The Difference a Head Teacher Can MakeMarch 14, 2016
Head Teacher Geoffrey was posted to a rural school in Northern Uganda after the 20 year insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Over the last few years he has transformed his school.
This is my fifth year at Koch Goma Primary School. Before the insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army, this school was one of the best in the country. But 20 years of insurgency brought it to the ground. All the books were destroyed, all the desks were destroyed, all the school assets were destroyed.
For several years during the insurgency, the school was transferred to Gulu town, about 27km away, for safety. Later, the school returned to this site. But this site had become an Internally Displaced People’s Camp. All the parents, teachers and pupils had been moved into the camp and this changed the culture of the school. Teachers had become undisciplined, they didn’t want to teach and they didn’t want to plan. The children were so undisciplined. The syllabus was never completed. You would find a child in Year 6 who couldn’t even write his name.
I was posted here on a special assignment to restore the school. Before I was posted, there were 3 other Head Teachers who refused the posting. In 2011, two teachers were beaten by children. Teachers started to fear pupils. Parents had lost all faith in the school. This was a place that was not a school. When I started, some children tried to beat me. But I said to them, “I have not come to fight. I have come so one day you can be a Minister. I have come so one day you can be a Doctor. I have come so you can be an important person, a person we can respect.”
Then I said to the District Education Officer, “Give me four years”. I wanted to work on changing attitudes and this takes time. So I put in place three strategies.
The first was simple, to change the physical layout of the school. I created paths, planted flowerbeds and I bought classroom doors. I painted the classrooms and I put posters up. I built a football pitch and a netball pitch, space for young children too and for free games. When the parents saw how the school was looking, they started feeling positive. They were coming to love the school.
My second strategy was to change the way money was used in the school. I researched a local financial institution called The Circle. Then I negotiated with the School Management Committee and the Parent Teacher Association to bank our money there. I said, “We don’t want to handle money in the school. When the parents come to pay fees, we want them to pick up a slip, and deposit the money in The Circle”. When the various school departments need money, they fill out a request slip. I verify the request with the PTA Chair and the School Treasurer and we withdraw the money from The Circle. We keep receipts for all transactions. When the parents saw this, they said, “Our money is safe”.
The third thing I did was to train teachers. We found the children couldn’t read or write, and then we went to the teachers and we found the teachers couldn’t read or write. So we began with the teachers. I was a tutor myself [someone who trains teachers at a Teacher Training College] for four years, so I also trained them on professional ethics and code of conduct. Then we negotiated with the parents to send their children in on Saturdays, and we asked the District Education Officer to let us stay open during holidays. We used this time to catch up on the syllabus.
We are very happy because last year we heard our Primary Leaving Exam results were the best in the district. Our challenge now is classrooms. Parents have rushed to register their children here for the new school year, but we don’t have space so we turn some away. We have 1,200 children registered for 2016, plus 200 more in the nursery section. The District Education Officer said if we had more classrooms, they would send us more teachers.
All in all, I am trying to create teamwork. I am trying to encourage people to feel responsible for what is happening in the school. Then when we are successful, it is a success for the whole team. In everything I’m doing, I’m trying to involve people. I don’t do it alone and that’s why we are successful. I hope our school will continue leading!