In Jinja, Uganda, as the school term comes to an end, a mother is reading her sons end of term report. The report describes her son as ‘good’ and ‘friendly’, the teacher comments ‘aim higher next term’, Elijah’s grade average was 72%. I had never seen a Ugandan school report until today, I had never seen that there were requirements for attending school the next term.
1 broom, 1 cutter, 2 big toilet rolls, 12 books and 12 pencils. At the cost of £20, a mother and a son, are to be concerned with the bristles of a broom, the edges of sharp tools, and questions of ‘is this big enough?’ – to sit at a desk and learn.
In some sense, if a school is under funded by its local council, it becomes the school’s responsibility to maintain operational standards. In other instances, when a school is equipped, teachers in more impoverished parts of Uganda will take advantage and make demands as we see above. My mother who grew up in Rukungiri district never had to bring such things to schools, only herself and instruments for learning. My cousins, uncle and aunts in Kampala, and other parts of Uganda did not have to fashion a bundle of amenities to enter the next term.
Initially, I had universalised the country upon seeing the report, that the entirety of the education system reflected it. This is unfair and inaccurate. What is universal are the teacher comments, the lack of depth in school reports, the it is ‘good’ whether you achieve 78 or 65. Parents evening doesn’t exist in Uganda, and as nervous as parent’s evening used to be I am not envious. Educational life is harsher, the psychological, economic, and socio-cultural factors add significant pressures on boys and girls.
Yet despite these pressures, near the bottom of the report the headteacher comments ‘don’t relax’. The antithesis to what any young boy with ambition is doing, especially when the nature of their life mandates work.
As children go back to school this week, our headteacher message is simple, relax, not the lazy type, but the be easy on yourself type. To Elijah, ‘You’re excelling and making us proud, continue doing what you’re doing’.