Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lessons I never learned at school

The past 24 hours has seen us visit two different schools: St Joseph's Primary yesterday and St Bruno Secondary this morning. Both Principals have expressed immense gratitude for the support being extended to their staff and students, by Paul and Sue and their donors. They also have articulated an extensive arrange of challenges they are facing.

I don't claim to understand the full extent of the trials they outlined. It has a lot to do with the government agreeing to support some schools, but not others; it also seems that teachers, in Uganda, are not paid well (some of you reading this might well say that it is nothing different to the situation faced by the profession in some parts of Australia!) Then there are the issues of water being too expensive to provide on an ongoing basis, shortages in electricity supply, the increased costs of feeding students (especially boarders) and a dearth of basic supplies such as English dictionaries. When they talk about "the school of hard knocks", it could well be a Ugandan school that they had in mind.

And yet... and yet...

I once heard a story about Mexican jumping fleas. Apparently, if these fleas were put in a bottle, they could jump out because they have the capacity to jump quite high. But put a lid on the bottle, they only jump as high as the lid allows. Eventually, the fleas become conditioned to jumping to that height. Take the lid away and the fleas will still stay in the bottle.

It may seem like a weird digression but I think this analogy applies to the students of Uganda. The many adverse conditions they face could be seen as effectively putting a lid on their hopes and dreams. And yet the support of people from places like Australia is the leverage that not only removes the top but even, one day, helps shatter the bottle.

Any teacher will tell you that expectations are key to a student's success. They rise up, or fall down, according to the demands and opportunities we place upon them. A nation's youth is no different from an individual student in the classroom.

It is a privilege to be meeting people who see Uganda, not as it is, but rather what it can be.

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