When the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme came into effect three years ago. It came with unprecedented challenges that critics said were headed to compromise the quality of education for the beneficiaries.
The increased number of children attending school meant that the class numbers grew bigger, heightening the pupil to teacher ration. This in turn meant that children received minimal attention from the teachers. Accordingly, the conventional teaching methods were rendered ineffective.
This also meant that the struggle for the existing infrastructure and limited facilities like classrooms, learning aids and furniture, whose numbers remaine roughly the same, was more fierce. The immediate solution was to exploit it the available resources- human and material- to give the best in the circumstances.
Government, through various government and donor funded capacity development programmes, has already moved in to alleviate the problems of space by construction of new classrooms and training of more teachers.
However, the requirements upon government are heavy, calling for the private sector and non-government bodies to take up some roles.
Moreover, the private and non-government sector are well placed to come up with well focused, creative, time-bound and efficient implementation and monitoring capacities. This is the niche that the Aga Khan Education Service Uganda has identified and come in to fill for government-aided schools within Kampala City Council under the Enhancement of Universal Primary Education in Kampala (EUPEK) project.
The project, started in 1999, was according to Mr. Julian Tetlow, the project director. It was initiated to give teachers a pedagogical insight to help them to re-think their roles and develop a creative approach to handling the new challenges.
The main objectives of the project, according to Tetlow, were to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom, develop a resource-based learning and to encourage the production of low cost learning materials as well as to sensitise and empower local communities to participate in the affairs of their school. In summary: to maximise benefit under the circumstances .
Mr. Tetlow told Education Vision that teachers are facing new challenges that they must be helped to handle if fruits are to be reaped from UPE.
"Formerly, teachers were handling 50 students in one class. Now they have 150. It is hard for them to know each by name or to ensure all the students learn effectively. If they teach more than one class, they will probably have up to 1,000 books to mark. Teachers need to be helped to develop new techniques and technologies in class management."
The project runs seminars and workshops for teachers, head teachers and even parents, to inform them on their respective roles in the improvement of the performance in the UPE schools.
One of the techniques of class management that teachers have been initiated into is one of breaking up the class into study groups so that pupils take a leading role in the learning process while the teacher plays a facilitating role. This is thought to be more effective than lumping all the students to one class where the teacher cannot monitor all of them.
"Its like having 15 manageable little classes within one class. Its more effective," the soft speaking Tetlow says.
Under the new approach by EUPEK, the children are to be taught to become more independent and adapt to taking the leading role in the learning process with the teacher as a helper.
This in turn means that teachers have to change their perception of what their duty in the teaching-learning process is. They have to stop looking at themselves as the givers of everything.
Similarly, teachers and pupils are encouraged to use low cost, available and appropriate materials to make teaching aids to face off the shortages and inadequacies.
"I have seen children make wonderful learning aids from used air-time cards, bottle corks and straws. They are wonderful," Tetlow notes.
The project does not only target changing the teachers and student to adapt to the new situation.
It also realises that changing the two without affecting the parents, learning environment and school leadership may not amount much.
Accordingly head teachers are also involved and their challenge is to show that they not only take interest in the learning exercise, but are also involved in motivating and giving teachers confidence to be creative.
Tetlow said: "Parents should be involved in the school. A school must be owned, it must beloved and it must be taken care of. You can tell a school that belongs to nobody, that is not loved, that is not cared for. Such a school does not provide a good learning environment.
"We are concerned with the whole learning environment, extending from the classroom, throughout the whole school and even to the home, requiring parents to take an active part in the learning of their children."
EUPEK currently covers 47 public schools in all the five divisions of the city. It works with stakeholding institutions and programmes like Institute of teacher Education, TDMS, KCC Education office, in line with the ministry of Education and Sports' Investment Strategic Plan and the Government White Paper.
There is hope that by the time the programme comes to end in three year's time, all the government aided schools in the city council will have benefited.
With funding from the Aga Khan Foundation, European Union and the Department for International Development, the funders of the project, teacher resources centres have been opened up. In these centres, workshops, brainstorming and sharing of experiences and interaction among teachers take place.
EUPEK is a local version of several education improvement programmes that the Foundation runs in several countries including Kenya, Tanzania, India and Pakistan.
Through its problem focused, time-bound and target specific approach, EUPEK will make a difference in the resource-strained UPE to create quality. If only it could find its way to the rest of the districts in the country!