Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sticks, Bricks and Education

Classrooms separated only by a reed screen.
Lessons in the village school.
           Giggling and shouting filled the air, the volume growing to match the rumbling and banging of the approaching pickup truck, tenderized by the harsh village roads of central Uganda. As we crested the hill, the school of bricks and sticks came that into view, the school yard alive with playing children.
          Our second stop on the day's phtographic agenda, the need for better facilities was immediately evident as David, the director of Bega Kwa Bega (Shoulder To Shoulder) and approached the scene.

          While part of the school is made up of a more solid, brick and mortar structure, the dirt floor and basic surfaces are beaten down from heavy use. The majority of the students at this village school, actually attend class in the adjacent wooden-planked building in classrooms barely separated by paper-thin, reed walls.

An independent school in Kampala, children receive instruction in a
well-constructed environment, using more varied educational tools
than are sometimes available in schools with fewer resources.
          Breached in many places, the walls provide minimal separation for wandering eyes and diverted focus from adjacent classrooms. It’s a testament to the will of the children to learn, that they filter out sights and sounds spilling through the holes to neighboring classrooms to absorb the lessons of the teacher in their own classroom.

           The village school was quite a contrast to the school in the capital, Kampala, where we started the day. Built with finished floors and walls, well-furnished with child-size chairs, bright educational materials and a small library the school appeared closer to it's overseas cousins than it did to the schools only a few kilometers away in rural villages. Our mission on this day to simply document the variety of conditions in the area where Bega Kwa Bega, supports children by covering school fees and other costs, and provides ongoing teacher training, knocking down barriers to attending school.

Deteriorating screens of reeds are the only thing
separating classrooms in a village school.
          Although public school in Uganda is technically free for primary schools, families have to buy uniforms, shoes, lunches, notebooks and other supplies that often take schools out of financial reach. When they are attending class, students are frequently sardined in with as many as 100 children in a single class. A number of other systemic problems (A 2012 study found that two in 10 seventh-graders couldn't read at a second grade level) drive parents to try and get their children into one of the many independent schools for a decent education. Also, when children fail to learn, parents begin keeping their children home, not seeing the value of going to school.

          BKB allows parents to chose where their supported children go to school and will try to get them into the private and better schools whenever possible, not only for quality instruction but often for more convenient location. Even in that context, private schools sometimes started by village and religious leaders for their own children, struggle for resources and teacher training to educate their kids as best as their resources will allow.

          As those resources flow or trickle in, school operators make progress, purchasing more educational and construction materials, improving conditions incrementally while moving education forward,  conducting classes in partially finished structures, until more resources allow completion.

Children work on a lesson while facing their teacher, as other kids face the opposite
direction to participate in lessons provided by the teacher on the
opposite side of unfinished brick room.
          At a third village school on our two-day agenda, children attended class in small brick classrooms, the walls unplastered, the tin roof not completed. A chorus of voices work a recited lesson while others sit facing the opposite wall and a second blackboard as a second teacher conducts a different lesson: two classes in the same tiny building with nothing but focused attention to the lesson forming a barrier between the two.

          On my many assignments in other countries I always seem to learn something or see something I've never seen before that either startles me or simply gives me hope for the future of the people I'm photographing. This one was no different. The meager dividers and the complete lack of dividers between classes was a new one for me, but I think it also tells me that the world of development is an always changing always improving world, always with the goal of trying to bring forward a better world.

School lunch program
Storytime over, lets put away the chairs.
Vocabulary and reading flashcards.

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