The Covid Crisis and the Humanist Schools in Uganda

Covid has hit schools in Uganda very hard.

The virus was brought into Uganda with a plane load of passengers from Dubai in mid-March. Most of those passengers were quarantined and the country went into lock-down. All schools were instructed to close before the first term ended in March, with the expectation that they would reopen in May. Covid has been slow to take off in Uganda, with just over 1,000 cases to date and no deaths but, nevertheless, the Uganda government has taken a precautionary approach. School closures were extended and the President has now asked them to prepare to reopen in September. The students have already lost a full term’s schooling.

Normally the collective scholarship payments from UHST supporters cover 50% of the running costs of Mustard Seed School and about 40% at Isaac Newton School. During the shutdown, the schools lost their local fee income, but they still have ongoing costs, for water and electricity, local and national rates and taxes and, most importantly, staff salaries. They receive no funds from the Uganda government.

The Humanist schools have worked hard to retain staff during the lockdown. The schools have always tried to foster a strong team spirit among staff, teachers and ancillary workers. Reliable pay, fringe benefits and annual staff bonuses paid by UHST have been an important part of this. In order to support their staff during the closure, schools have been paying 50% of normal salaries. This has only been possible because UHST has continued to transfer your regular monthly scholarship payments. Although there have been no children in school, this money has helped to ensure that the children have a school to return to.

The one compensation is that the school closure has enabled UHST to help the schools to make progress in a number of areas:

  1. New Nursery at Katumba

    We have completed the nursery and infant sections of a new Humanist primary school at Katumba, Bundibugyo, on the Congo border, where 100 fathers were killed in a futile witchdoctor-led insurrection.

  2. Work is well advanced on the foundations of a new hall at Isaac Newton School
  3. A much needed second boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed School is progressing.
  4. We have registered, as a not-for-profit company, the Humanist primary and secondary school at Kanungu, near Bwindi, the site of a dreadful massacre of 800 people by religious fanatics.

Work on New Hall at Isaac Newton School

Current expectations are that children will return to school in September, after an extended summer holiday. The government is proposing to run the final term up to the end of December, to give students an opportunity to catch up on the substantial amount of work they have missed. National examinations, if they are held, will move back from October to the end of December.

Covid has caused huge problems for everyone in Uganda, and especially for school staff and, more particularly, for children and students. They could not have managed without the money from UHST supporters, which has given them an essential lifeline during the Covid crisis. They are hugely grateful to UHST supporters for the help you have given them in these unprecedented times.

Work on Mustard Seed dormitory

The virus has curtailed economic activity in Uganda and destroyed the livelihoods of many poor families. When the schools reopen, children not receiving UHST scholarships, will find it difficult to pay fees. This, in turn, will make it hard for the schools to pay their teachers. Our priority, at UHST, is to harness funds to help our schools to not only survive the current financial shock but also to re-establish the momentum they had before the crisis hit. We can do this with your continued support.

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Education is Transforming Uganda

In order to understand the context in which the small but growing number of Humanist Schools in Uganda are working, we need an overview of the education system. The most reliable source of information is the National Census of 2014, the results of which were published in 2017. The broad picture will not have changed substantially since then.

Educating the new generation

With historic fertility rates as high as 7 children per woman, the school-age population in Uganda has been growing apace. In the year 2000, realising that it would not be able to meet the demand for new schools, the Uganda government liberalised the school system allowing a variety of private and community organisations to set up schools. Religious organisations were quick to see an opportunity to extend their influence over Ugandan society. New schools were established by the protestant Church of Uganda, the Catholic Church, Evangelical Protestant Churches (supported largely by American congregations) and by different Moslem groups, who provide 10-15% of religious schools.

Sector Primary (%) Secondary (%)
Religious organisations*

57

41

Entrepreneurs*

18

30

Community groups*

13

16

Government schools

5

6

Others*

7

7

TOTAL SCHOOLS

20,310

3000

*Many schools receive some government support.
Source Uganda Census 2014 (Analysis 2017).

Frenzy of new school building

Entrepreneurs were the next biggest group founding schools. Many saw schools as a business opportunity and founded them as private companies running for profit. Schools have also been set up by local people to serve the needs of a community. Government schools form a small minority of the total. The Humanist Schools, which are private schools run on a charitable basis fit in the Others category.

Since the liberalisation of education, the number of schools has increased greatly, as has the proportion of children in full-time education. Among today’s young people, 17% attend pre-school, 80% go to primary, 44% to secondary school, and 4% go on to University level courses. All schools expect fees or other financial contributions from families. In rural areas, livelihoods are from subsistence farming. The little cash families earn derives from the sale of surplus food or cash crops. So, for many Ugandans, incomes are low and unreliable. Meeting the school fees for all members of a family is a major challenge. Consequently, school drop-out rates are high. 40% of boys and 49% of girls leave primary school before taking their Primary Leaving Examination (PLE). Of the children who complete their primary education, a further 38% drop out before O-level exams.

Although many young people now gain an education, among the general working population (aged 13-59) the proportion of educated people remains low. In 2014, only 9.6% of the working population had completed primary school, 8% had an O-level, 3% an A-level and only 2% had a degree-level qualification.

With such low general levels of education, new school leavers with O and A-levels can do very well in the job market. Those that secure a paid job can create a good life themselves and also help to support their family members back in the villages. The Humanist Schools are a small part of the total. However, they provide a unique education based on the values of reason, compassion and tolerance. Together they are transforming the life chances of very many young people every year and helping to lift out of poverty the fortunate communities where they operate.

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Coronavirus closes Humanist Schools in Uganda

Coronavirus was brought to Uganda a few days ago with passengers alighting from a flight from Dubai. There are now, on 27 May, 18 confirmed cases – all related in some way to the flight arrivals.

Uganda is used to dealing with epidemics. In recent years it has had to cope with outbreaks of HIV/AIDS, Cholera and Ebola. The country has a good health care system with many well-trained professionals, but it is underresourced. Uganda has always been open to the public about new infections and uses radio, TV, social media and national newspapers to encourage appropriate public health responses (such as hand washing shown in the picture from New Vision newspaper). Bobi Wine a musician, politician and campaigner has brought out a coronavirus campaign song, which you can see and hear on this link:

https://youtu.be/PUHrck2g7Ic

If any country in Africa ia able to minimise the impact then Uganda is the one.

The government has acted quickly, preparing the ground even before the first coronavirus case arrived in Uganda. People were told about the symptoms and about the importance of thorough hand washing and social distancing. Since the virus arrived in Uganda measures have been ramped up. All schools and educational institutions have been closed. Large social gatherings have been banned. Shops and markets have been closed, and public bus and boda-boda (motorbike taxi) services have been shut down. A cordon sanitaire has been thrown around Kampala, with severe restrictions on movement in and out.

Along with other schools, the Humanist Schools have been forced to close. The police visited Mustard Seed School to ensure that students had been sent home. Initial closure is for one month, but experience from other countries suggests the closure will last longer. There has been an immediate hit on school income. With no students in school, no fee income is being paid and yet teachers and other staff still need to be paid. This is a crisis for the schools, which were doing so well. Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has stepped in to help with supplementary grants for Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools and we have sent hardship money to help the teachers at Katumba Parents Humanist Nursery and Primary School. The money we are giving is drawn from funds set aside for important new infrastructure. If it goes on for long, we will be struggling to keep the staff of the schools together. If you would like to help the schools to get through this, then you can make a donation by clicking “Continue reading” in the box below:

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Humanist Schools give young people a lifeline to a better future

The 2019 Uganda Certificate in Education (O-Level) results for the Humanist Schools, published recently, showed a further improvement on the previous year. Improving educational standards at Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools see them rising up the school league tables. The two schools are giving more and more young people from poor backgrounds the life changing opportunity that a good education based on positive values can bring.

  1. Each school entered just over 100 students for the exam in 2019. 56.2% of the students of Isaac Newton gained either an aggregate grade 1 or 2 (just over double the national figure). 34.6% of Mustard Seed students gained this level, compared with 26% nationally.
  2. The only failures in the two schools were a handful of students who could not, due to family difficulties, complete their final year of schooling. Nationally 12.8% of students fail outright.
  3. It is particularly pleasing that both schools bring up more of the weaker students to at least a Grade 3. Where nationally just below half of the cohort (43%) gain the lowest level pass at grade 4. At Mustard Seed only 2% gained the lowest grade pass and over 60% gained a creditable grade 3, compared with 23 % nationally. At Isaac Newton just 16.2% gained the lowest pass grade.
  4. For both schools there was a substantial improvement in the overall profile of grades since 2018. (See table of results below)

Moses Kamya, the Director of Mustard Seed School, points out that many of their students have performed well despite difficult personal circumstances.

“One of our girls who has done particularly well is Viola Mbeiza. Her father died, so Viola lived with her Mum. After doing well at primary school, she stayed at home for a year because she had no money for secondary school fees. I heard her story and offered her a UHST scholarship to study at Mustard Seed. Viola loves the school and thrived with us but then disaster struck in her second year. She sustained serious back injuries after falling into a pit at home. She needed ongoing medical attention and missed a lot of school. However, Viola always made up her schoolwork, and her determination was rewarded when she passed O level with the highest division 1. A local politician has managed to secure sponsorship to enable Viola to move on to a course in nursing and midwifery. 

Simon Baidu has also completed his secondary schooling with us. He was also raised by a single mum. They lived in a simple house in Busota trading centre. She earns a meagre income selling chapatis at our school. Simon was a day student. He would occasionally help his mum to roll a single egg omelette in a chapati to make Rolex, not a watch but a popular local street food. Simon’s primary schooling was poor, so he joined the school in S1 with only a third grade in his primary leaving certificate. We would not normally accept someone with such a low grade, but Simon had something about him that suggested promise. We were delighted when he gained a Grade 1 in his O-level examinations and, even more so, when he secured a scholarship to study for his A-levels at a good school in Jinja. His mum is so happy at his achievement. His success, when he gets a job, could help to lift the whole family out of poverty.”

 

Aggregate
Grade (%)
Uganda Mustard Seed Secondary Isaac Newton High
2018 2019 2018 2019 2018 2019
1 8.4 8.4 8.0 5.0 16.4 20.0
2 16.0 17.6 21.4 29.6 30.2 36.2
3 21.3 23.2 29.3 60.4 30.1 26.6
4 41.5 43.0 41.3 2.0 23.3 16.2
Fail 12.8 7.8 0.0 3.0 0.0 1.0
Roughly 330,000 students take the exams in Uganda.
Mustard Seed cohort increased from 75 in 2018 to 101 in 2019, and Isaac Newton’s increased from 73 to 105.

 

 

 

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Uganda Humanist Schools: A Growing Movement

The first two Humanist Schools in the world were established in Uganda in 2005. A new Directory of Humanist Schools in Uganda reveals that the number of such schools has increased to 12, and more are being established.

All the schools were founded by Ugandans with Humanist values and a strong commitment to the needy communities they serve. Most schools are rural, some quite remote and a number in areas where many family members have died in the most tragic of circumstances.

All schools share the aim of offering a safe, caring and effective learning environment for children who have experienced poverty and insecurity. The Humanist Schools accept a duty of care to every student, who has the right to expect:

  • The highest standard of education, providing the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for success in the modern world.
  • A happy and purposeful schooling with abundant opportunities for personal development.
  • Teachers who strive hard to develop the capabilities of every student.
  • A safe, disciplined and caring environment, which is free from physical and verbal abuse.
  • Teachers and students who work together in mutual respect.

Furthermore, education in Humanist Schools encourages:

  • freedom of thought and expression;
  • rational enquiry, science and the need to support argument with evidence;
  • human rights, gender and racial equality, and the rights of individuals to choose their personal life stance;
  • high levels of achievement and social responsibility.

Uganda Humanist Schools Trust is organising an International Friendship Visit to some of these schools in August 2020. There will also be an opportunity to attend the 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference at Isaac Newton High School. Places are limited but if you wish to support the schools in their endeavours, are fit and healthy and have the endurance to cope with challenging journeys then please contact stevehurd@uhst.org for further information.

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Cutting the turf on the new Katumba Nursery School

Juma helps with trench digging

We have just heard from Juma Siriwayo that construction of a brand new primary school for the Katumba community on the Congo border of Uganda has started with foundation work on the Nursery section. Weather conditions have been challenging. Very heavy rains have hindered progress. Floods have washed out two key bridges on the road to the school site. Lorries carrying building materials are having to take side roads and ford the River Humya to deliver materials on site.

Uganda National Roads Authority have set up a work camp to repair the roads and bridges that have been affected by the floods, but it will take until March before things are back to normal.
The attached photos show initial work on the site. They show materials being delivered to the site, tanks for storing water, and Juma helping to dig trenches for the foundations. Juma reports that: “The builder is doing really good work and the Directors, other parents and local leaders are helping and organising close supervision to ensure that all the work is done perfectly. Our whole community is happy with this amazing initiative and we are very grateful to the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UHST) team for their decision and commitment to support our community with a new school. It is the first of its kind in this community. We really feel proud of the school site. Due to its location and altitude, no part of it was affected by floods and we have high hopes that buildings on the site will endure to serve the needs of many future generations of children.

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A New Primary School for the Katumba Community

Land donated for new Katumba School

If ever a community deserved a new school for their children, it is the parents of Katumba, a small village in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, overlooking the troubled Eastern Province of the Congo.

5 years ago, the community was ripped apart when an insurrection, led by a Congolese witchdoctor, resulted in the deaths of 100 of the village men, and left behind destitute wives and children. The mothers, and remaining families, could no longer afford the fees charged by established schools, so they came together in a huge community effort to build their own Katumba Parents’ School. Rejecting the superstitions and witchcraft that had brought the community so many problems, the school runs on Humanist principles, inspired by Juma Siriwayo, a young Parent Director. The classrooms are crude temporary structures, made from wood hewn from the surrounding forests and the small plot of land is subject to flash floods. However, the native-born teachers have shown great commitment and ingenuity.

When we visited the school in 2018 and 2019 we were astonished by the high standard of the children’s spoken English and by the enthusiastic and happy atmosphere in which they were learning. This has contributed to very good results in the Primary Leaving Certificate, enabling a few of the best pupils to attend Isaac Newton High School, where they are proving to be star students.

Following our enthusiastic report about the school, two long-standing supporters of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have pledged £80,000 to the construction of a new school on a more suitable site. The land was donated by Teopista Nanganda, a Director of the school, who is also grandmother to a number of the pupils. After a number of iterations, we have agreed with the parents a plan for the new school (below) and a programme to complete the building work in 4 phases over 3 to 4 years. The proposals have brought hope to everyone involved with the school and, indeed, to the whole community. The school’s construction, which will start immediately, will create employment and put much-needed income into a community which deserves a better future.

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Humanist schools hit by climate change and crop disease

The Humanist secondary schools in Uganda, supported by UHST, have suffered unexpected setbacks in their progress towards self-reliance. Exceptionally heavy rains and crop disease have devastated crop yields and incomes, making it difficult for families to pay school fees. This has left the schools with a serious cash shortfall.

Mustard Seed School’s financial problems started when extraordinarily heavy rains destroyed crops. As a consequence, parents, who rely for their income on selling surplus food, found it impossible to keep up with school fees for their children. The problem was exacerbated by the destruction of the school fence during road widening, which left the school with a 14 million Uganda shilling (£3,000) repair bill. The local authority gave the school only 14 days to replace the fence, in the face of a threat to close the school temporarily to avoid accidents to children. These twin challenges have made it impossible for the school, without assistance, to meet monthly staff costs of 14.6million Uganda shillings (£3,100) for November and December.

Coffee hit by wilt disese

Isaac Newton School has faced its own financial challenges, due to failures in the main cash crop, coffee. Yields in 2019 fell well below expectations due to an attack of coffee wilt disease. The fall in local incomes made it impossible for local farmers to pay school fees. By the end of October, school fees were in arrears to the tune of 32,453,600 shillings (almost £7,000). In desperation, the school had no alternative but to send some students home, because it could no longer afford to feed them. 90% of Isaac Newton’s parents are peasant farmers, whose income is completely dependent upon the income generated from their harvest. As with Mustard Seed, it left the school with no funds to clear the salary bill for the two last months of the year, nor to cover the staff costs of running the end of year exams.

Although UHST funds were stretched by large-scale building programmes at the two schools, we had to find ways to help the schools to meet their immediate running costs. Some work at the schools had to be postponed so we could send money to meet the schools’ salary bills to the end of the year. We also sent money to pay end of year bonuses, which have become very important for maintaining staff morale and retention. Further money has been sent to enable the schools to smarten up the school sites following a year of extensive building work. The events have brought home just how vulnerable rural schools in Africa are to natural hazards.

 

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Humanist Schools Making their Mark in Uganda

Here is a link to Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s Annual Report for 2018-2019.

https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/19-UHST-Annual-Report-2018-2019r.pdf

It is a little longer than previous reports and reflects the huge amount that has been going on in the schools, helped by the proceeds of our 10th Anniversary Building Appeal. The schools have improved beyond recognition and students and staff are delighted with their progress. Although there is always more to do, the time has come to widen our focus.

In Uganda, interest in Humanism is growing apace. There are now 11 Humanist schools and we are planning to bring them together in August 2020 for a 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference. Those schools that are serious and willing to develop sound governance will be welcomed into Uganda Humanist Schools Association and become eligible for support from UHST.

UHST’s  immediate priority is to help Katumba Parents’ Humanist Primary School, 3km from the Congo border, to build an entirely new school, at an estimated cost of £80,000. 100 fathers from the school were killed in fighting 5 years ago, leaving behind distressed and destitute mothers to care for 180 children. They showed great resolve and came together to build a school using timber hewn from nearby forests. The parents manage the school and employ the teachers from the locality. They show a remarkable commitment to Humanism, which they see as a way of fighting black magic and superstition and achieving a better life for their children.

The success of first Humanist schools has encouraged new schools to follow in their wake, and we want to help them. Raising funds to support them is our priority and we need all the help we can get. If you belong to a local Humanist or other kindred group, then do please tell them about the developments in Uganda. All assistance we receive will be put to good use. Every pound given is used to support the school projects in Uganda.

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The Family of Humanist Schools in Uganda is Growing

We have just returned from a 3-week visit to Uganda, where we visited some of the growing band of Humanist Schools.

A-Level Chemistry Practical

Isaac Newton High School, near Masaka, is a beacon for high education and welfare standards in its District, where it is the 5th best performing school out of 35. Its visionary and energetic Director, Peter Kisirinya, and the school’s hardworking and talented staff are determined to make it even better. Recent site additions, including a fine new teaching block with 3 additional classrooms and a well-equipped science lab and a second boys’ hostel nearing completion, make the school well-equipped for teaching 600 students, with two classes (North and South) in each O-level year. The school has a thriving Humanist Student Association, which works to improve life in the local villages and promotes First Aid skills with help from the Red Cross.

Winners of Reading for Pleasure Competition

Mustard Seed Secondary School, near Kamuli, is also rapidly becoming the school of choice in its area where, in 2018, the national examination results placed the school 6th out of over 30 schools in its District. As at Isaac Newton School, two-thirds of students board, while the rest walk to school from the vicinity. Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s supporters fund around 60 boarding places in each school. They are allocated to bright children from the most-needy homes. The school has an active sports programme for boys and girls. The boys are proud of their achievement in winning the District CocaCola cup championship this year. There is an active scouting group, which has performed well in competitions around Uganda and in Rwanda. Simon Bogere, the school’s Humanist Counsellor, has just qualified as a Humanist Celebrant and has officiated at his first Humanist wedding.

Primary Children in the Rukoki School

Kasese Humanist School is the umbrella for 3 primaries and a secondary school. They are run by Robert Bwambale, who has an active and inspiring Humanist presence on Facebook. After two attempts in rented buildings in Kilembe, known for mining copper and cobalt, and in the disused railway station in Kasese, Robert bought land next to the Rukoki River and established a permanent primary school which currently educates 69 boys and 70 girls. Two years ago, alongside the primary school he founded a small secondary school, which educates 51 students. He has also constructed a small orphanage (Bizoha), in Mohokya to the south of Kasese, which provides a home for 12 orphan children; a cause dear to Robert’s heart as he himself was orphaned as a young child. Next to the orphanage a successful primary school with 245 children is ably led by their headteacher, Phiona Ngabirwe, who has just completed her Diploma in Education, with help from Uganda Humanist Schools Trust supporters. Another project caters for really needy children of primary age from the destitute fishing village of Kahendero, on Lake George. Unfortunately, the school roll has fallen this year from 200 to 120 after government officials confiscated boats and fishing nets after alleged illegal fishing. Robert has built his schools on a shoestring. He educates really needy children, charging very low fees and subsidising the schools from the proceeds of a number of small businesses. UHST helps the Kasese schools by providing funds for books and science materials. The schools have a strong Humanist ethos and their two best students, for the past 5 years, have been awarded UHST scholarships to attend Isaac Newton Humanist School, near Masaka, where they are among the best performing students in the school as well as being exemplary for their Humanist life stances.

Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School was set up 4 years ago in a small village 3km from the Congo border in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, the fabled Mountains of the Moon. The initiative came from a group of

Site for new Katumba School

parents,  Maate Hassan, Irumba Juma Siriwayo and Matte Elisha Ssebaddu, who were desperate to provide a decent education for their children. These three provided their own land for the school and created a group of parents to manage it. Using what little money they could muster and using timber cut from local forests they constructed make-shift classrooms with earth floors and opened the school in 2010. In a failed insurrection in 2014 many people in the area were killed, including 100 fathers from the school, leaving 180 children to be brought up by their mothers alone. In that year, disillusioned with religion and witchcraft, the school adopted a Humanist constitution and set out to combat superstition and the influence of local witch-doctors and clerics. The school educates over 200 children and remarkably some of them attain Grade 1 in their primary leaving certificates. Since 2018, UHST has contributed towards the school fees of the 180 orphans and we have given the school money to buy books. We have also provided scholarships to enable 3 children to pursue secondary education at Isaac Newton Humanist School near Masaka. The school has registered as a not-for-profit company and UHST has a Director. During our visit this year we were shown a large, flat plot of land that a parent has given for the building of a new school. We are currently considering whether our charity might be able to raise the resources to help them realise this ambition.

UHST is also corresponding with a number of other schools that embrace a Humanist ethos including:

Pearl Vocational Training College – established by Kato Mukasa, Chair of Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO) – which teaches a wide range of vocational skills.

Kanungu Secular Schools: Comprising Kanungu Humanist Primary School and Rugyeyo Community High School founded by Robert Magara in an area affected by cult killings.

Kasito Vocational College – established by Kisehya Bebson in Bukonzo District near Kasese.

In addition to these, there are a number of other schools in the West of Uganda that are getting help to adopt a Humanist ethos from Hank Pellissier, from the Brighter Brains Institute in the USA.

Given the rapid growth in the number of Humanist schools in Uganda, UHST will be funding a 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference in January 2020. The 3-day conference will be held from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 23rd January

at Isaac Newton High School. It will bring together the full-time teachers from those schools that belong to Uganda Humanist Schools Association, with two representatives from the each of the wider group of schools that have not yet become members.

Teachers at Last Humanist Schools Conference

The conference will enable teachers from the different schools to meet together and share ideas. They will revisit the materials developed a few years ago in the Humanist Ethos Project and refine and extend them. Workshops will be held to finalise the syllabus and materials for a new course on Humanist Philosophy, Society and the Global Environment to be taught to senior 1 and 2 students in Humanist schools. The Raising Voices Project team will lead workshops on how to develop school disciplinary procedures based on empathy and personal responsibility. The final day of the conference will focus on the theme, Raising Educational Standards in Humanist Schools. This will be led by academics from the School of Education at Makerere University, and primary and secondary school examiners and curriculum developers. We are hoping the conference will energise the participants and send them away feeling that they are part of an exciting common endeavour to open young minds by exposing them to liberal secular humanist education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s infrastructure appeal reaches the half-way point

UHST is delighted to announce that our 10th Anniversary Building Appeal has brought in donations from our supporters of £75,300. This takes us half-way towards our goal of raising £150,000 to complete the major infrastructure of the two Uganda high schools we support.

During 2018, contributions from UHST supporters have made a huge difference to the Humanist High Schools.

Isaac Newton School has undergone a major transformation. A second girls’ hostel was opened last year. It provides 96 girls with a safe and comfortable place to sleep, overseen by a resident warden. Between 6 and 8 girls share each room, sleeping in double bunk beds. Each room has a ceiling to reduce noise disturbance and to cut down disease transfer by mosquitoes during

New Teaching Block at Isaac Newton School

the night. It is recognised locally as the best girls’ accommodation in the region.

Isaac Newton High School is in a remote rural location, far away from mains water. During 2018, the school alleviated its endemic water shortage by completing a 100,000 litre underground concrete tank that harvests rainwater from the roof of the girls’ hostel. This water is now used for washing clothes and for cleaning. It leaves the pumped water from the well on the valley floor to be used for drinking and for personal hygiene.

A fine new teaching block has just received the last lick of paint. It contains 3 large classrooms and a new A-level science laboratory. The lab has been constructed using funds from North-East of England Humanists and will be named the Ian Gurney laboratory to commemorate the  Newcastle University Physicist, who was an active member of the NE Humanist group. The additional classrooms will

Stone walls to prevent soil slip

enable the school to halve class sizes, which had been exceeding 100, by running two parallel classes in each school year.

Because Isaac Newton High School is on the side of a hill, the building work has required flat stances to be excavated into the hillside, leaving soil cliffs behind each of the new buildings. These pose dangers of soil slip and flooding of the classrooms and hostels from heavy rain storms. Money raised in the appeal has allowed the school to secure the soil with stone walls and to construct culverts to divert rain water.

Before the end of the year the school and 5 local villages will be connected to mains electricity. This is the culmination of a two year project funded in

Humble but life transforming tap for piped water

large part by the World Bank but requiring a contribution from the community of £10,000 which two UHST supporters generously provided. The arrival of electricity in the school and community will trasform the lives of everyone in this remote rural community, and it represents a major benefit that the school has brought to the locality.

Things have been moving at an equally rapid pace at Mustard Seed School. At the end of last year, UHST found the money to connect the school to mains water, from a pumping station on the River Nile. The effect has been transformational. With running water on site washing and personal hygiene is hugely enhanced as well as obviating the need to have students taking time out of lessons to ferry water from the nearest bore hole and pump a half mile away.

Architect’s impression of multi-purpose Hall at Mustard Seed

Early in the year a new teaching block with 4 classrooms and staffrooms was completed with UHST funding. This will allow the school to operate two classes in each year, and so cut class sizes in half.

However, the major project during 2018 has been the completion of a multi-purpose hall that will be used for assemblies, music, dance, drama, school debates and for local community gatherings. Once the Humanist Counsellor has completed his training as a Humanist Celebrant, there are plans to use the hall for Humanist weddings, funerals and baby naming.

Our appeal has recently raised sufficient funds to do something to allevaite the unacceptable levels of overcrowding in the sleeping accommodation at the two schools. We have approved the refurbishment of the old boys hostel at Isaac Newton School, which had never been properly finished. The work includes putting in ceilings, plastering and painting. We have also sent the first instalment of funds for the construction of a much needed second boys hostel at Isaac Newton High School and a second girls’ hostel at Mustard Seed School. Artist’s impressions of these two buildings are shown below:

2nd Boys’ Hostel at Isaac Newton High School

 

2nd Girls’ Hostel at Mustard Seed School

 

 

 

 

 

We are seeking to raise more funds to finish off the basic infrastructure of the two schools. Remaining priorities at Mustard Seed School are to create from the old Hall a new Library  & Information Centre, housing books and computers to support subject study; to enlarge and refurbish the science lab and to generally smarten up the school buildings and site. Isaac Newton School also needs a Library & Information Centre and study space that can also serve as a dining hall.

As these are the first two Humanist Secondary Schools in the world we are seeking to turn them into models for the rest of Africa and the world. We are working with the schools to help them create an exemplary standard of liberal-secular education and welfare. If you would like to help us in our efforts to complete the two schools then we would really appreciate additional donations through our website:

https://ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/

Make a donation

A Further Year of Progress at Mustard Seed School

New Multi-use Hall

Moses Kamya, the Director of Mustard Seed School, reports on another year of progress:

“We closed for the end of 2018 holidays on the 7th of December with a total enrolment of 565 children, 333 of whom were in boarding. We conducted UNEB exams successfully and are expecting good results early next year. The increase in enrollment demonstrates growing community acceptance of secular education.
Thanks to our supporters in Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and particularly Steve and Hilary Hurd ( who make annual visits to the school  and mobilise ongoing funding) we have made the following achievements over the past year:
  • Adding to our existing stock of text books to enable children to research and thus take charge of their own learning. Lots of other books to enable reading for pleasure.
  • Purchase of science equipment and chemicals to facilitate practicals that promote evidence-based learning.
  • Girls receiving Afripads

    Giving all our girls free reusable sanitary pads that has promoted retention in school and confidence.

  • Our new 4-classroom block is now fully operational. Next year, this will allow us to reduce class sizes by running two parallel classes from senior one to four.
  • Construction of a multipurpose hall to be used upon completion for concerts, meetings, exams etc
  • Giving scholarships to 67 financially disadvantaged but bright children to attnd school so they can be able to help themselves and others in future.
  • Extension of piped water to the school via the national water authority.
  • Race on Sports Day

    Fencing off the playing field site for students safety.

Humanism

In addition to teaching the curriculum prescribed by the Ministry of Education, we have been able to introduce critical thinking lessons. Dan Beat, from UK, visited in October holding a workshop on critical thinking for both staff and children. David Pollock from IHEU equally visited with his wife Louis in October and gave us courage in efforts to provide a humanist education to children in Uganda.

Children have participated in open debates, charity activities at school and in the nearby community. The humanist club football team narrowly missed winning this year’s club football competitions at the end of year.

Girls’ Football Team

Teacher Simon, the school’s Humanist Counsellor, has been attending an online course to become a humanist celebrant. The course was set up by Kato Mukasa of Uganda Humanist Association, with help from some Scottish Humanists. Simon will be graduating next february.

The school maintains  good relations with the local community who supply the school with foodstuffs. As Mustard Seed School has grown it has become a substantail financial contributor to the local economy. The wages it pays to staff are spent in the local community on housing, foodstuffs and other articles. The school paid 2 million Uganda Shillings (£445) as local government tax to municipal authorities and 3 million USh (£667) as social security fund contributions to fund staff pensions.”

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Isaac Newton School’s big leap forward in 2018

Humanist Association outing to Lake Nabugabo

Peter Kisirinya, the Director of Isaac Newton High School, has just sent this report of impressive progress during 2018.

“The school ended its 2018 academic year on 7th December with a total of 573 students, out of which 369 are boarding students with 194 girls and 175 boys. This year we are proud to report tremendous achievements. Our students have performed even better in national examinations. Funds from supporters of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have enabled us to make great strides forward in the physical development of the school. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Learning science by doing

    As well as teaching the subjects prescribed in the national curriculum we have introduced special classes on critical thinking.

  • We teach science subjects mainly using a practical approach and this has encouraged our students to like science and to perform better in examinations, whereas in many other schools science is taught by talk and chalk and is seen to be difficult and uninteresting.
  • We have completed a large new classroom block, which will enable us to run two parallel classes in each year and so reduce class sizes and improve the quality of learning.
  • The classroom block includes an additional science laboratory – named to commemorate the life of Ian Gurney, a Physicist who had been an active member of North-East Humanists. The science lab has been fitted out with benches and stools. The next step will be to purchase equipment and chemicals so it can function as a specialist laboratory for A-level students.
  • New classroom block with science lab

    We built an underground water tank of 98,000 litres at the girls’ wing to harvest all rainwater from the girls hostels. There are no prospects of getting a mains water supply, but the new tank will give us greater security over water supplies

  • We made 125 new smart examination chairs for the examination hall and students have used them during the recently concluded national exams. They are extra comfortable and we are hoping for even better grades this year.
  • We have had a total of 74 O level candidates and 40 A-level candidates sitting national exams from our school. We are very hopeful that they will produce good results.
  • UHST supporters provide scholarships for more than 70 students. These enable bright students to access education that would be seemingly impossible without the said assistance.
  • David Pollock teaching Humanism

    We hosted visitors from the UK – from UHST in a Friendship week in July and David Pollock from Humanist UK, who met the humanist students association and gave a talk about humanism.

  • A total of 326 girls received reusable sanitary towels from UHST UK and this has improved attendance of girls in school by 40%.
  • UHST has provided more learning materials in the form of laboratory equipment and text books, and we are now proud of being one of the best equipped schools in the whole region.
  • Girls are accommodated in spacious modern hostels and the new girls hostel – named after Malala Yusufzai and funded by St Louis Ethical Society – ranks as the most modern school hostel in the region.
  • The school employs a total of 53 people directly, excluding those that are contracted to do works at the school.
  • New Power line beside computer lab

    Through a Uganda government rural electrification project, UHST provided £10,000 and the World Bank a further £90,000, to extended a high voltage power from Hydro power dams on the River Nile to the school and the villages around it. Now a total if 58 homesteads are poised to be connected to the national power grid. This initiative will transform lives in the area. The power will greatly boost living standards and economic development in the area, making possible the establishment of agricultural processing factories and, at the same time, bringing more academic progress in school as students will have lighting for studying in the evenings.

  • Construction of retaining walls

    We are currently constructing a perimeter fence around the girls hostel to improve the security.

  • We have works on the compound to reduce the steep drops arising from levelled sections for buildings. We are also constructing steps between buildings.
  • Academic grades have improved in all classes and more bright students are seeking admission. We are hopeful that this year performance in national examinations will be better than ever.
  • The school is the biggest enterprise in the area and is itself helping to promote economic development by employing staff and purchasing foodstuffs and other materials from the local community. In 2018 the school paid taxes of 3,245,000 Uganda shillings (£700) to local government and close to 5 million shillings (over £1,000) to central government in addition 6 million shillings (£1,300) to the social security saving scheme of staff.”

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Barrie Berkley

We have just learned the sad news that Barrie Berkley died last Tuesday.
Barrie made contact with the Ugandan founders of the pioneering Humanist Schools in 2004 and worked hard to stimulate international support for the schools. In 2008 he joined Uganda Humanist Schools Trust as one of our founding Trustees. He and his wife Jean have supported the schools through the difficult early years right up to this year, when the schools are starting to shine out as beacons of liberal, secular education in Uganda and beyond. Barrie and Jean have been true friends of the schools, and not least of Isaac Newton School, over the more than the ten years they have been developing.
Even in the past year, well into Barrie’s nineties, the Berkley’s have been instrumental in garnering substantial funds which have made possible the completion of a fine new teaching block at Isaac Newton. It includes three large classrooms and a second science laboratory, which I know, as a scientist, Barrie would have been proud. In the new school year, the additional classrooms will allow the school to lower class sizes substantially by running two parallel classes in each year and thus bring further rises in educational standards.
Barrie’s actions have always been guided by firm humanitarian principles. Convinced from the start of the enormous value of the Humanist Schools’ Project, he has shown great determination to see it through to the very end of his life.
Barrie and Jean also worked together to support the wider cause of fostering a gentler more liberal society through Humanism. They were both active, for many years, in the North-East Humanists and fervent supporters of the International and Ethical Union (IHEU) and of Humanists UK, and they made a huge contribution to the work of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and, in so doing, the education of many hundreds of disadvantaged children  who have been exposed to a caring and liberal Humanist education in Humanist Schools.
So many people will miss Barrie. Throughout his life, Barrie endeavoured to make the world a better place. There can be no better legacy than to see the life-changing impact of the Humanist schools in Uganda and of his other projects to help disadvantaged people in Uganda and Kenya.

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UHST 10th Anniversary £150,000 Building Appeal

Two months ago we launched a building appeal, marking the 10th Anniversary of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, with the aim of completing the infrastructure of the two Humanist High Schools we support, Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools.

The money will be used to build Library & Information Centres, Multi-purpose School Halls, Boarding Hostels and Science Laboratories. These faciities are needed to cope with the growing numbers of students being attracted by the high educational and welfare standards in the Humanist Schools. For many years the schools struggled with fewer than 100 students, but they are now attracting their target intakes of 600 students, which places great pressure on building capacity.

The appeal has got off to a good start, with over £60,000 pledged already. The appeal is not time limited. We aim to continue it until the job is done.

I attach for your information a copy of the leaflet (click link) we have produced to support the appeal. Clearly we should be delighted if you would help us personally with a donation. Equally we would
be grateful for anything you could do to spread word of the appeal through friends or groups with which you are associated. I should be happy to send you copies of the printed leaflet. Just let me know how many you would like, where you would like them sent and I will pop them in the post.

The staff and students in the schools are excited about the appeal. We aim to progress the work as the money comes in so that, over the course of the next year, we hope to see the money raised making a real difference to the schools and communities where the schools operate.

We really do appreciate the support you have given the schools over the years. We are delighted that the long-term commitment shown by our supporters and the enormous efforts made by the schools themselves seems to be transforming the lives of the children, their families and the wider communities. Everyone involved should feel proud of the progress made. It has been a long, and not always smooth process, but we now have grounds for cautious optimism.

Thank you for your help.

Best wishes

Steve Hurd

Chair, UHST

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