FEBRUARY 26, 2010: After 14 years, Former Camp Boy Helps School Get Division One

After 14 years, Former Camp Boy Helps School Get Division One
SOURCE: Monitor

The guns have gone silent in northern Uganda after over two decades of senseless killings, abductions of school-going children, with under-aged girls defiled and raped in the presence of their defenseless mothers.

As a result, close to two million people fled and became refugees in their own land. Today, a cloud of normalcy dangles in the air, in Acholi sub-region, the former epicentre of the Lord's Resistance army (LRA) insurgency against President Museveni's government.

Joseph Kony and his LRA fighters following the collapse of the Juba peace process encountered a fresh offensive code named Operation Lightning Thunder early last year by an alliance of regional armies from Uganda, Sudan and DRC Congo, and fled deeper into the Garamba jungles.

Though the LRA continued with its signature attacks of maiming civilians in Sudan and DR Congo and attempting to advance towards the Central Africa Republic, the situation in northern Uganda is improving.

Up to 80 per cent of former internally displaced persons have attempted to resettle in their original homes since 2006.

But underneath these resettlement and recovery efforts, lie untold stories of how much damage this war had on the educational infrastructure in the sub-region.

Purogo Primary School in Amuru District last got a pupil passing in division one, 14 years ago. And this pupil is Patrick Oryema, who secured the first grade in 1995.

In the recently released exams, Christopher Okello, 13, matched that feat with a score of 10 aggregates in PLE, saving the school administration from the humiliation it endured for more than a decade, without securing even one first grade.

His name is not anywhere near the best pupils in the country with 4s, but back home in Amuru; the former camp boy is a source of inspiration to thousands of children orphaned by the war.

In spite of his record breaking performance, Okello was unsure of joining secondary education because of his humble background.

He got credit 3 in Maths, English- 3, Science- 2, and SST- 2, but by February 15 when Senior One students were reporting for first term Okello had given up.

"I had no hope for further education because my grandmother Yolanda AOL, 66, used to sell vegetables to raise the Shs5,000 for my studies every term in P7 but she cannot afford fees and requirements for secondary education," he explains to Saturday Monitor.

This newspaper established that Okello has never seen his father after his mother abandoned him at an early age.

"I recall seeing my mother Ms Jennifer Amito some years back when we were still in Olwiyo camp and the latest information I got is that she got married to some man in Masindi," he discloses with traces of pain in his voice.

"Throughout my life time I have been staying with Ms Aol (the grandmother) I am not so sure whether my father is there because there is no information availed to me on his whereabouts," he adds.

New hope

Lack, however, came knocking on Okello's door last week when the Independent Hospital in Gulu heard about his plight and offered to partially support him.

The private hospital bought for him a mattress, suitcase and agreed to pay his school fees for first term. The support could continue if he maintains good performance.

He described the support as a major turning point in his life.

"It's going to be my first time to sleep on a mattress having slept on the mat throughout my childhood," he says.

The Head of Department at the hospital, Mr Richard Laboka, says they will pay his tuition throughout his education if he keeps excelling and disciplined.

The story of this former camp boy offers an eloquent illustration on the extent of damage the northern war had on education. Thousands of pupils drop out after failing completely at PLE while less than five per cent manage to pass in division one.

Cannot compete

It means children from this war-ravaged zone cannot compete favourably with their counterparts in other regions of the country as just a few isolated cases make it to the university on government scholarship.

In 2008 Amuru District got only one first grade out of over 1,100 who sat and in 2009 it got 25 first grades out of over 3,000 who sat for PLE.

There are many families that cannot afford secondary education in this region as a result of the war that subjected people to dependence and survival on handouts.
Amuru District Education Officer Ben Okwarmoi says the resettlement programme had disrupted the teaching process, but as most schools are now up and running, improvement will be seen continuously.

“Most schools were relocated to their original sites. The teachers commute to the schools from wherever they live, some cover up to 25km, because they do not have accommodation near the schools,” Mr Okwarmoi explained.

“Because of this, the teachers have little time to concentrate on their work,” he adds.

A 2009 World Development Report which examined the impact of Universal Primary Education on regional inequality and primary education in northern Uganda observed that while the universalistic approach to addressing regional disparities in education is effective and has improved primary education access and quality in the lagging northern region of Uganda, it does not have an equalising effect.

It recommended for additional resources are required to reduce regional disparities, particularly in relation to primary education quality and performance.

According to the study, a number of factors drive this regional disparity in terms of education quality, performance and completion. First, the impact of the conflict on education infrastructure, resources and systems is significant.

Schools, and their teaching materials and resources, have been destroyed through looting and the majority of schools were displaced and others are still in camps.

Ministry statistics
In Kitgum District, approximately 86 per cent of pupils were displaced and temporarily established in other schools, which resulted in immense overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure such as classrooms and latrines. This affected the pupil to classroom ratio and teaching effectiveness.

Due to the insecurity, teachers were not attracted to teaching in the North. For example, in late 2006, 500 teaching positions were advertised in the Kitgum District, but only 210 applications were submitted and out of these, only 180 applications were deemed suitable.

There is also a financial disincentive to teach in the region. While in other regions parents tend to supplement teachers’ salaries, in the north families often do not have the capacity to do this, according to the 2006 Education Journal.

The journal adds that teachers were also attracted to work for humanitarian agencies in the region, where salaries were higher and working conditions and allowances more generous.

Teacher absenteeism

Another recent report by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, observed that many schools lack teacher housing, forcing teachers to commute long distances, often along insecure routes; salaries are low and without hardship supplementation.
Worst still, most families in Acholiland were displaced. They still have little or no access to livelihoods. Mr Emmanuel Mwaka Lutukomoi, the spokesperson of Acholi Cultural Institution, says abject poverty betrays the will for thousands of youth to study.
“While education is valued in the Acholi sub-region, it is often difficult to translate this value into reality,” Mr Mwaka explains.
While UPE means that families do not have to pay school fees, uniforms and school materials do need to be paid for by families. This poverty limits attendance and enrolment at the primary school level.

A recent report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) indicated that education cost (poverty) is responsible for about 40.9 per cent of school dropouts as the reason for leaving school. Mr Mwaka adds that some children, particularly orphans and heads of households, are forced to work before and after school. Food is often limited, making it difficult for children to concentrate.

Conflict and the resulting economic poverty perpetuated gender inequalities in relation to educational access. According to the District Education Office in Kitgum, in April 2005 there were 4,338 boys compared with 2,496 girls in P7.

Evidence from the World Food Programme/Norwegian Refugee Council supports this. Of the 125 schools assisted through the School Feeding Program in May 2006, at the P7 level there were 2 789 boys compared with 1 571 girls.

This is compared with the much closer to equal enrolment figures for boys, at 12 454 and girls, at 11 229 in P1.

These and many other challenges are the end product of the poor quality of education in northern Uganda, and this is what makes efforts by pupils like Okello commendable and a source of inspiration.