The following post was written by Laura Anderson, our Resource Coordinator here in Gulu.
“Wake up, all the teachers
Time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen
To what’cha have to say
‘Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up
And the world is in their hands
When you teach the children
Teach ’em the very best you can”
If you want children to be empowered to bring peace and stability, you must first educate them.
Education is a word that can mean so many things, but what is universally agreed is that education in some form is a good thing. One dictionary says that education is: “the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university”, another: “The wealth of knowledge acquired by an individual after studying particular subject matters or experiencing life lessons that provides an understanding of something. Education requires instruction of some sort from an individual or composed literature. The most common forms of education result from years of schooling that incorporates studies of a variety of subjects.” I have always loved learning. Not necessarily the process of learning, the rote memorization, the mundane and often repetitive solving of math equations, chemistry…but the ability to answer any questions about anything because I had the books or teachers or later the computer. I was never really good at creative writing and maybe that says something about who I am, but I am really good at research and I think that comes from a curiosity to KNOW.
I have had the opportunity to see different aspects of the formal educational process- private school, home school, public school- American, British, Ugandan…there are similarities in them and pros and cons, but what needs to be addressed in any educational setting is the uniqueness of each child. While I don’t advocate an un-schooling model, because I believe that children need to be guided, encouraged, empowered, and provided the resources to learn; I have been frustrated by teacher centered learning, parent dictated learning (often not allowing for students to develop their own voice), and a completely centered approach that basically lets the teacher off the hook and requires a child to know what the educational options are that are available to them.
I have been traveling to different school settings since I arrived back in Uganda, trying to learn as much as I can about what is already in place, how it is serving the kids and how it is failing them. I was fortunate enough to watch an amazing group of secondary students debate a topic about education. Their arguments were insightful and intelligent. And at the end I wondered if they had truly listened to what they had just said…had they realized that they had discovered many of the failures of a broken system? Did they see the irony in a system designed to elevate the elite and keep the poor in poverty? A system designed by a Colonial power that failed so miserably that it no longer has colonies? Because the truth of intelligence is that it does not come with money. It comes with curiosity, determination, hard work, and a love of learning. Any child can have this, it is not reserved for those born into wealth, for those attending the “best schools”, for those with loving families, a safe place to sleep and food to eat.
Mother Teresa Primary started with the children of the most vulnerable women, girls really who had been abducted and returned to find they no longer had a place in their community. There are still many students who in our terms have “nothing”…and I mean literally nothing more than the clothes they came in. And yet they are bright, hopeful, curious and so eager to learn. Our mission two years ago was to empower these young people who so desperately want to change their world. Keeping them in school is a start. But finding those who are not in school or are in such rural areas that they lack the opportunity to explore their potential is part of our mission moving forward. We cannot change the broken system, but hopefully we can support those who will. If those wonderful young men and women debaters take what they learned about their failed system and work to change it…work with courageous teachers who care about their students more than their pay check; work with local leaders willing to affect change with action and not just words and promises; and work with each other not to empower “the best” but to encourage all those who follow them…well that will be education in action!