The achievement awards are well underway and both teachers and pupils are eager to show the RedEarth assessors how much they have improved over the year!
The achievement awards were designed as an additional way to motivate teachers and schools to improve their teaching and learning strategies. Teachers receive a certificate based on an observed lesson and a range of criteria looked at over the year, and schools receive a certificate based on a number of criteria including; school ethos, CPD and learning environment. These certificates range from Foundation 1 through to Gold. As you may have guessed there are many heads and teachers who are desperate to achieve that elusive gold certificate.
It seems everyone involved in education in Masindi has been eager to join in this year’s assessments. Therefore assessment teams have been made up of inspectors, lead teachers, RedEarth field officers and even the deputy DEO. All week these teams of four assessors have been in schools, and all week staff members have been trying their very best to impress. Men have come in their finest traditional dress, head teachers have wanted photos taken standing proudly outside their school, and school compounds have been swept and slashed within an inch of their life.
Every day a different school is assessed and as you can imagine with 50 RedEarth schools in Masindi it is a big operation. Teams meet at 7.30am (this means 7.30am to the RedEarth field officers and 8am to everyone else) and are briefed about their day ahead. Schools are then visited and teachers observed.
It has been great to get into a variety of schools, some of which are in very remote areas like the Budongo forest, and see lots of different teachers. I have seen some fantastic interactive lessons. Here are a few of the activities that I have enjoyed the most:
- Children being given positive and negative integers, scrunching them up and then throwing them round the classroom until they were totally mixed up. Children who ended up with a scrunched up integer then had to order themselves on a number line.
- Children using sound frames and letters to spell new vocabulary in groups.
- Groups in a P2 class were given words to decode and then they had to rearrange the words into a sentence.
- In groups children acted out a dialogue scene where their props included charcoal and paraffin.
- Children setting subtraction problems for other groups to solve.
- Children becoming the teacher and taking questions about their methods from their peers.
- On a lesson about types of budget learners were given scales and coins and told to represent the types of budgets. They then used fact cards to teach themselves.
- One class even created their own charcoal and stoves out of natural materials and were planning to cook on them the next day!
As you can see these teachers and schools have been working really hard to use a range of teaching strategies to engage the learners. This is a far cry from the traditional chalk and talk method which is still used in much of Uganda.
As part of the whole school achievement award views are collected from all parties. Pupils, the headteacher, staff and SMC (like the governors) are interviewed by members of the team. This is a very useful insight into the day to day running of the school and allows the assessors to understand how the RedEarth programme is affecting everyone involved in the school. It is great to hear that the majority of staff are enjoying the programme and agree that the strategies they are being trained in are making learning more enjoyable and giving the learners a greater sense of understanding. Interestingly, when conducting interviews with pupils they have explained how much more they enjoy coming to school and therefore explain that they come to school more regularly. (It will be great to see if over the next few years the programme can begin to reduce the 70% drop out rate that currently occurs before the end of primary school in Uganda.)
In Uganda corporal punishment is against the law, however it is still widely used in schools and generally accepted, and sometimes even promoted by local communities. After the interviews it has become clear that in the majority of schools corporal punishment has been greatly reduced. The headteachers and teachers state this is because, supported by RedEarth, they have developed behaviour management plans and now have strategies in place to praise and reward desired behaviour, and have created alternative sanctions to try and prevent undesired behaviour. An additional motivation is the knowledge that a Gold level certificate cannot be achieved unless corporal punishment has been eradicated from the school.
Being part of an assessment team has been a fantastic learning experience and it has been a pleasure to witness so many creative lessons, even in the most challenging of circumstances. I am really looking forward to the awards event where headteachers and teachers will receive their certificates and no doubt compare their levels! I wonder if anyone will achieve gold?