Looking back on a wonderful year with Redearth, there are so many things we have experienced and enjoyed. Here is a list of the ‘Top 5’ lessons I learned in Masindi…
#5 Do NOT search for ‘jiggers’ on Google…
…especially if you suspect one has taken up residence in your toe! The extreme images thankfully bore no resemblance to the reality of my one little jigger. Instead, it was better to have it confirmed with whoops of laughter from Stella who is an expert at extracting the small parasites with a sterilised safety pin.
#4 Baking doesn’t need an oven.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. As much as I enjoyed oily chapattis, mandazi (sort-of doughnuts) and daddies (mini-mandazi deep-fried until crunchy), they didn’t quite satisfy my appetite for baked goods. Thus, a considerable amount of free time went into stove-top experiments. It turns out not having an oven is no barrier to bread or cake! As evident in the picture below – bread rolls fresh from the saucepan…
#3 Great resources don’t require a photocopier.
I learned first-hand what can be achieved with cardboard, bottles, sacks and so on. After arranging to teach a couple lessons, I also gained new appreciation for the effort involved in resource making. As I sat in the dark, the electricity off, trying to write out history tasks by candlelight – eight times for eight groups in a class of sixty – it occurred to me why most teachers make their materials during the school day!
#2 Language matters.
Q: State one way in which echo can be reduced in a hall. A: Because it produce her young ones alive.
Confused? So were we. When we conducted surveys about the PLE (Primary Leaving Examination), we gave pupils a selection of past paper questions. A lot of their answers were very funny – but also very sad. These are the pupils who have made it to Primary 7 after several years of studying in English. Despite being the top students, many struggle to even comprehend the exam questions. The roots of this problem start earlier – difficulty catering for different languages in one class, reciting rather than actually reading, cramming facts without understanding. There is still a lot of work to do!
#1 Great teachers really matter.
As I visited schools across Uganda, the value of a good teacher became even clearer. In certain schools it was normal for teachers to eat lunch after children returned to class or to lounge under a mango tree during lesson time. In some lessons children glazed over as the teacher lectured on and on. This contrasted with enthusiastic teachers and lessons where children actually learned.
The most effective teachers recognised there is always room to improve. Some started asking questions that revealed if pupils really understood. Others went from teaching mundane lessons amid mild chaos to group activities for motivated learners. A few teachers were really innovative – like one who dug a giant compass into the grass for pupils to walk along while solving problems. Behind the most positive schools there is usually also a dynamic and dedicated headteacher ready to lead the way.
It has been amazing to see teachers and pupils learning in Masindi – and I know I have learned many more than five things this year too!