Exploring Ugandan perspectives ~ personal insights from a Humanities teacher

At the time of his visit to Uganda in 2004 Richard was a teacher at Washwood Heath Technology College in Birmingham. He has since moved schools and is currently teaching Geography at Lordswood Boys in Birmingham.

Richard jointly co-ordinated a Tide~ study visit project to Uganda in 2005 with Rob Bowden, EASI-ER

During my PGCE course I found the frequent opportunities to reflect on my teaching methods and to share ideas and resources with other professionals very useful. As a Humanities teacher in my second year, the daily routine of teaching left little time or energy for this kind of activity. As a result I sometimes felt isolated in the classroom. While my main area of specialism is Geography, I had ‘accidentally’ found myself teaching Citizenship to a variety of age groups. Working with a group of teachers through the Tide~ network gave me a unique chance to start reflecting on my teaching. It also gave me a chance to consider what role Citizenship has in schools.

When preparing to write this article I referred back to Rob Bowden’s article in ‘Tide~ Talk issue 2’. He opened by talking about most people’s perceptions of Uganda being based around the regime of Idi Amin. However to me this country had largely remained invisible, even though it was located on a continent in which I had an interest and which also played a frequent role in my teaching.

As we flew towards Entebbe I was slightly nervous, not sure quite what to expect. Reflecting now I realise that there had been no need to worry. Ugandans were very welcoming and I cannot recall another country where travelling was easier. This warmth for the country, which I believe we all felt, could however sometimes ‘get in the way’ of us seeing some of the problems and issues. I remember one day in Jinja, an almost accidental visit to an area of illegal, poor quality housing. It was a shock to us all, but without it we may have left with an incomplete image of Jinja, which we had come to view as a relatively prosperous market town. Uganda held many contrasts like this, often raising more questions within the group than were answered, but evenings spent reflecting with the group were what made this experience unique.

Richard in discussion with Charcoal workers in Jinja.

Our pre-trip studies had highlighted many positives that have come from this country, located on the world’s poorest continent. One of these was the effective response to HIV and AIDS.

“The estimated prevalence of HIV infection in Uganda peaked at about 30 per cent in the early 1990s. By 1999 it had fallen to 12 per cent. Infection rates amongst the young have been significantly reduced. Behind these statistics are profound and rapid changes in attitudes and behaviour.”  I. Leggett, 2001, Uganda, An Oxfam Country Profile, Fountain Publishers.

These successes have been attributed to the Ugandan government’s openness about the disease, which when it first appeared in the early 1980s was viewed with fear and superstition.

On our fifth day in Uganda we visited the ‘Uganda youth anti-AIDS association project’, an NGO which focuses on youth in the community and school-based projects. As was often the case during this visit, the people were happy to spend time talking to us. One aspect of their work involved the training of peer educators. Their aim is to have an anti-AIDS club in each school, with information being disseminated via groups of girls and boys who have been trained by the project staff. A member of our group, who had experience of child protection issues, commented that the methodologies used were as thorough and developed as anything seen in the UK.

In comparison, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the UK is on the increase, and, from my personal experience in British schools, young people seem to have a limited knowledge of the issues. During one lesson I used some stimulus that we had obtained from a Ugandan newspaper. It was a Lonely Hearts column in which many of the adverts insisted on the requirement of a HIV test. To our group this highlighted both the extent of the problem in Uganda, but also people’s openness to a subject which is often taboo. However when I used this to initiate classroom debate in the UK it failed to generate my anticipated response, with the pupils failing to notice these frequent references to HIV. This brings me to one of the challenges that are facing future working groups investigating issues from Ugandan perspectives. How can the experience be shared with a wider audience of both pupils and people involved in education?

A second group of teachers will be visiting Uganda in 2005 as part of the ongoing ‘Learning from Ugandan perspectives’ project. I am sure they will find this a hugely beneficial part of their professional development and I look forward to playing a role as part of this learning process.

I certainly feel my teaching has benefited from my involvement with this project. Countries from the continent of Africa are frequently used as case studies within schools. Having experienced one of them first-hand has left me better placed to teach about it, but it has also taught me to question the material and images presented in textbooks and to try to tackle common misconceptions about this vast and varied place. Further to this, I have found that learning as a group has helped me to consider my own teaching methodologies. Our initial investigation work on Uganda involved each member of the group researching a chosen topic and then sharing their research. I have found this method to be just as effective in the classroom. Whilst sharing the research task, and therefore reducing it, it also adds an element of choice for the pupils. Furthermore it encourages pupils to take responsibility for their part in a group and to develop their communication and discussion skills.