dr Fran Martin, who is leading the study.

"But there needs to be a different way of thinking to avoid partnerships having these neocolonialist or racist undertones or being patronising about another belief system.

But Newport High, formely Bettws High School, has not only sent charity. It has also sent its head, two teaching assistants and a pupil to King's Primary, which caters for 330 pupils and specifically offers places for orphans.

During a two-week visit, the staff joined their Ugandan counterparts in renovating the school and preparing it for the start of term the following week, which saw them working alongside their African counterparts, exchanging ideas.

"I think this has been a real eye opener," said Newport headteacher Gary Schlick. "It was interesting to see the differences and the similarities in the education system. Our aim is to build on the project and establish further links."

King's Primary is managed by Welsh charity Ezra, and run by former teacher Mary Griffiths. The link between the two schools was the idea of Newport High teaching assistant Helen Morgan, after hearing about Ezra. "When I found out that this equipment was going to be chucked out, I couldn't believe it," said Mrs Morgan. "I thought it was too much of a waste and could surely be used somewhere else."

The equipment was warmly accepted by Mrs Griffiths, who does much of King's Primary's management from her Welsh valleys home. "Desks and chairs may not seem much to you and me, but for these kids, it lets them know the world hasn't forgotten them," she said.

She set up the school after a 1993 visit to Africa shocked her into action. "I visited a village a Ugandan friend of mine told me was one of the poorest. The school was a mud hut with one teacher and a piece of corrugated iron for a blackboard."

After returning home she raised pound;600 and donated it to the school. "But one of the elders said to me: `If you really want to help, you should build a school', and they gave me 14 acres of land."

The school opened in 2004 and is growing at a rate of two new classrooms each year. Mrs Griffiths hopes the partnership with Newport High can turn into a permanent one. She said: "We would love for there to be something similar in the future."

NEWPORT SAILS ON

Newport High School was officially opened last November, replacing the run-down 37-year-old Bettws High School.

Advanced teaching facilities on offer to its 1,200 pupils include 34 classrooms, eight science labs, eight ICT suites, a fully-equipped design technology wing, an inclusion centre and a vocational training centre.

State-of-the-art leisure facilities include a 25-metre swimming pool, a four-court indoor sports hall, a full-size artificial turf pitch, sports pitches and multi-use games areas, which will be open for community use outside school hours.

It is also the first secondary in Wales to receive an excellent rating from the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for its high environmental standards.

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