Friday, February 8, 2013

Francis and Community Schools...our Education work, Part 2.

In our last post, we introduced you to Francis, our Education program director.  We started by explaining the need for Community Schools in Uganda, as well as the limitations Community Schools have.  We'd like to go further in explaining how our Education program works specifically within these community schools, and Francis' part in that.

Students during recess.  Photo by Michelle Johnston.

When Francis begins working with a Community School, he starts by inviting school leadership members to attend a “Creating a School Management Committee” Seminar. Together, they learn how to establish, motivate and encourage community participation in the school. Getting the community to “own” their children’s school is vital if the school is going to last. When community members are not invested in the success of their Community School, the burden of its growth and stability falls on the shoulders of the CBO/NGO leader. This pressure is too much for one person, and they often give up or fail. Simply put, involving the community in the management of the school always leads to greater stability and sustainability for that school.

Once a workshop has finished, Francis then collaborates with the community school’s leadership to actually establish a School Management Committee. Once formed, this committee will help make all of the decisions and will work towards the growth and long-lasting stability of the school. Workshop participants are also invited to continue meeting as peer mentors, and to compete for a small School Management Committee grant. This grant can be used to make improvements or start projects, which will benefit the school.
Francis also brings together the educators of these schools to participate in Learning Achievement Projects. During these projects, whose themes are curriculum, literacy, and health education, Francis works with teachers to incorporate the government’s standard curriculum, literacy, and health education into their own school’s learning framework. Francis teaches workshops, arranges peer mentorship’s, and does site visits to evaluate and help guide a school’s work. He also arranges professional development opportunities for teachers. His passion for literacy is evident in his interactions with teachers. ”I hope to create a culture for reading which does not currently exist,” says Francis.
Francis was working in a Community School from 2008 till he began with FOM in 2011. He will attest, as a former headmaster who could not depend on his salary from month to month, that the primary reason these schools fail is financial instability. Being in the poorest communities, and depending on the parents for everything from the teachers’ salaries to basic supplies like books and chalk, it goes without saying that these schools have a difficult time paying for even the most basic needs. When written materials are lacking, teachers rely on the rote method of teaching where children verbally memorize information. This allows classrooms with limited resources to continue, but does not ensure that actual learning is taking place. This, combined with teachers who lack qualifications or financial motivation, means that the children’s education is sub-par.
Francis still sees firsthand the limitations these schools have. His son, Ceasar, attends a community high school. “These schools generally teach children to memorize rather than internalize knowledge. The children are [also] not encouraged to practice literacy, so the children mostly read the subjects to pass the exams, and nothing else. But, to me, the benefits are that they have a Christian foundation, and they are cheaper.”
In order to encourage financial stability, schools can also be offered the chance to apply for a small Learning Achievement Grant. These grants can be used to fund one-time assets for the school's learning achievement such as curriculum, teaching resources, or supplies. Or, they can be used to create income-generating projects, such as a piggery or a small shop, which will then go towards improving the school. Francis works closely with the community groups to decide on these projects, plan them, implement them, and then follow up with them throughout the duration of the project. 
Despite the challenge of limited resources, Community Schools are successful and very much needed to fill a gap in the present education system. But, they need help from people like Francis…people who have a passion for education and have worked and struggled to use that passion in their community. By ensuring these Community Schools receive community support, quality training, and some small grants, Francis is helping them become long lasting, and continue to benefit the most marginalized and needy children in Uganda.

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