29 Jul An Experience in Africa
Andrea is one of our Discovery Voyager team members and recently travelled from Armidale to Africa with the School for Life Foundation.
If you’re a keen follower of Discovery and our movements about the countryside, you would understand our passion for not only education itself, but a passion to provide and enhance childhood development through unrestricted curiosity and play-based learning for all students. In Australia, we are so fortunate to have the education system we do. From early primary through to a tertiary level, children are provided with opportunities learn, ultimately being armed with the skills to enter a desired trade or profession. I recently returned from Uganda, Africa, where there is an overwhelmingly stark contrast to this. Such a contrast that produces an enormous value for the privileges we have in the developed world.
To give you an insight, here are a few statistics:
• As a developing country, Uganda is home to over 44 million people and is around the size of Australia’s Victoria.
• 61% do not have access to potable water and 49% do not reach 5 years of age.
• Of its population 48% are under 14, and only 27% of these children have access to education (UNESCO, 2019).
• In Australia, 100% of children of the same demographic have access to education, and 99.7% are enrolled (ACARA).
Let that sink in for a moment.
I arrived in Uganda after a fundraising hike up Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and travelled to a state school, around 35km from the capital Kampala. What we were confronted with was utterly overwhelming. Student’s walk up to three hours each day to attend a class where teacher ratios are 52:1 (SFL, 2018). Often without adequate nutrition, let alone suitable clothing and shoes, the children fall asleep at their ancient desks, merely housed by an open shack with mud floors.
Due to minimal and delayed pay, teachers are often forced to take on additional jobs, and as a result only 40% are in the classroom teaching. Three paged school books are bound by old newspapers, outdated textbooks have chapters missing, furniture primitive, resources at the absolute minimum, and clean drinking water and healthcare all but a fantasy. Despite these harrowing and poverty-stricken conditions, the children are happy. They are happy because they have an education. Albeit no comparison to the Western world, the school provides community, friendship and hope for the future. Going to school is the equivalent of a daily holiday for the students, who would otherwise be at home hand harvesting crops, or carting water for several kilometres. From a place like Australia where education is compulsory, in Uganda it is a privilege.
This discrepancy has been recognised by many non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) who understand the value of education in eradicating poverty. I travelled to Uganda with the School for Life Foundation (SFL), an Australian based NGO that recognises the inherent requirement for children to receive an education, and the importance it holds in empowering entire communities.
SFL is particularly close to my heart, as its main values can be assimilated with those we have at UNE Discovery: to nurture the curious mind and encourage a love and desire for lifelong learning from an early age. SFL provides communities with a hand up rather than a hand out, giving support through educating over 1000 children in two schools, Mbazzi and Katuuso, while providing three nutritious meals per day and access to clean drinking water for entire communities at both locations.
With a maximum teacher student ratio of 25:1, lessons are developed with a play-based learning approach to ensure students are engaged and learning optimises their capabilities. The transformative impact of education is extraordinarily evident within the community, with over 120 members involved in the everyday operation of the school. Transformative and exploratory experiences provide a value for education, eliciting a desire to make a change.
Reflecting on Australian education, this is why programs like UNE Discovery are so important (pardon the bias). Moving away from prescriptive learning, as they have at SFL in Uganda, and encouraging these transformative and exploratory experiences within the classroom arms students of varying backgrounds with the curiosity and confidence to further their education. Although we are not a developing country, education is equally important. It should be the priority that powers the future.
Annabelle Chauncy started the School of Life Foundation in 2011 at the age of 21 and built the first primary and vocational school in Katuuso. This was followed by the building of a school in Mbazzi in 2015. Read about Annabelle and the foundation here: https://www.schoolforlife.org.au/who-we-are
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Institute of Statistics – Uganda: http://uis.unesco.org/country/UG
School for Life Foundation: https://www.schoolforlife.org.au/projects-impact
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority – Enrolment Rates: https://www.acara.edu.au/reporting/national-report-on-schooling-in-australia-data-portal/enrolment-rates
– By Andrea Jaggi, UNE Voyager member