The Kampala Skyline. Wikimedia Commons

Uganda. A Point of Radical Newness

The example of St Kizito in Kampala: Courses for teachers in some of the country’s scholastic institutions, to propose a new method of teaching.
Kizito, Giovanna, and Clara

Through two successive AVSI projects in Uganda, a network of realities stably involved in the adventure of educating the heart has been created. First of all, this means a team of teachers and social workers capable of living and communicating the fascination of “the risk of education,” as well as schools in Kampala and Jinja (St Kizito Primary and Secondary Schools, St Jude Primary School, Vocational Training Center, Centenary Vocational Training School, and Mother Kevin Secondary School), groups of teachers (tutors in Kitgum and Catholic teachers in Hoima), and also local non-governmental organizations (MPI and COWA in Kampala; Chdeco in Tororo).

Our work is low-visibility, and doesn’t make the headlines. For that matter, it’s true that what we do has a direct effect only on a few thousand students–almost nothing compared to the over seven million students who attend the seven years of elementary school in Uganda.

But in a society and in a scholastic system that programmatically consider it their duty to “inculcate” consciences, behaviors, and values in the young people, now there are realities (people, schools, and organizations) that work together to pursue “the education of the heart” as the objective and method of their actions. And this is a point of radical newness.

The Adventure of St Kizito
One of the first schools in which we proposed our course entitled “The Risk of Education” was St Kizito, a Kampalan institute with over 2,000 students.

The principal, a Combonian priest who is the pastor of the church we attend and our good friend, immediately showed enthusiasm for our initiative. Already, at the end of the second lesson of the course, he told us that our work hypothesis corresponds fully with what can ground and sustain the identity of a Catholic school. He asked us to organize a stable collaboration with St Kizito, aimed at following the teachers in deepening and achieving the image of education we had proposed. In this way, we began working with four teachers from that school.

On the basis of this experience, we organized the next course, “Educate While Teaching,” which identifies and fleshes out the lines of a “pedagogy of the risk of education,” detailing it in concrete didactic implications, identifying fundamental educational and didactic objectives and consequent methodologies.

“ Educate While Teaching” was initially proposed to a limited group of St Kizito teachers, in the desire to make the coursework more flexible and productive, and above all to form within the school a nucleus able to maintain contact with the team of speakers, to experiment and make visible an educational and didactic line that could be the point of reference and comparison for everyone.

Exchange of Experiences
A second stage involved the other teachers as well in two successive sessions of the same course.

During the lessons, ample time was always given to discussions, to communicating experiences, and to participant suggestions and proposals, but most importantly, a stable relationship with the teachers was maintained after the course as well. In addition to periodic meetings, there were more informal occasions, according to the rhythms and modalities of a friendship that tends to become a companionship in daily work and life.
It wasn’t a strategy, but a desire to help them experience a teaching modality that solicits a relationship and a common work of verifying, comparing, and evaluating what has been proposed on the basis of personal experience.

After this work together, it was possible to delineate some deeper considerations on the themes of freedom and authority (already translated into a new course) or on specific topics (Didactics of the Disciplines, Sexual Education, Religious Education, etc.).

The total number of educators who have participated in our courses to date is 1,340.

Positive effects
The impact of “Educate While Teaching” was greater than expected. Teachers learned to overcome a vision of education strictly for factual knowledge, while the value of the individual student in her or his individuality, the meaning of unity among teachers, and the importance of the relationship with the student’s parents were embraced by the teachers as exciting discoveries that could transform their perception of themselves and of their own role, with extremely positive effects on didactics and daily experience in class. Some of the experiences that emerged after the course were collected in a quarterly newsletter for the students’ parents, as an instrument to get them involved. The experiences are simple. They include the change that came about from beginning to teach not an indistinct class, but each student, offering a personal relationship (it should be kept in mind that the use of corporal punishment to achieve attention and discipline has not yet disappeared entirely from Ugandan schools); the discovery that rebellious behavior expresses a difficulty the student is experiencing at school or at home, and that closing the question by simply punishing the child does not suffice; the surprise at the results obtained by giving space to the students’ experiences, accepting or provoking their questions rather than considering them acts of misbehavior; and the satisfaction with the nobility of a work that contributes to forming aware and free people.

Every child is unique
The Vice-Principal of the school, Florence M., speaking recently to the Archbishop of Kampala, Cardinal Wamala, expressed her enthusiasm for the work done, saying, among other things, “I consider this work as a real gift of the Lord. Our school has totally changed since the teachers began to understand that a child is unique, is of great value, and that the realization of his desire for beauty, truth, justice, and happiness can be facilitated by the teacher. Until now, all of us, myself included, have sought to escape the problems and challenges that the educational relationship entails. Now, we are enthusiastic about working together and facing reality as it presents itself, because we are no longer afraid.”