May 18, 2024

West Nile Vulnerable Pupils Receive Free Exercise Books

(This article was first published in the New Vision on June 8, 2022)

By Andrew Masinde

Edison Opak Rwoth is a Primary Three pupil at Alaka Primary School in Acana sub-county, Nebbi district.

He says when schools opened after the COVID-19 lockdown, his parents bought for him one 48-page exercise book for all the subjects.

“I want to ask the teacher to give me the book so that I can use it for other subjects, but I am afraid. So, I just sit in class and wait until the teacher returns the book — that is when I copy the notes for the other subjects,” Rwoth says.

He adds that his parents, who are peasant farmers, always tell him they do not have money to buy more books. Rwoth says his parents also tell him they used to use one book when they were in school.

David Ocaya, the headteacher of Alaka Primary School, says it is always difficult for Rwoth to concentrate in class. As others are writing, you find him just seated, observing them.

“Many of the pupils in the school are in a similar situation, with two or one exercise book which they are supposed to use for the whole term. Some of the pupils do not have any exercise book. As a school, we do not have enough resources to buy scholastic materials for them. All we do is to continue sensitising the parents on the need to give their children scholastic materials,” he says.

At Elibu COPE Primary School in Madi-Okollo district, the situation is not different.

One of the pupils in the lower classes only identified as Edison says since Primary One, he has been using the old books that were discarded by his elder brother.

He says his father buys for him only one exercise book at the beginning of term. Edison says the father does not buy any extra book, even when the first one is used up.

“Instead of missing classes because of books, I re-use my elder brother’s books that have some space. I look for blank spaces in the book and it is where I write. However, on many occasions I fail to even remember where I wrote notes the previous day,” he says.

Minister Muyingo is optimistic about full re-opening of schools Gwoktho (right) and Acai speaking to some of the pupils who received scholastic materials in Nebbi recently

Lilly Atizuyo, a teacher, says many pupils in her class face this challenge. She says many go to school without any exercise book and end up disrupting others.

“When you talk to them, they say their parents do not have money to buy books. Indeed, when you visit their homes, you see abject poverty,” she says.

“Some pupils come to school without a snack and when you talk to them, they say even at home they never had supper. This causes them to fail to concentrate in class, Atizuyo says,” Atizuyo says.

According to a 2018 joint multi-sectoral humanitarian needs assessment in Uganda, 53% of primary school-aged children in West Nile districts hosting South Sudanese refugees are out of school, and an average of 22% are enrolled in grades lower than expected for their age.

And all this is attributed to a lack of learning materials such as textbooks, exercise books, mathematical sets, pencils and pens. James Gwoktho, the Nebbi district inspector of schools, says access to scholastic materials is a big challenge to many learners because of poverty.

He reveals that many children have dropped out of school because of lack of scholastic materials.

Gwoktho says the major victims are the girls who are lured into sex in exchange for the materials they lack. This sometimes results in teenage pregnancies.

“As a district, we cannot do much because the resources are not available. So, what we always do is to call on parents to provide for their children,” he says.

Minister Muyingo is optimistic about full re-opening of The pupils were also given musical instruments

Shem Ovua, the Madi-Okollo district education officer, says the lack of scholastic materials has been a big challenge for the learners, especially those from poverty-stricken families and those that do not value education.

He says some parents do not value education and do not see why their children should get it.

“Some would rather drink all day, as opposed to buying books for their children. Often, the burden is left to the mothers who also sometimes fail to meet this need. In the end, it is the children who suffer the consequences,” Ovua says.

To help some of these children to stay in school, Plan International Uganda, through a project dubbed Strengthening Primary Education in West Nile (SPIN) decided to start distributing scholastic materials to learners in select schools as a way of retaining them.

The three-year project (2021-2024) is funded by Plan Germany National Office and it will be implemented in two districts of West Nile: Nebbi and Madi-Okollo, both of which have some of the poorest primary education indicators in the country.

Henry Acai, the project manager of SPIN, in consultation with the district education office, selected worst-performing six schools, two in Madi-Okollo and four in Nebbi district, and conducted an assessment to determine the critical gaps.

Acai says their assessment discovered that the six schools had 6,257 pupils — Nebbi had 3,864 and Madi Okolo 2,393 — and most of them lacked scholastic materials.

“The pupils were consistently absent from school because they did not have textbooks, pens, pencils, mathematical sets, among others. So, we decided to support them by distributing the materials for at least three years as we sensitise parents on the value of education,” Acai says.

Parents Do Not Care

Henry Acai, the project manager of SPIN, in consultation with the district education office, says there is limited parents’ participation in Universal Primary Education (UPE) due to the community misconception that the Government should take care of everything, without the involvement of the parents.

“Hence the project will respond to both the supply and demand side constraints on access to quality education in the targeted six primary schools serving refugee and host community children,” he says.

Distribution Exercise

Isaac Ebong, the project area manager for West Nile at Plan International, says through the project, they are to distribute scholastic materials (books, pens, pencils, and mathematical sets) worth sh510m, music and sports equipment worth sh82m and textbooks worth sh160m.

During the official launch of the distribution exercise in Nebbi district, Hassan Sebalirwa, the Nebbi Deputy Resident District Commissioner, warned parents against selling the books, noting that it is a common practice.

He asked all the local leaders to be vigilant so that if any book is found on the market, the trader is arrested.

“Our children have been suffering because of lack of scholastic materials, so ensure that these ones given to your children are utilised for the intended purpose,” Sebalirwa says.

He advised the children to stop being absent from school since they now have scholastic materials.

Robina Ocokoru, a pupil who received the scholastic materials, says she is to attend all classes.

Another pupil, Ivan Munguci, says with the scholastic materials now in place, he will not miss school and will work hard until he gets to university

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