May 17, 2024
TEACHERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Obeny’s Heart Beats For Teenage Mothers

(This article was first published in the New Vision on April 13, 2022)

By Patrick Okino

At the peak of COVID-19, Jane Obeny, the headteacher of Agwatta Secondary School in Dokolo district, was disturbed, as a professional teacher, by the impact of the pandemic on learners, especially girls.

The situation prompted her to partner with a non-governmental organisation to empower learners residing at the school with skills.

Obeny also moves an extra mile to continue encouraging parents on the importance of education and restore their hope.

“Before the school was reopened, I did a lot of advocacy and publicity on local radio stations in Lira and Dokolo districts encouraging parents to take care of their children,” she says.

The Government closed education institutions in March, 2020, to stem the spread of COVID-19. And during the two-year lockdown, over 23,000 girls in the Lango sub-region became pregnant.

As a result, the school administration expected the number of students to drop when it was reopened, but it was a different case.

Obeny joined the school in 2018 and two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools countywide were closed.

“When I joined the school, the enrollment was 260 students. Later there was interruption as a result of COVID-19 and schools were closed,” she says.

Obeny says they designed a schedule where every day they had a small group of students and were skilled in bakery, liquid soap making and tailoring. Other skills included making table cloths.

Covid-19 Interventions

Africa Educational Trust (AET) partnered with the school and imparted skills in preparing liquid soap, growing vegetables and how to make cakes and sanitary pads.

“AET was our partner who spent a lot of time skilling our learners during the lockdown, including raising seedlings for sale,” Obeny says.

She adds that the skilling lessons were free and they are to continue even during holidays.

Students’ Population Shoots Up

The number of students has been increasing steadily owing to advocacy and skilling project. The population shot up from 260 to 840 students.

Helping Pregnant Girls

When schools were about to reopen in January, the media was awash with stories about girls that would not be returning to school because of pregnancy.

“As a professional teacher, I was concerned about the future of pregnant girls.”

Obeny says she looked at the future of girls and realised that some of them would become engineers, headteachers, doctors among others.

She says she thus bought a bike and gave it to the school matron to move around in the villages to look for these girls.

“I also put an announcement on radio calling for any girl that was pregnant to be brought to me. I got eight of them and employed a woman from West Nile to take care of them,” she says.

Obeny says Agwatta Secondary School had only one pregnant girl and the rest were from other schools

“One student was from Gulu and our matron took care of her child during her Senior Six final examinations,” she says.

Two of the girls left their children with their parents as they came back to school.

“Pregnancy, to us as a school, is not the end of the road. It does not mean we are promoting it. We are very strict, but still we embrace the pregnant girls,” she says.

Discipline

Though there is indiscipline among students in some schools, at Agwata, the situation is different. The administration is strict on students having romantic relationships.

“Our teachers are also very strict. Agwatta is the only school which orders a man to lie down and canes him. Men are not allowed to interfere with the studies of girls.

“We had a situation where some men came pretending that they had come to visit their relatives. Should we find you, we cane you seriously and now no one goes to Agwatta,” she adds.

Challenges

As a professional teacher, according to Obeny, there is a poor attitude of teachers and students towards work.

“Some parents also have a negative attitude towards education, but as a professional person, I am constantly reminding them to value education,” she says.

Co-Curricular Activities

Obeny says learners have always participated in games such as football for both boys and girls.

She says they participate even at the district level.

“Sometimes, I also wear my sports attire and jog with the students, to their excitement.”

The school also participates in patriotism and skilling exercise.

“For extracurricular activities, our students love debating and patriotism and it is my responsibility to see that they participate,” she adds.

Obeny says they have adopted the skilling exercise that students can use to generate income after school.

Obeny with some of her students looking at the nursery bed they prepared at Agwatta SS

Community Impact

The school management has allowed community members to grow vegetables on part of the school land.

They also provided a small place where they (community) sell fruits to both learners and staff.

Plans

“My plan for the school is to renovate the old buildings and improve the general performance of the school in discipline and academics,” Obeny says.

She says there is also a continuing target to change parents’ attitude towards the education of their children.

Best School In Dokolo

Allan Owiny, the chairperson of the Parent-Teacher Association, says the school has started improving in both academics and enrollment.

He says Obeny is doing a good job because the enrollment has increased and there is teamwork among the teachers.

The district education officer, Sam Opio, says Dokolo has nine schools and of these, Agwatta is the best in the district, followed by Bata and Kangai Falls in the third position.

“At the moment, it is only Agwata leading and I think it is because of the good leadership,” Opio says.

“In 2020, the school was the best in the district and three students got admitted to universities on government scholarship,” Obeny says.

Sam Okullo, a parent, says there are three pillars which made Agwata perform better than other schools. He says these include conducting extra lessons and early reporting of students to school.

“They don’t waste time to pressure parents to pay fees when the term opens. Parents are always advised to pay what they have and later look for the fees balance.”

Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal lauds the leadership of Obeny, who has pushed the school to feature among the best in the Lango sub-region.

She says they are happy with the performance of the school, discipline and active participation in co-curricular activities.

Golden Tips

Give students life experiences just to attract them close to you. Be friendly to them, encourage them to be role models and treat them like a parent. Guide and counsel them and tell them to be disciplined.

“Because of my being close to them, they are so proud and have high expectations in their future,” she says.

Fact File

Jane Obeny

Obeny has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Makerere University, diploma in education (Masindi National Teachers College) and certificate in administrative law from the Law Development Center.

She also has a Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (City High School in Kampala) and Uganda Certificate of Education from Uganda Martyrs Namugongo.

She started teaching in 1993 from Lango College, St Katherine Girls, Ngai Secondary School in Oyam and Aculbanya Secondary School in Kole.

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