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Busoga's Education Powerhouses on Their Knees

Parents clutched on the recommendations of their children written on manila papers as the in charge of new admissions chose randomly, which students would get chance to sit interviews that would eventually lead them into the gates of Namasagali College.
21 Apr 2018 12:50
The former adminsitration block where Father Grimes sat until 2000

Audio 4

In 1982, 14-year old-Daniel Baziira queued up together with 1000 other students accompanied by their parents at St. John Bosco Secondary School in Kamuli town to try and secure an interview at Namasagali College.

 

Parents clutched on the recommendations of their children written on manila papers as the in charge of new admissions chose randomly, which students would get chance to sit interviews that would eventually lead them into the gates of Namasagali College.

 

According to Baziira, his mother nervously waited for his name to be called out. "I had grown up hearing about Namasagali. It was the only school that I wanted to go to. As I stood in that line, I remember having sweaty arms as I silently prayed that I would be chosen. At the time I thought the school was full of sky scrapers,” Baziira said.

 

That day, only 108 students were able to get admission into Busoga's education power house. Famous for its short red dresses, captivating dramas and musical pieces performed by its students and its championing of the athletics, Namasagali was a dream come true for students who wanted to acquire an education that went beyond the classroom.

Today, the school lies in ruins. It is miles away from the shadow of what it once was. Old buildings rotting away, missing roof tiles, over grown grass and old school equipment covered in rust are what welcomes one to Busoga's former education jewels.

Namasagali was established in 1965 as Kamuli College-at the current premises of Busoga High School as a private school. The school was relocated later the same year to Namasagali. At the start, the school was a joint venture between the Kingdom of Busoga and the Mill Hill fathers of the Roman Catholic Church. The kingdom offered infrastructure while the church offered administrative leadership.

The school that used to attract people from all the corners of the country, today only attracts students from Kamuli. It is no longer a private school but is rather funded by government under the Universal Secondary Education Program.

Baziira who is also currently the head teacher at Namasagli, says the departure of Father Damian Grimes, a member of the Mill Hill Fathers who run the school from 1967 to 2000 also played a big part in the deterioration of the school.

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Following the school's failure to pay back loans worth Shillings 800million that were acquired from various banks to try and save the struggling school, Father Grimes left the school. According to Baziira, the sudden departure of Father Grimes in 2000 left a huge gap in the school that was already struggling financially. He says this greatly led to the collapse of the once prestigious school.

However, Namasagli College is not the only school in the region that is struggling. Others like Busoga College Mwiri and MM Wairaka College are also in the same condition.

Despite standing proudly in newly painted buildings Busoga College Mwiri is a shell of its former glory. The school that has a capacity of 1000 students currently has 460 students. In addition, to low numbers, the school is no longer among the best performing in the country.

Busoga College Mwiri is 106 years old. The school was first established in 1911 as Balangira High School located in Kamuli to educate sons of Busoga Chiefs. In 1920-1930, plans were maded to relocate the school; to its current premises on Mwiri hill. However in 1933, the school was relocated to Kings College Budo where the current England dormitory stands, before it was moved to its current home.

Michael Kisaame, the head teacher Busoga College Mwiri attributes the school's current condition to decrease in the number of students following a 2013 strike at the school.

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Kisaame says due to the decreased numbers of pupils, the school suffers because teachers are demoralized. "Teachers who used to teach full classrooms are demoralized. The reduced number of students affects them as much as it affects us financially,” he said.

Kisaame explains that Mwiri's situation is not an isolated one but rather one that is being faced by several other schools in the country. "There are schools in other parts of the country that have only 150 students yet they have a capacity as big as that of Mwiri. So, this is not an isolated case at all. Old schools are suffering."

Schools like East Kololo Pirmary School, Nabumali High School, Manjasi, Muntiyera High School, Tororo Girls School, Dr.Obote College and Wairaka High School are all struggling. According to Baziira and Kisaame, the liberalization of the education sector in the country has not helped the survival of old schools but has rather guaranteed their demise. 

Kisaame says that between Kampala and Jinja alone, there are more than six big private schools that have nipped into their student base. "Private schools are able to get loans and build big buildings that attract students and parents but government aided schools like Mwiri cannot easily get their hands on such funds. So parents and students end up going to the good looking private schools,” he said.

A number of prominent people have studied from both Mwiri and Namasagali. These include; Milton Obote, former president of  Uganda, George Kirya (Vice Chancellor Makerere University 1986-1990),  Ruhakana Rugunda, the current Prime Minister of Uganda, Miria Matembe, Robert Kabushenga and Waswa Balunywa. 

In line with the school motto- 'Strive Regardless' Bazira says that he and the old students association are working hard to restore the school to its former glory. "Even if we are government aided, we can be a strong school again and bring back the old Namasagali. So we have a strategic plan that includes renovations of school building and sports facilities in the next five years.” he said.

Mwiri on the other hand is now surviving with the help of old students who are trying to revive the school by taking their children there. Kisaame says that this effort by old students has helped increase the number of students at the school. However, this may not result in better performance of the school since according to Kisaame, they don't tolerate cheating in national exams to score good grades...

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Thomas Badaza, the Kamuli District Inspector of schools, says that the ongoing efforts to revamp Namasagali College to its former glory might not be easy because Universal Secondary Education is riddled with the challenges. 

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Paul Baliraine, the Jinja District Inspector of Schools, says that even with the problems that some schools are facing in the region, all is not lost. "We still have schools in Busoga that are performing well. Butiki, Jinja College and Iganga Girls are doing well. So we are not totally down at the moment,” he boasted.

According to last year's Uganda Certificate of Education and Ugandan Advanced Certificate of Education results that were released earlier this year, both Kiira College Butiki and Iganga Secondary School were among the top 30 best performing schools in the country.