Thursday, 23 August 2007

More news from Kampala

Well, it's raining and there's a power cut - and now the back-up generator at VSO has gone off too, but at least there's some life in the laptop battery. Have had a series of interesting meetings with Ugandan NGOs so far, and have also met a couple of volunteers from the UK. What's been most interesting has been the picture I've been getting of how difficult it can be to co-ordinate NGO programmes, to ensure that there aren't missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle.
For example, someone told me that a new hospital had been built in a rural area, but was severely under-resourced: with few staff and no money for drugs, all they could do was "watch people die" - so is it better to build one fully-funded hospital, rather than several that can't be properly resourced?

Another small, but telling example: public toilets. Uganda has a Poverty Eradication Action Plan, which is regularly reviewed. One action was to install public toilets in slums, which on paper looks like an achievement. However, the review team discovered that people were charged between 100 to 200 Ugandan Shillings to use them. For a family of 8, which is not uncommon, that would be around 150,000 a month. A teacher working in the state primary education sector earns around 60,000 to 80,000 shillings a month. Unsurprisingly, the toilets aren't being used!

The Education for All initiative also throws up similar problems. Uganda introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) a while ago, and has now brought in Universal Secondary Education in principle, although they don't have the funding, the teachers or the buildings to deliver on it yet. UPE means that the school population has increased massively, and there has been a particular emphasis on ensuring that girls and children with disabilities get school places. But there are sometimes more than 100 pupils per class, and the teachers are not always well-qualified; in particular, their understanding of pupils with special needs can be very limited.

I met a volunteer yesterday who worked at a state sector teacher training college, teaching English and special needs courses. She reckoned that in an average class - which could range from between 65 to 125 trainee teachers - there might be about 5 who could put together a full sentence in written English. And yet from the age of about 6 or 7 all primary school lessons have to be taught in English (though this varies, it's not so strictly enforced in rural areas). Obviously the ambition to get all primary school pupils into school is a laudable one - but it can't just be a case of getting them into the buildings each day.

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