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UGANDA/ A school needs not just teachers, but guides

Clara Broggi, volunteer with AVSI, describes the situation in the school system in Uganda at the beginning of the school year, and one example of a school that stands out from the rest.

Students at school in Uganda Students at school in Uganda

Dear editor,
When a new scholastic year is beginning in Uganda, the entire population is mobilized: supermarkets display banners that read "back to school" to attract customers (a student going to school must have toilet paper, soap, cleaning materials and reams of paper in addition to traditional school supplies), churches of every religion or sect and mosques pray for students starting this new adventure, traffic increases significantly and the atmosphere becomes more frenetic.

Here, going to school is extremely important because it gives students the possibility of elevating themselves socially and having a future, so much so that school is completely based on a meritocracy: you are "somebody" according to the result you get at the end of the year. If you have a high score, you will have your name and the name of your school written in all the national newspapers, and you will be "important".

Everybody wants to go to school, from primary school to high school, college, and then one continues to study at least up to a Master’s, making many sacrifices because the costs of school are high and families often go into debt in order to meet all the expenses. At the same time, however, the dream may fade because it is difficult to find a job, and even more difficult to find one related to one’s studies.

In 2007, the Ugandan Government approved the reform of the high schools, 10 years after the reform of primary education (UPE). Both interventions were aimed at increasing the number of people able to access the formal school system, to ensure school attendance for girls and also women and to improve the quality of education. However, the government has been faced with challenges and problems that were not well evaluated: inadequate and insufficient facilities (the current school facilities for secondary schools may make up only 20% of the real needs), scarce and sometimes nonexistent teaching materials, underpaid and not professionally trained teachers, especially in rural schools outside the city. The result is a school system where teachers' absenteeism is a very serious problem and, even when there is attention from the teachers, this turns out to be totally biased towards academic achievement and the student is left alone to face the challenges and problems posed by the university, work, and life itself.

The presence of a school that is outside these schemes, then, becomes extremely significant. By this logic, a school where teachers are motivated to work, taking into account all aspects of the personality of the child and becoming true guides, able to make the students in their care grow and to introduce them to all aspects of reality, walking side by side with them.