A Day in the Life of... Shebah Nakirya
There are many barriers to education in Uganda – but this teacher is working hard to help tear them down.
In Uganda, only one out four children start secondary school and that statistic is even worse for girls. As a teacher at Pioneer High School, part of the PEAS schools (Promoting Equality in African Schools) network, we are trying to make gender equality in education a contradiction of the past.
For so long in our country, education beyond primary school was not seen as something for a girl. As the schools fees are so cheap I am proud to say that 54% of the students in my school today are girls and 60% are from the poorest families in Uganda.
Challenges for girls
As a senior woman teacher I run the ‘Girls’ Club’ at the school. It is an after school club where the girls can meet, talk, learn life-skills and be empowered to have vision for better and big careers. We encourage the girls to engage themselves in the activities of the community.
The Girls’ Club also teaches the girls to love their bodies and provides the girls free re-usable sanitary pads. This side of the Girls’ Club is not to be under estimated. One of the biggest challenges for girls in secondary school is their menstruation and this is especially a problem for the girls in the rural and poor communities where Pioneer, and the other PEAS schools, are located. When these girls start their period it is normal that they stay at home a few days in a month or stop attending school completely. Many can’t normally afford sanitary items and are embarrassed because of damaging stigmas. Getting the pads has made a big difference to girls. They tell me that it has helped them build their confidence, they are comfortable using the pads and they are no longer too embarrassed to go to school.
[In Uganda] when these girls start their period it is normal that they stay at home a few days in a month or stop attending school completely.
The measures introduced have meant that the girls’ attendance has gone up and that girls in general now are achieving higher grades. Within the first two years of this project, the girls in PEAS schools have achieved a 6% higher pass rate. The measures have also helped to close the gap between girls’ and boys’ performance in school. 96% of girls attending PEAS schools with the measures have achieved a pass grade. This is compared to a national average of 90% for girls and 91% for boys.
‘Education does not cease’
These results make me really happy but we still need to get the full community’s support. Some people are not yet aware that organisations like PEAS are pushing for equality of education. People dwelling in poverty would like to take their children to school. So if we share the information about PEAS schools, like how I did when I went to a hair salon recently, more girls and boys will obtain education and secure a bright future. Another woman in the salon was so excited about what I had said, that she thought it wise to bring her two children immediately to the school.
I am looking forward to teaching girls and to help break down more of the challenges that girls face in their education. As a teacher, education is a significant trend for teacher training. We attend workshops and our progress is monitored so as teachers improve and improvise better teaching methods. This is relevant, because each day I teach the girls about the importance of learning. It is even more important for me to set a good example and demonstrate that education does not cease.
Pioneer High School is located west of the capital of Kampala in a rural area and educates more than 350 students. The school is part of the UK based charity PEAS’ network of 28 schools in Uganda. PEAS has introduced measures to alleviate the barriers facing girls’ accessibility of secondary education as part of the DFID Girls' Education Challenge (GEC) that has stretched from 2012 to 2016.