Looking after funding development for Link, I am mainly desk-based at our central office in Edinburgh, but this May I had the exciting opportunity to visit Uganda for the first time. The trip was focused on meeting funders of our work in Uganda as well as building relationships with prospective supporters, such as some of the big companies based in Kampala.
Arriving into Entebbe was about as different from the country I’d connected through – Qatar - as imaginable, and passing by lush greenery, fields of flowers and the vast Lake Victoria were a beautiful change from the baking dry and beige surroundings of Doha.
In Kampala I met colleagues from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who recently supported us to carry out research into the state of school improvement in Uganda through a scoping study looking at the multitude of fragmented mechanisms existing across the country. Ultimately, we plan to use this to develop a collaborative strategy for national school improvement - an ambitious and exciting goal driven by a vast need; Uganda is one of the least developed countries in the world, with the highest youth population and one of the highest unemployment rates.
The visit was a valuable opportunity for us to meet new Link Uganda team members. Josephine Akiru is our new Programme Director, who has joined Link with a wealth of valuable programme leadership and disability inclusion experience from Sense International, Action Aid Uganda and Plan Uganda. Ban Basaija is our new Education Advisor (and a former Link employee) who has over 13 years of experience in managing school improvement projects for global NGOs such as Save the Children and Build Africa.
Together we visited a school benefiting from UK AID Girls’ Education Challenge funding, to give our funding partners from The Hewlett Foundation an insight into how we support schools to improve leadership and teaching and optimise management of scarce resources to help children gain a quality education. Cambridge Primary School is located in a remote location on the outskirts of Kampala, in an area where deprivation and poverty levels are high and learning outcomes poor.
Our local team, together with partners from the Department of Education Standards (DES), delivered a School Management Simulation Training (SMST) session with participants from Cambridge and several other local schools. The SMST is a unique tool designed to help school leadership and teachers make the best use of available resources in the school environment and prioritise teaching quality and learning outcomes. The idea is for groups of up to five (a mix of school leaders, teachers, administrative staff and community members from different schools) to imagine themselves as a hypothetical school and be challenged with a number of different scenarios. Throughout, they used the SMST ‘board game’ to allocate counters representing various school resources, such as teachers, money, assets and government support, to school activities such as school management, school health and continuous professional development.
Our Link Uganda Programme Manager Mackay Ongona, alongside Andrew Okiror, a Schools Monitor from DES, took the teams through a number of challenges. They were asked to consider leadership dilemmas such as whether it is worth investing more in Continuous Professional Development for teachers, weighing up the value of building teaching expertise to achieve greater learning impact in the future against taking teachers’ time away from immediate learning impact in the classroom. Community participation was a key consideration, and participants were tasked to think about how schools can maximise good relationships with their community, and how any extra time the teacher has should be split between building relationships with government education officers or the community. Groups were also asked to think about spending of budgets in their school; for example if they had a request to spend money on a new activity such as a school function, what would they consider and how would they respond? At the end of the game the facilitators helped the teams calculate their final ‘scores’, which were based on measures of assessment such as the pupil/teacher ratio achieved at the end of all the changes, and the overall impact the teachers achieved for learning in the school. The group discussed lessons learnt and actions to take back to their school, from new thinking around school resources to the need to prioritise children’s learning and involve communities more. It was fantastic to see teams engage with the process and there was an element of light-hearted banter and humour as each team competed with each other in their decision-making.
Seeing the projects I’ve been writing about in funding bids at first-hand, and the enduring efforts and dedication of our local team, schools and communities was a special experience indeed. Aside from our work, I take home so many impressions about Kampala: the amazing openness and generosity shown by everyone I met, most of whom were working incredibly long hours with little sleep and low pay; the unexpected lush green landscapes of the city; the delicious produce grown locally such as mango, banana, avocado and pineapple; and the intimidating roads. There are so many people working in Kampala but living far outside that the daytime population of the city inflates by 1.5 million. As a result roads are consistently busy, highly polluted and dusty, and an experience to make you forever grateful for our western road networks, as much as we complain about them! In the future I’d definitely pack a pollution mask and lots of lightweight scarves for exploring on foot.
Thanks so much to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for their much-needed support of our work in Uganda.