A View from the Technical Institute…

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Evan Reekie, Hui Min Ang and Donya Mojtahed-Zadeh are at St Benedict’s Technical Institute. They are the second set of project workers to work with the school. 

 

St Benedict’s Technical Institute, a school offering mainly vocational courses, is based in the beautiful rural setting of Kakindo, Sheema district. This institute reflects the future of Ugandan secondary schools as the government are investing in this type of educational institution to equip students with the practical work skills they need for a country overcome with vast levels of unemployment across many sectors.

St Benedict’s is remarkably self-sufficient in the production of its food crops, from its tomatoes to its bananas. Soon, honey will be on the agenda with the introduction of modern beehives, an investment that we have proposed in partnership with the school.

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In the first few weeks, we spent most of our time getting to know the school’s teachers and students on a personal level. We enjoyed exchanging cultural references with the teachers and students, including being told that Hui Min and Donya would be considered ‘dangerous women’ for not wanting to get married after turning 18. Our local language skills (Runyankore) also took a turn for the worst after finding out that ‘Wasibota’ means ‘good afternoon’ only and not just a general ‘hello’, weeks after confidently shouting it out at all times of the day.

We have also been inspired by the students after hearing some detailed accounts of their future plans for their education, despite multiple obstacles that many of them face. Playing sports has been another highlight, mainly for Evan, who got dragged into an intense students versus teachers football match then substituted after not being able to keep up with Ugandan-style football. Who can blame him?

More on the honey idea… Despite the fun we had in the first few weeks, we did not slack in the planning and deliberation of projects that best benefit St Benedict’s. We have proposed the purchase of five modern beehives for the school, along with the relevant equipment and infrastructure. Such a project would provide agricultural students with practical beekeeping skills, pollination effects, the introduction of honey health benefits into the student diet and an extra source of income for the school. This project idea of ours received additional funding from the charity’s central pot (£200) for being an innovative investment proposal for the school.

Water insecurity is another key area we wish to target in our time here at St Benedict’s. The school currently suffers at the hands of the dry season when there is no water to fill the two large tanks at the school. This means students attend lessons late or miss them entirely due to the exhaustion of having to carry large jerry cans of water back and forth to their dormitories for access to clean water. Therefore, we have ordered water supplies, including a pump and pipes, to pump water from the local well which is on school grounds up to the school to fill the currently empty water tanks. This project is already in action in partnership with the local community and much of this equipment has now been installed by the school’s plumbing department.

We also plan on implementing other projects closely aligned to EPAfrica’s five main goals, one of which is an alumni board/database for the school. This would give students easy access to a broad network of previous St Benedict’s students, providing them with information and advice on what they can do when they graduate from the school, which in turn strengthens post-secondary school opportunities.

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Organising the storeroom is another plan of ours which will be coupled with the purchase of new practical equipment for various courses in the school. This will mean students can better meet the requirements of their syllabus, familiarise themselves with the tools they will most likely be using in their future careers and have an organised space to put tools in.

Textbooks are also not to be forgotten. Although a lot of the subjects have more practical than theory lessons, textbooks are a key source of information the students require for the learning blocks of their vocational courses and without them, both students and teachers have informed us that student learning suffers. Therefore, we plan on buying more general course textbooks for the school, so that the books are not made redundant when the new syllabus is introduced soon. This investment would be combined with more shelves put into the library bookcase to expand the currently existing book area and also a front desk for the librarian, to organise the room as well as the loan system.

We are hopeful that investing in textbooks will facilitate learning, especially after we hope to buy the school 10 additional computers to supplement the existing ICT room which currently has 15 computers. The aim in this investment is to enhance the interaction between students and technology, which is especially important not only for students in a technical institute but for equipping students to meet Uganda’s increasing demand for IT skills and experience in job applications.

We are very excited to continue working in partnership with St Benedict’s to help provide sustainable solutions to the problems that they currently face. It has been challenging to work within a different type of secondary school, but eye-opening nonetheless. It is clear that we have a lot to learn from Uganda’s expanding and diversifying educational system.

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Written by Evan Reekie, Hui Min Ang and Donya Mojtahed-Zadeh