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From the Framework to the Field: Learning About School Improvement in Uganda Marc Lombardo, AKF Uganda

We approach Madikini Primary School as our vehicle bounces along a bumpy road, and we admire the green hills and farmland that surround us. Madikini is located in a remote part of Koboko, northern Uganda. Until today, I only knew about the school from some spreadsheets I had seen in my office: numbers of teachers trained, activities held to engage Parent Teacher Associations, and other results our project is achieving. But today, I’m inspired by the exciting developments at this bustling rural school.

Madikini is supported by a Canadian-funded project called SESEA – Strengthening Education Systems in East Africa. During my Fellowship with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, I have been supporting monitoring and evaluation activities for SESEA in northern Uganda. This includes collecting data to track the project’s results and impact. I’m excited because today I get to visit Madikini to profile a teacher who has received teacher training under SESEA. School visits are my favourite part of my work.

We greet the head teacher, who leads us to a classroom, beaming. Madikini consists of 4 simple cement structures and a sandy compound with a few trees, all well-kept by the students and teachers. While the exterior of the school seems a bit bare, we encounter a completely different environment once we enter the classroom of Gift Moses, who is now teaching a literacy lesson for students in primary 3.

As we greet Gift and his students, our eyes are overwhelmed by the colourful pictures, maps, and charts that line the classroom walls. I start to feel nostalgic for my own primary school days, and my eagerness to use the resources made available to me. The corners of the room are stocked with games and art materials, and I tiptoe around them as I make my way to a place where I can discreetly observe Gift’s lesson. Most impressively, all of the learning materials have been created by Gift and his students, using local materials from the school’s surrounding environment.

Gift is guiding his students through a story in Kakwa, one of the languages spoken in this part of Uganda. He uses the Reading to Learn (RTL) method, which he learned while attending trainings conducted by AKF. RTL is a set of strategies that helps children improve their reading comprehension skills and engage in reading and writing for pleasure. During the lesson, the students read a passage together, identify sounds and words, practice re-writing text, and make connections between the text and the context. Gift asks for volunteers to identify key words, who then eagerly race up to the board, point to the chart paper, and proudly read aloud.

After the lesson, we visit a few other teachers at Madikini. The teachers explain that they have not all had the opportunity to attend the same trainings as Gift but they have improved their classroom learning environments because of ideas they learned from Gift. They’ve made adjustments to their classrooms, which are now well stocked with locally-made teaching and learning resources.

Marc with Gift and AKF Communications Fellow Riana Topan.

Gift shared with us how SESEA has created forums for educators to share best practices in education.

“WE HAVE AN EDUCATION COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE WHERE WE SHARE IDEAS. AND TEACHERS FROM OTHER SCHOOLS COME TO VISIT MADIKINI TO SEE THE PROGRESS WE HAVE MADE. I STARTED AN ART CLUB AT MADIKINI, AND NOW OTHER SCHOOLS ARE INVOLVING CHILDREN IN MAKING ARTISTIC MATERIALS.”

Through stories like Gift’s, it’s easy to see how SESEA is having an impact on schools throughout East Africa. Back in my office, when I return to the nitty-gritty of managing data, I feel motivated knowing that there are many more teachers out there who, given the right resources and support, are transforming the quality of learning for thousands of students.

Marc Lombardi was part of the 2016-2017 cohort of the International Youth Fellowship Program. He was placed as a Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow in Aga Khan Foundation Uganda.

Since 1989, Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) has been helping to develop young Canadian leaders in the field of international development through its International Youth Fellowship Program.

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Provided by Marc Lombardi

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