stevehurd@uhst.org Uganda Humanist Schools Trust

Visit to the Humanist Schools

Arrival in Uganda

The picture was taken on 26 June when UHST Trustees arrived in Entebbe at the start of our tour of the Humanist Schools in Uganda. Our party comprised, from the left: Glenda Miller, Krystal White, Steve Hurd, Hilary Hurd, Chris Smith and Derek Miller. UK members had all visited Uganda before and 3 of us had lived in the country. We were pleased to be able to welcome along Krystal, from the Ethical Society of St Louis, who joined us for her first visit.

Our visit of 24 days took in the Humanist schools that our charity supports financially, Isaac Newton (Primary and High Schools), Mustard Seed (Primary and Secondary School), Kanungu Primary and Katumba Parents Primary. We spent 2 or 3 days at each of these schools observing, taking part in activities with the staff and students, and meeting members of the school Boards. Here are links to the full reports:

Isaac Newton Humanist Schools (Primary and High School)

Mustard Seed Humanist Schools (Primary and Secondary School)

Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School

Kanungu Humanist Primary School

All four schools are doing well but in the face of extraordinary challenges. The rural economy was devastated by a prolonged Covid lockdown. Low incomes and exhausted savings have caused large arrears in school fee payments. There are huge inflationary cost rises, especially of school food, due to the war in Ukraine. We are determined to do our best to help them get through this and are launching a new appeal for additional funds. UHST’s regular supporters have always done their best to help where they can but, given the scale of the current problems, we feel that we will need to cast our net more widely and encourage Humanists from around the world to help in our bid to support the schools through these extraordinary times.

We were heartened to find that our pioneer schools are becoming beacons for Humanism in Uganda and other young Ugandans, including former students of the first Humanist schools, are taking the initiative to start new schools founded on positive Humanist philosophy. We made short visits to the following new Humanist schools: Eagle’s View Primary (started by a former Mustard Seed student), Star Classic Primary and New Hope Primary (both inspired by Irumba Juma Siriwayo from Katumba Humanist School). The tightness of our schedule prevented us from visiting Classical Humanist High School (started by a former Isaac Newton student). What is clear is that Humanist education is stepping up and moving to a new phase in Uganda. UHST has its hands full ensuring that the existing schools that we support achieve really high standards of education and welfare, and we are anxious not to spread our resources too thinly. We will, however, help representatives of new schools to attend conferences organised by the Uganda Humanist Schools Association, so they can help to develop and share good practice.

For expansion to continue we need Humanist groups around the world to emulate many church groups and adopt and provide ongoing support to one of the new Humanist groups coming along. It should provide a new purpose to many groups, though a little due diligence is advised. It is worth checking that the school you choose to support is serious about Humanism and not just tapping into a willing funding source. Find out who owns the school (is it registered with the Ministry of Education, does it appear in the Uganda Registrar of Companies as a not-for-profit company and does it have a bank account that is ring-fenced for the school and produce annually audited accounts. Schools that are members of the Uganda Humanist Schools Association should meet these requirements.

At the end of our visit to the schools we have been supporting we were hugely heartened. They are doing their level best to promote education based on reason, compassion and tolerance and that does not discriminate on the basis of belief. We saw a genuine desire to achieve high standards of education and welfare, where the needs of every child is important. Our support for the schools has made a huge difference. The schools are bringing hope to some of the poorest communities in Uganda.

Kanungu makes a flying start

by Robert Magara, School Director, May 1st, 2022

Happy children get their first experience of school
  • I extend greetings from Kanungu Humanist Primary School (KHPS) pupils, teachers and parents. We thank Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UHST) supporters for completing the building of our new school and sustaining the school during its first term.
  • We enrolled 118 boys and girls, many of whose families had been affected by the world’s worst religious cult massacre in 2020. We are grateful to our newly recruited teachers who are working with us to develop the Humanist ethos of the school. 
  • The term ended on 15th April, 2022, when we released pupils for the vacation. Pupils completed end-of-term examinations and took reports home to their proud parents. 
  • Parents appreciated the difference that UHST support for the school is making to the education of their children. It ensures that we have enough learning materials and equipment for pupils and teachers. Through an account at Aristoc Bookshop, we have been able to buy textbooks for use in class and for home study.

We had food throughout the term. This was possible with continuous support from UHST and local fee collections. We managed to provide daily breakfast and lunch for the children and their teachers; as well as on Saturdays during weekend remedial teaching to make up for the impact of the Covid lockdown.

We were able to pay all teaching staff their salaries up to the end of April. We are proud of the continuous salary support payments from the UHST trustees, which made this possible.

We were able to get 30 more twin desks and bench seats. The furniture problem is reducing, and my aim is to have enough by the end of this year.

We had a very successful visit from the BBC Panorama team who made a documentary for BBC World Service ARICA EYE – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0byxwg0. The film focused on religious cults and humanism in Uganda and featured the Kanungu massacre and our school and Humanism as a beacon of hope for the future. 

So, despite some challenges, we had a successful term.

Exclusive Evangelical School goes Inclusively Humanist 

Here is a report from Peter Kisirinya, Director of the Isaac Newton Humanist Schools in Uganda, on the first term of their new primary school.

Girl first in line at Isaac Newton Humanist Primary School

Background

Isaac Newton has been developing as a Humanist High School since 2005 and we have been ready, for some time, to extend inclusive education based on reason, compassion and tolerance to local primary-age children. The Covid pandemic, which forced the closure of so many schools, presented an opportunity for us to take over a nearby Pentecostalist school, which had failed for several reasons:

  1. It alienated local people by forcing children and their teachers to subscribe to a particularly intolerant form of Christianity.
  2. Pupil numbers declined as parents saw indoctrination, mistreatment of their children and generally low standards of education and welfare.
  3. Many teachers were unqualified and failed to cooperate with parents in matters concerning the education of their children. 
  4. The school paid teachers poorly and had built-up long arrears of staff salaries.
  5. There was a severe lack of learning space (buildings) and furniture and funds collected from parents to improve resources and facilities appeared to make no difference. 

Changing to a Humanist School

Children who were about to sit their Primary Leaving Examination, were left high and dry when the Evangelical school closed in 2020. The school proprietor advertised the school for sale. Approaches to turn the school into a madrasa led the local community to turn to Isaac Newton Humanist High School, which they trusted, to come to the rescue. Immediately, we provided space where a teacher could work with the children to complete their studies ahead of the November examination. I discussed the situation with Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and they agreed to launch an appeal in the UK to raise funds to buy the failed primary school. 

Fortunately, UHST’s supporters responded well to the appeal, and we were able to buy the school in April 2021 and to begin work on its much-needed refurbishment. Buying the school has meant a lot to the local children, their parents, teachers and the whole local community. Linked to the High School, the Humanist Primary School now offers:

  • Inclusive-secular education to local children from all backgrounds, with high standards of education and welfare.
  • All staff have secure employment. They feel valued and are paid in a timely manner.
  • While many of the original children stayed with the school, new children have come along now that school is seen to be welcoming to the entire community. Currently we have a total of 276 pupils, 150 girls and 126 boys.
  • School fees have been reduced to a fair level since the school is now run on not-for profit principles.
  • A new kindergarten section has been constructed and we now provide all-important early-age education from the age of 3. 
  • UHST has already provided two large consignments of textbooks and other learning materials. We now have adequate textbooks, when there were very few in the old school. 
  • UHST has provided re-usable sanitary towels to all menstruating girls. This was one of the factors that led to many girls dropping out of school. 
  • We have recruited 8 additional qualified teachers, while retaining those staff who were suitably qualified and willing to accept the new Humanist ethos. 
  • All decisions are now taken in an open way, with full consultation with teachers, parents and local authorities.
  • We have changed the system of discipline from one based on violence to one that emphasises empathy and guidance. Corporal punishment has been banned. We are running workshops to share nonviolent strategies for managing discipline. We are also holding workshops on Humanist School Ethos.
  • Adequate and appropriate types of furniture have been made and pupils feel much more comfortable in school.
  • UHST has provided funds for a new kitchen and the quality of school food has improved greatly.

Children and staff are much happier. Children like coming to school and indeed they say the school is a better place than their home. Many pupils can hardly find enough to eat at home and are pleading for the school to reopen earlier than planned for the second term.

Wider benefits to the Community

The community around the school has benefited both directly and indirectly from the school takeover.

  1. The primary school has been connected to electricity, which was been brought into the village by the Humanist High School, with UHST funding.
  2. Piped water has been extended from Isaac Newton High School to the primary school and community members around the school now have access safe water.
  3. Local people are making extra income by letting rooms to teachers and staff from the primary school.
  4. The primary school buys materials such as foodstuffs, firewood, construction materials from the locality, which further boosts local living standards.
  5. The school staff boost the income of local transport services such as boda-boda (motorbike taxis).
  6. The school building has been opened up to the local community for meetings and events.
  7. Those pupils who could not afford an education are assisted by the school’s local bursary scheme.

Future needs

  • The school needs to recruit 4 more qualified teachers. 
  • We need more housing for teachers.
  • We need a school hall for exams and other purposes.
  • To be viable in the longer term, the school needs to find ways to attract more children from further afield.
Children of all faiths learning together at Isaac Newton Humanist Primary School