Isaac Newton: Climate Change & other Challenges

New Classroom Block

This is the latest report from Peter Kisirinya, the Director of Isaac Newton High School:

Isaac Newton High School has reached the end of term one of 2019. It is satisfying to reflect on the progress we have made in developing the school and improving the education and welfare of our students, which are both paramount in a Humanist School. We are grateful for the long-term commitment that Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have shown towards helping us to achieve our educational and social goals. The school has developed out of all recognition since we were founded in 2005.

The latest new classroom block is fully completed. This gives us 3 additional classrooms and an additional science laboratory – each with large attached storerooms. The building has been painted and all rooms have chairs and tables. The Ian Gurney Laboratory is furnished and ready for the science equipment and chemicals that we are about to order from a science supplier in Kampala.

2nd boys hostel under construction with refurbished original hostel behind.

The new boys’ hostel is roofed and ceilings have been constructed to reduce the transit of mosquitoes from room to room.  56 double bunk beds have been made ready to accommodate students who, at the moment, are sleeping in make-shift conditions in classrooms.  All that remains is the completion of floor finishes, the fitting of windows and doors, and plastering and painting.

The school has finally been connected to mains electricity from the national grid and we are using it for lighting and for powering computers on cloudy days, when the solar power is low.

We recognise that the standard of nutrition is important, and we have been doing our best to offer a more varied diet. The variety of foods served to the students has been widened by introducing rice and sweet potatoes as a change from posho (maize flour dough). The sweet potatoes we use are a variety which is rich in essential vitamins. Protein comes from beans and peas.

Current Challenges

Our school is close to the equator, in an area that has been used to rain in every week of the year. However, due to climate change, in recent years we have experienced long dry spells followed by torrential rains. This has made crop yields more variable and sometimes lead to a complete failure of the harvest. Low rainfall in February and March has pushed the prices of maize very high indeed. The prices have trebled and, at the time we are breaking off for holidays, a 100 kg sack of maize flour had gone up to 235,000 Uganda shillings (£50) from a normal level of 80,000 Ushs (£16). Unless we can buy maize stocks soon, we will have serious problems feeding our students next term.

Registration for national exams has to be completed by 31st May. Exam entry fees increase each year and late registration attracts a surcharge of 100%. Normally the families are expected to find the exam entry fees, though the school does its best to help the most needy. Unfortunately, by the end of term we have only managed to collect exam fees from 40% of candidates, which leaves a huge gap of unpaid fees. We hope that, as the term starts, some more will pay but others may not be able to before the deadline.

The school contributes to the National Social Security Fund an additional 10% on top of salary for all employees. This will provide a transferable pension fund for everyone who works at the school. It will bring security in old age and helps to encourage staff retention. However, it has substantially increased the cost of running the school and, as we have to make lump sum payments to the government scheme, it puts considerable pressure on our cash budgets.

Until last year, Isaac Newton High School operated with one class in each year. As the school has become more popular, class sizes grew to over 100. This was beginning to have an adverse effect on learning, as students at the back of the class found it harder to hear the teacher and vice versa. To improve matters we move last year to two classes in each year. This reduced average class sizes to 50-60, which are low for Uganda. We are already seeing the educational benefits, but it has had the effect of almost doubling teaching costs, with the consequent financial pressure this brings.

The school’s water is pumped up through a high-pressure pipe from a well in the valley bottom. Unfortunately, the plastic pipes we used have become old and are constantly springing leaks. Replacing this pipe is an urgent priority if we are to maintain our access to clean water for use throughout the school.

The area where the school is located is in the process of being gazetted as part of the greater Masaka City – even though Masaka is a good 10-15 miles away. The consequence of this is that the Masaka authorities will start to levy municipal taxes on the school – this will bring further pressure on the school’s stretched resources.