Mauro Giacomazzi vividly remembers a time when he was observing an English class for the senior 1 students at the Luigi Giussani High School in Kampala, Uganda.
The students were struggling to understand the difference between common nouns and proper nouns for weeks, and so the teacher made the executive decision to take them outside and use nature as a teaching tool.
When they were all gathered outside, the teacher asked the students to identify common nouns that they could see.
“Their answers were ‘blackboard,’ ‘pen,’ ‘desk,’ paper’,” Giacomazzi said. But when asked again to identify these common nouns in nature, they could not do it.
For Giacomozzi, this is a prime example of how the Ugandan education system can fail students.
“They did not understand the concept. They just knew that if there were common nouns, this was the list of things to say,” he said. “And this has a number of implications on teaching…because primary school teachers are teaching to the exam.”
This problem of teachers teaching to the exam, rather than actually educating students, is found throughout Uganda. And Giacomozzi and his team at the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE), are trying to address crucial educational deficiencies of quality, school management, accountability and teaching efficiency within Uganda’s context. Through their work with local schools, and their own Luigi Giussani High School, LGIHE had been working to create innovative pedagogies that advance how teachers in Uganda actually teach their students.
“In Uganda, the teachers have lost the dignity of their profession. When you talk to them, they tell you ‘I am not working, I am just teaching’,” Giacomazzi said. “This is because teaching in Uganda has become mere…transcription of information from the notebook of the teacher’s notebook to the blackboard, and from the blackboard to the notebook of the students. So if you reduce education to this, it is not a fulfilling job.”
By understanding that the teachers in Uganda need to rediscover the meaning of education and their role in it, LGIHE created the Reclaiming National Exams to Widen Achievements in Learning (RENEWAL) in Ugandan Secondary Schools.
This [Partnership-funded] project aims to change the Ugandan national education system because “we believe that with a different kind of examination, teachers will be compelled to introduce a deeper understanding. and higher thinking pedagogical process for the students to pass.”
The long-term project works with teachers and school leadership in about 15 schools, including their own High School, to build student-teacher relationships, to understand the development and maturity of students, and to create student-focused and student-led teaching methodologies.
Gladys, a senior 6 student at Luigi Giussani High School, says that these teaching methodologies have been life-changing for her. She joined the school six years ago, after attending a government school for her primary education.
“Initially, I had no goal in life. Now I want to be a teacher,” she said, having been inspired by her own teachers here at the brightly colored school. The place was built by over 2000 mothers from the Acholi Quarter in Kampala who did not believe the local schools were providing an adequate education for their children.
“In my previous school, the teachers looked at you like an animal or a commercial asset because you have to pay them,” she continued. “The moment you made a mistake, you were beaten. They didn’t take the initiative to correct you.”
It was the simplest things that affected Gladys, like her new teachers knowing her name or even asking her how she was doing. She said that these things made the biggest difference in helping her see her value in this world.
“Teaching is not only about what a teacher writes on the blackboard, but about wanting their students to understand the meaning of life,” she said. “This way the student can face the realities before them with an open heart and a curious mind.”
WRITTEN BY: The Partnership (PSIPSE)