It’s important to prepare students for University

I am happy to inform you all that the class of students that I left mid-way last year have worked so hard, and many have gained admission to public universities. I last saw them in the week ending June 15, 2019, and the following week I travelled to the

University of Delaware, Newark, U.S. When I returned in August, I was again preparing to come to University College Cork, Ireland in September 2019. Busy year.
But I remember, when they started their A-level (S.5) in 2018, my message to them was very clear. I told them I was not interested in their mid-term exams, or being the best in Lira. I told them they had to have a national focus-to compete nationally. I told them I was interested in having at least 80% of them progressing to university. That education completion is better than a one-off top performance. I also reminded them that I was also studying, so we should not complicate life for each other. That I was not only teaching ICT but positioning them to succeed.
I believe they got the message. When they received their results early this year, many of them contacted me to discuss career-related issues & help with university application, something I have been doing since 2014.
The lockdown was declared in March, and so I had some time to help a few of them remotely, through Whatsapp & other media. Below here a list of students admitted to Lira & Gulu University. Many others are still waiting for Makerere, Kyambogo, MUST, Muni and others.
Gulu University
1. Alaba Gloria –Bachelor of Arts with Education
2. Odyeny Oscar -Bachelor of Arts with Education
3. Anyango Susan -Bachelor of Arts with Education
4. Adupa Joshua –Bachelor of Development Studies
5. Ojok Haggai-Bachelor of Development Studies
6. Akullu Dafine Hope –Bachelor of Development Studies
7. Ogwang Allan –Bachelor of Information & Communication Technology
8. Omonya Joseph –Bachelor of Public Administration
9. Ogwok Policap-Bachelor of Public Administration
10. Opepo Daniel –Bachelor of Public Administration
11. Akullo Beatrice Jubilee –Bachelor of Development Studies
Lira University
1. Obura Geoffrey –Bachelor of Computer Education
2. Olet Emmanuel Joshua -Bachelor of Public Administration
3. Siddy Adongo –Bachelor of Public Administration
4. Adupa Joshua –Bachelor of Public Administration
5. Otim Ronald –Bachelor of Public Administration
6. Omara Zadok –Bachelor of Public Administration
7. Otim Ronald –Bachelor of Public Administration
8. Okabo Emmanuel –Bachelor of Public Administration
9. Akao Stella -Bachelor of Public Administration
10. Wacha Hillary -Bachelor of Commerce
11. Apio Mirriam Jovia – Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Finance
12. Alupo Vicky -Bachelor of Science with Education
13. Ogwang Allan -Bachelor of Computer Education
As a teacher, it is important to prepare students to pass their A-level exams. However, I also realised that it is equally important to prepare them for higher education and the world of work. All students deserve to be guided to join top universities, to pursue careers that enable them to realise their full potential and dreams.
And schools should have programmes to achieve that. It is not good for schools to abandon their students after exams, it leaves them hanging, and unsure of how to proceed forward. Also, universities and other post-secondary institutions should establish school-outreach programmes to mentor, support and connect with these future leaders.
For those who are admitted, pick your admission letters and prepare for the campus. School will start anytime. Discuss with your parents the way forward. Leaders of tomorrow must study today. I am proud of you all.

Understanding Ireland through Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”

When I was in high school studying Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, it never occurred to me that I would ever find myself in Ireland. That was in 2008, a distant 12 years ago. I was doing a funny arts subject combination, History, Economics, Literature in English, and Art. Of course, I didn’t like Economics that much, but I passed it very well. The Literature that I loved with all my existence, disappointed me. I only managed a subsidiary pass (hahaha). However, it has not removed my passion for literature and written word.

Back to Jonathan Swift. The essay was very depressing to read, and it laid bare the injustices that Ireland went through under the British rule. I liked the essay because it was very short, but packed with themes, and literary devices. Themes like injustices, hunger, misrule are very easy to point out. And because it was small, it was quite easy to guess where questions come from.

In the essay, Jonathan writes about “the children of professed beggars” and “the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms.” You may think that did not happen in Europe.

The British since the 1500s colonized many territories across the world. But the island of Ireland and India witnessed the longest and most exploitative rule. The British ruled Ireland for 800 years and India for 200 years. It is even hard to imagine that.

While the British were busy with World War 1, the Irish rebelled, subdued the British and declared a Republic in 1918. After a lot is political struggles, they were officially granted independence in 1949 (after World War II).

Back to Jonathan. What Swift wrote about is true. Although the book was written much earlier in 1729, what he describes is very similar to what happened 100 years later in Ireland. The neglect and misrule that resulted in the infamous Irish Great Famine from 1845 to 1849. Stories are told of how the British controlled & owned almost all the land. This situation, combined with crop pests & disease, caused the great famine, that killed many people and resulted in mass emigration.  The agricultural produce got from the land were sent to London, leaving the Irish with nothing. During that time, it is said that about 2 million Irish people left the country and went to other places, mostly the U.S. And the U.S is an easy destination because it is just a matter of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

What I now know is that Cork county, also known as Rebel county, has been at the forefront of both political struggles in Ireland and also as a point of departure for Irish people who choose to emigrate to other parts of the world. This is because of the Port of Cork, where even the Titanic docked and picked hundreds of people on its maiden ill-fated journey to the U.S.

The second thing I have learned is that Ireland has about 6 million people inside their country, but there are over 70 million with Irish ancestry scattered all over the world. Most of them are in the U.S, Australia, and New Zealand (English speaking countries). With population growth of only 1 percent, there is no doubt it is the immigrants who are adding to this growth. Most young Irish students dream of leaving Ireland.

Thirdly, the name Irish potatoes is not a good word here. It has reference to the infamous famine, with the British simply saying the Irish potatoes crop failed. Potato is just potato, and there is no need to add Irish to it.

Due to their long rule and influence, everything in Ireland looks similar to what is in the UK. The laws, policies, education, fashion trends, TV shows, almost everything. The works of famous Irish people such as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, C.S Lewis, Samuel Beckett, and other also tell the stories of Irish struggle, famine, and self-determination.

Europe is rich with tribalism (as PLO Lumumba says), but what only makes it different from Africa is that each tribe has a state (country) of its own. Even in Ireland, the Irish language is overly emphasized, even then most of the people prefer the English language. The problem is that the English language reminds them of the British. But Irish language is taught from primary to university (it is only compulsory in primary school).

Literature has a way of making you travel of faraway places and awakening the conscience of people. It is not surprising that some written books end up being banned by governments, justifying the well-known saying that “the pen is mightier than the gun.” The works of Okot P’Bitek – The Song of Lawino and The Song of Ocol captures the beautiful culture of the Acoli people.  Also, Henry Barlow’s classic poem, Building the Nation, epitomizes the corruption and how governments in Uganda work.

But overall, the Irish people are nice, straightforward and it is a quiet, peaceful country. I would choose again to come back, given any opportunity.

Lessons from my father-the first hero my Life.

It is now 3 years since my father, the late James Okori Ochuku Angoda went to be with the Lord. Time and again, I find myself reflecting on his life, and also my life now without him. Would he approve of this decision? How would he react to this? What would he be planning now? So many other things I remember him for, and of course there is no doubt that we inherit several traits from our parents.

Education is key. One of the most outstanding things I remember him for is his love for education. Born to rural but hard-working, ambitious parents, they inspired him to pursue & love education. Our village home is just on the shores of L. Kwania (Dokolo), he told us stories of how his father (our grandfather) did not allow his children to learn how to fish. In the next village, the late Neri Ogong, the father of the current MP Felix Okot Ogong, also did the same. The reason was, if you learn how to fish, you will make some money & lose interest in studies. While Okot’s father took them to Kampala for higher education (he was rich), my grandfather sent his children to UTC Lira (of course boys) to get technical education. The decision to take his children for technical education was a masterstroke. It ignited the shift to technical education in Dokolo-Amolatar areas. Today, Dokolo district is very well known for vocational/technical education. Dokolo Technical School and Adwoki Technical School always emerge amongst the top 5 schools in national exams. My dad carried on with that love for education. I remember he once told me that I will never inherit anything from him, that education is all he will give me (hahaha). Also, one time my elder sister asked him when he will finish the village house, his response, as always was not expected. He said finishing the house was not a priority, and that as long as we are in school, he has no problem. But if she wants him to finish, let her remain home for 1 term. She never asked again.

Explore places & Integrate. My late father always talked about the need to explore other cultures and places. As a young boy, he grew up in Kwera, then went to Amolatar (then called Kyoga) and to Lira. When he started his government work, he was in Kampala, then to Mbale, Moroto, Soroti and finally to Kaberamaido where he retired. And in all these places, he tried to learn the language and culture.

The net result of this belief was that we ended up getting education in different sub-regions in Uganda (Teso, Kumam, Lango and Acholi), and all that comes with new friends, new language & new perspectives. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that some people educate their children only in one district or region. I think part of education is experience & exposure. Let me leave it there.

Marry an educated girl. When I reached university, my father started bringing certain topics that he had never brought before (hahaha). One those things he told me was that, if I intend to marry, my wife should be someone who has completed school. He did not define what “complete” means. His view was that the half-educated, semi-literate, half-baked girls make for very difficult wives. When I heard that, I just kept quiet. But is unbelievable that I subconsciously followed this advice (hahaha).

Take care of the children. My dad always had a soft spot for children. To him, children are the future. And when God gives the burden of taking care of them, he also blesses you with the means to earn and provide for them. I believe it completely. He had a habit of giving kids (the youngest in a home at any even time) pieces of meat from his plate. He also perfectly understood babies language.

During his entire adult and working life, he paid school fees for very many children, some of which we did not even know. But while doing that, he was also against having too many children.

A family without food is no family. Food is very important in a home. Food sustains life, and everyone should be able to support the production of food. My dad believed learning garden work is part of all-rounded education. He strongly believed that not everything should be bought from the market, even if you have the money. What if they refuse to sell to you? He loved to grow groundnuts, simsim (which would also help school-going brigade), cassava, and big cocks. During school holidays, we had to help out the different gardens with planting, weeding or harvesting. He mastered the deal of renting gardens for food production.

Don’t borrow with interest. I do not know how he came to hold this belief. He was not happy with the way banks confiscated property of people. To him, it is better to borrow small small amounts from your good friends without interest. I don’t think he ever got a bank loan all his life. Be believed in saving, even if it meant joining village saving groups (bol icup).

Build before you reach 40 years.  Being an engineer, he loved to analyse buildings. And all buildings he designed and supervised were higher than average houses (with high ceiling). He also loved glass windows & doors and castigated the way some people put prison-like burglar proofing. After 40 years, most likely you would have started paying school fees of “senior” making it very difficult to save & build. There is a lot of sense in that.

Conclusion

These are just some of the things I remember my dad for. In typical Ugandan families, you only become close to your father when you become an adult. It was exactly the same with us. And the way they transfer their wisdom and beliefs is through stories. Stories about the good old days. The past where students would find plates at school. When employment was on merit. And so many other things.  He castigated the way districts are being created for each tribe.

As I reflect & carry on life, I am grateful for their efforts (dad & mum), and look forward to raising my own family in the best possible ways. After all, if the family is not in your best interest, then what is it? Rest in Peace, Dad. We will always remember you.

The dilemma of ICT Teachers in Uganda

Currently, there are thousands of teachers in Uganda who are not on the government payroll. A majority of these are ICT teachers. You see, when ICT was introduced to A-level in 2012, the government (through UCC) decided to retool existing payroll teachers for two weeks to teach ICT. However, most headteachers soon found out that they were lacking in both theoretical and practical aspects of the subject.

I was one of those who got an opportunity to teach, soon after completing my ICT degree. I knew very much that computer education was not well grounded and would offer an opportunity after campus.

The fight to join the payroll

In Uganda’s education system (primary & secondary), getting to join the payroll is a dream come true for teachers. Many take years (especially Arts teachers) before vacancies are advertised in the district. You then apply, do interviews and finally, if lucky, you join the payroll. Being on government payroll means you are permanently employed civil servant, pensionable and of course guaranteed monthly salary. It is like being on cloud 9, a distant dream. One time a colleague abused me that my name is written with a pencil (think temporal- hahaha). That’s the stigma & segregation teachers not on government payroll face every day.  And to make it worse, headteachers actually encourage it. In many government schools, there is always a collective tendency to downgrade, humiliate and overwork teachers not on “government payroll”.

For most ICT teachers, in order to qualify to join the payroll, you have to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). After that, you register with ESC and officially you are given a number. After that, you can happily apply for opportunities within the ESC. If you are persistent & know how to get around it, you eventually join the payroll. As they say in Lira, your name enters (nyingi donyo) the payroll.

Chasing the payroll or going back for further studies?

If you decide to go back for further studies, it is a good thing. You have to decide very well. Will you do PGD in Education or continue with your ICT? I have seen many who have done PGD and also those who have continued with ICT. It’s your choice. If you do PGD, you officially become a teacher (by profession) and settle into the system. And if you choose the other route, it means you are open to other opportunities outside secondary education. This includes lecturing at the many higher education institutions & universities, or the NGO sector. The motivation here is to earn a living, not necessarily trying to get into the government payroll. Because, at the end of the day, you deserve fair pay and compensation for your skills, time and sacrifice.

Career Growth vs. Earning big.  Choose carefully. 

One of the most challenging things is deciding which path to follow- look for big money or grow your career over time. I started work in 2012. At that time, I was looking for a place to practice what I had learned for many years (18 years). I was not very keen on money. But after some time, you realize you need the money as well. In our Ugandan society, we have an extended responsibility to take care of our siblings or just pressure to show your friends that you are now working class.

Our society also expects a grown-up man or woman to start a family, and believe me, no one will mind about our much you earn. Or whether you are on the payroll or not. But don’t mind about the pressure.

If you choose money, it means you will constantly be on the lookout for opportunities for making money (applying for jobs while doing a job). After all, you have bills pay. You may teach in many schools or do additional other jobs. The end goal here is money (and the end justified the means).  One time, I tried this approach but found that I was using too much money chasing money (hahaha). It didn’t make sense. I opted to keep one job and save instead. But you know people are different, you may be good at part-timing or making money look after money-whatever that means!

If you choose to grow your career, it may mean you take time to understand and do your job with great dedication and focus on things like relationships, partnerships, and promotion at the workplace. Starting as a classroom teacher, then assistant HOD, then HOD, Deputy Headteacher, etc. Or Junior Lecturer, then Senior, then HOD, etc.

I always tell people that our personalities and circumstances differ, and at one time, you may switch from one approach to another, or use both of them at the same time (which is difficult). What you have to keep in mind is that, as people, we go to the same market, same streets, and the same church. At the end of the day, we want to be self-sufficient, happy and be a position to take care of your family and raise the next generation. People spend nearly three-quarters of their lives working, whether paid or unpaid work.

As for me, I decided from early on, to focus on career growth (I was later made HOD). It allowed me to do work with dedication and distinction, and also establish a verifiable track record of accomplishment. In Lira, many people know me as “Apwony Emma”, and have received many favors and opportunities because of this dedication. Actually, many think I did BSc. Education. I spent 7 years in one school, and I don’t regret. But also in that period, I missed many opportunities & my friends jumped into them because they were paying much higher (NGOs, NIRA, EC, etc). If I get another job after finishing my master’s in Europe, I believe I will work again with dedication for 5 or 10 years. Stability provides you with space to grow, both in skill and reputation.

The good thing is that, the two approaches if used well, allow you to grow your career both horizontally (do more at the same level) or vertically (progress higher in career).

Establish a business (side income) and maintain good relationships.

I don’t like giving unsolicited advice, but I will try here. Having friends is good, and when you wish well for your friends and family, they often return the favour. As the old adage goes, “iron sharpens iron”. It is good to be with like-minded fellows, for both your work life and family life. Also, a little business is not a bad idea. It may be stocking g-nuts and selling it later and make a small profit. Or repairing computers over the weekend. And while it is important to make a profit, it is more important to be realistic. My approach has been making a small profit, over a long period, than make too much and fail after 2 weeks (I focus a lot on sustainability and long term). Additionally, a good wife or husband gives you the peace of mind to face the world (you have to make things work better).

That was all I had for you. Otherwise, I wish you all the best in your pursuit of a better life. Don’t allow anyone intimidate you because you are not in the payroll. Do your work, be optimistic and plan for the future.

 

Why Girls should pursue STEM careers and aim to be self sufficient.

Over the last 5 years, I have increasingly been at the forefront of advocating for and encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. As a teacher and tech specialist, I have seen the worrying number of girls and women both the tech and overall STEM careers. This article outlines my views and my belief in raising girls (young women) who are ambitious, hardworking and powerful.

Arts can lead you into Science

One thing that often confuses young people is that, when you are doing arts combination in A-level, then you can only pursue art/humanities programmes at university. This is not true, as there are very many neutral study programmes that are science-oriented. In Lira, I have sent many girls to study Diploma in Computer Science or Secretarial (Gulu University), Nursing (Lira School of Nursing), National Diploma in ICT (UTC Lira), Science Education and many others.

Diploma or Certificate is not a bad idea.

While at A-level, I normally encourage young people to aim for at least 2 principle passes so that they can go for straight degree programmes. However, like most people know, there are equally good practical (STEM) diploma programmes, which may be more marketable than theoretical degree programmes. What is important is continuing with education after A-level and get some qualification, or skills.

Girls have to study and be self-sufficient  

When girls are growing up, they have all kinds of assumptions. That they will study, graduate, get married, get a job and the husband will take care of them. Our culture has coined that into the minds of girls, that someone will take care of them. Not bad, but there are many problems with that assumption. And for the boys that, they will study, get jobs and later on inherit what their fathers have. This also is not a good idea.

I encourage girls to always work hard, study hard, get some vital skills (home skills, people skills) and obtain the qualification-university or vocational. STEM careers still have few girls. Get a job or start a business. You have to start somewhere and work yourself up the ladder of life. Expect more from your own labour and effort, and less from others. Everybody should be a position to sustain themselves as an adult, even before you commit to issues such as marriage or other social responsibilities. Love, marriage, children will always find their way into your life and spice it even more.

Learn from your parents.

I always tell young people that the best lesson of life is the lives of your parents. What good things have your parents done? Where did they go wrong? What advice have you got from them? What good things can you learn from their lives?  Every family and home has hundreds of lessons from which young people can learn from. Although their time and conditions were different, there are plenty of things anyone can learn from their parents-education, family life, business, farming, management, morals, connections etc.

Stay away from trouble and keep healthy

As a young person, you can sometimes feel the pressure to be successful, like others. In Ugandan standards, being successful means graduating, getting a job (or business), finding someone (falling in love and marriage), build a small house and buy a car. This is the illusion most people have as the definition of success. That is not the same for everyone, and the order of acquiring those things will be very different for most people. It is important for you to sperate having material things from happiness. It is what most times leads you into problems. You end up stealing, conning or robbing (the end justifies the means). The things you acquire in life (material things) should only be as a result of honest labour, effort and reward. Stay away from dubious activities.

Also, stay healthy and plan for the future. Especially for girls, stay away from relationships that put you in danger of getting HIV, abortions and GBV. No amount of money is worth putting yourself at risk. If you are already HIV+ or have other health complications, don’t lose hope.

Lastly, take care of those you care about you (family, friends). People live only once, but together you can enjoy the best of what life has to offer.  I end with this quote from Buddha, saying “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

 

Stories from Cork (Part 3): Both developed and developing countries will learn a lot from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

I am writing this in my university accommodation room and looking straight through the window, I can see the empty parking yard across. Between my apartment and the parking yard is River Lee, which runs through Cork city up to the East Coast.

The empty parking yard is a constant reminder that these are not ordinary times. The Covid-19 global pandemic has caused significant disruption to our daily lives. Here in Ireland, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister in Irish) on March 12 (Thursday) ordered that all schools, universities and workplaces must close for two weeks until March 29. When the announcement was made, were in the middle of our practical class in the multimedia lab. From that point on, everything became abnormal. I had to return to my room, have lunch and rush to buy some groceries to last me at least a week.

On reaching Lidl, one of the big-name stores in Ireland, the store was unbelievably congested.  The announcement of a complete lockdown caused panic buying. I got my essentials, bread, peanut, tomatoes, onions, rice. Unfortunately, some shelves were empty and didn’t get my favourite pork. And while leaving the store, I saw a couple struggle to pack items in 3 full trolleys into their small car.

Disruption in Learning Studies and Social Life.

After the lockdown was announced, we then started to receive emails from the university management about how the learning was going to continue online through the learning management system – canvas. But as a write this, we have had only one lecture online-and it was the programme coordinator. He has been very helpful to us during this difficult period.

However, most of the lecturers have accelerated online engagement and are telling us to go through the notes and ask questions, or clarifications. The eLearning system is quite robust and supports both video and audio lectures/calls. The other system we are using is Microsoft Teams.

For now, we look forward to doing the online exams next month. The full message form university management is below:

What I have found to be confusing is being told that you should not go to the hospital even when you have symptoms. I grew up knowing that (like all Ugandans) when you are sick, you should go to the hospital. Here, instead, you are told to call your GP (General Practitioner-Doctor). Then GP refers you to hospital. It is because everything, including health matters, requires an appointment. Unbelievable.

For now, we spend our time reading notes and doing the many assignments. But staying indoors the whole day can be stressing. People take walks in the evening to get some fresh air or do jogging. Of course, you should follow social distancing guidelines.

The global outlook and disruption

When the epidemic broke out in China in December, the media (especially Western media) went on a frenzy, doing all sorts of things to criticize the health and governance system of China. But when the virus spread, we have seen that it has wreaked havoc even in “advanced” health systems and economies. The death toll in neighbouring Italy is another pandemic on its own. There is a proverb in my language that says that “problems visit everyone, whether you are rich or poor, near or far.” Any system (political, economic, social, health. etc) has its loopholes.

Ugandans should Prepare & be Vigilant

Overall, Ugandans have learnt to deal with health epidemics like Ebola, cholera, Marburg and even HIV. I was old enough (2002) when Ebola, combined with war situation killed hundreds in Gulu. Many lessons were learnt from that experience. Museveni has already pronounced himself on the matter and ordered the closure of schools and public events for 32 days. I know Uganda will contain the virus if it emerges. I guess that border areas like Busia, Kasese, Kabale, Gulu and Kampala are susceptible. However, the MOH decision to extort money in the name of forceful quarantine of people arriving at Entebbe airport is unfair and may backfire when others choose to enter Uganda through other means. It appears the intention is to create a “project” out this pandemic in order to “eat”. Just imagine the fate of students (like me) who may arrive into the country with maybe 200 euros.

Expect the Financial Crisis

Here in Europe, the European Union and several countries have been to quick to reassure their people that the government will offer financial support to businesses, workers and investors in order to stabilize the economy. In Uganda, Museveni has deliberately decided not to talk about the economic impacts of the pandemic & his response economically. Overall, even with these financial stimulus packages, I believe that we should expect tough economic times ahead. In Uganda, the situation is made even worse because 2020 is a political year. I expect unemployment & inflation to skyrocket, businesses to collapse and heavy spending on political campaigns instead of social services.

Lessons from the Pandemic

From this pandemic, we have seen that both developed and developing countries are prone to global shocks and disruptions. What started in a small city in China has spread to over 170 counties and killed hundreds every day. In terms of education, this situation presents a good opportunity for schools and universities in Uganda to fully embrace e-learning. E-learning is learning itself and should be incorporated into everyday learning.

In conclusion, this pandemic has once again shown that the world and humanity should work together to confront global challenges. Talking, criticizing has not been very helpful in this pandemic. Taking action and providing solutions are more important-and to save lives. I know people will do research and next year, we will have someone win the Nobel prize to suggesting to the world a new political or economic model or Covid-19 vaccine. What remains clear is that the impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic will be felt for many years to come. End

Stories from Cork (Part 2): The Intensive Learning, Coding and Mastering the MSc

Last year on September 27, I wrote part one of my series Stories from Cork. The intention was to write every month, but we know our everyday schedules can come in the way of our good intentions. Today, I am giving a sneak peek into my academic experience, from lectures, lab sessions, and every other stuff.

Lectures (Monday -Friday):

In my MSc, the lectures are all 2 hours and lecturers never miss any lecture. It’s important because every module has to be covered completely. In Uganda, the situation is different. When I was teaching at All Saints University Lango (ASUL) a few years ago, lecturers dodging lectures was the norm. It was so bad that in some cases only 50% of lectures are taught.

Practical sessions (5 hours a week)

Every module has a separate practical session and its timetable is different from the lectures timetable. You must attend all the timetables. This is something I would like to implement in Lira. For many universities in Uganda, the practical sessions are covered within the teaching timetable. It creates conflict and most times, it is only a lecture, and practicals are overlooked. Separating the two creates a sense of purpose because they have different outcomes.

Modules, Assignments, Exams  

In the MSc, we cover 6 modules, each running deep both in theory and practical requirements. Assignments are very hard, stretching you to explore deep knowledge & spend hours in the lab. Surprisingly, the exams are only 90 minutes, not those 2 or 3 hours I was used to in Uganda. I have learned from the best, using the latest technologies. Below are the different modules we covered last semester and what we are currently studying.

Semester 1: 

# Course Name Programming/Scripting Language / Tool
1 CS6100 Authoring Processing
2 CS6101 Web Dev’t for Digital Media HTML, CSS
3 CS6102 Graphics for Interactive Media Python, GIMP
4 CS6103 Audio and Sound Engineering Studio, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools
5 CS6104 Digital Video Capture & Packaging Final Cut Pro
6 CS6111 3D Graphics and Modelling Blender, Sketch up

Semester 2

# Course Name Programming/Scripting Language / Tool
1 CS6105 Future and Emerging Interaction Technologies VR, WebGL, WebVR, three.js
2 CS6113 Internet-based Applications HTML, CSS, JavaScript, CMS
3 CS6117 Audio Processing Chuck
4 CS6114 Digital Video Compression and Delivery Processing
5 CS6115 Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) HTML, CSS, JavaScript
6 CS6116 Mobile Multimedia Swift

Teaching skills, not platform

Here, there is a strong emphasis on the use of open-source software, a standards-based approach to technology. Again, this is something I would be willing to do in Lira. In our universities, there is a tendency for teaching using only one tool (software), for example, Adobe Illustrator. This restricts your skills to a particular software/tool. The standards-based approach introduces you to core cross-platform skills-set first, then the platform you choose to take is your choice. There is a high emphasis on standards. Your projects/solutions must adhere/follow global standards, anything less.

The Labs, Teaching resources

Our MSc. is privileged to have 5 labs (1 Audio,1 audio lab, 1 Mac lab, 1 PC lab, and 1 VR lab) dedicated labs (with the latest machines) to running the programme. Some labs are shared with other programmes, but the audio lab and studio are exclusively for MSc. Interactive Media only. When you have enough resources, teaching becomes easy. I think this where our education leaders need to pay a lot of attention. As long as, we don’t set-up mandatory learning labs/resources, most of the learning at our universities will be theoretical and not helpful.

The labs have demonstrators (we call them attendants) and their work is to help students. The lecturer’s work is to teach, while the demonstrators move around attending to students-making sure they are not left behind.

This was one of the reforms I constantly brought to the attention of the administration in my previous work. However, I lost it. There is a funny saying in Uganda these days that the boss is always right- I hate it so much. Leaders should be able to engage with all people & new ideas.

Conclusion

Although I have not seen last semester’s results, I am positive that all will be well. I am also certain that the things I have learned here will position me to contribute to the development of the ICT and education sectors in our country. End.

Writing, and my dream to have a newspaper column

I am writing this at 21:30 Ireland time. Today, I want to share with you the importance of writing and my dream for a newspaper column. You see, there is a saying that goes that, “when you want to hide something from an African, you put it into writing.” Back then, Africans were not reading that much and literacy rates were very low. Today, many people read, including Ugandans. However, most of the reading is on social media, not books or technical reports or journals. At least that is my opinion.

Back to our issue. I was saying, people are now reading. But few are writing. Many young people call me “mentor” and I get very surprised. I don’t turn down their requests to “mentor” them. And one of the things I overly emphasize is during our “mentoring” sessions is writing. Yes, learning how to write. Putting your ideas into paper. I believe that every person deserves to have the ability to communicate in writing their ideas, feelings, ambitions, and dreams.

Growing up in the early nineties, the last P.O. Box decade, I learned the technicalities of writing and also posting letters through the post office. Although we now have computers and digital technologies, the writing has shifted from paper to digital media. These include digital media such as word processors, blogs, websites, and social media. I do not buy the idea of reading people’s ideas all the time, while you contribute nothing to the world. As you digest other people’s ideas, they mix with yours. Resultantly, your attitudes, thinking, perspectives, knowledge, and beliefs may change. These can be both positively and negatively. For me, writing allows you to express yourself, sometimes in ways can you cannot do in words. It is a very powerful and forceful way of pouring your ideas out into the world.

I encourage young people, right from primary school to learn how to write well. At A-level, your writing should be very good, because at university, you spend less time there and nobody teaches you to write. That is why at university, many students fear “research” in the final year.

For young people, good writing allows you correctly communicate your ideas, write your profile, apply for jobs and helps people understand you better. Keep in mind that, through writing, your ideas travel faster than you. For the projects I have been involved in, I emphasize the need to document everything.

Over the years, I have read and followed many writers and columnists in newspapers. I started buying newspapers in secondary school (S.3). In the Daily Monitor, I always look forward to Charles Onyango Obbo (Wednesday), Daniel Kalinaki, Odobo C. Bichachi, Norbert Mao, Allan Tacca (Sunday) and Josue Okoth. I have also keenly read articles of my Mzee of Kumi University (I forget his name). I also follow Andrew Mwenda’s lengthy and controversial articles.

In the New Vision, it is Gwynne Dyer (Monday), Opiyo Oloya and other balanced articles. Of course, back in the early 2000s, I followed the randy articles of “Tom Rush.” I greatly enjoyed his serial fictional stories that he wrote every week about women and alcohol in the Sunday Magazine, which is now no more. I still miss him.

To improve my view of the world and also get knowledge, I buy newspapers and books a lot. My collection of newspapers and books is huge. I hope to start donating them to schools or start a “community library” project and share them with the world.

Also, I subscribe to many online newsletters for different organizations, companies, projects, and blogs. Though my reading and writing habits have developed over a quite a long time, it is not too late to learn reading and writing. I still believe that my writing will become better so that I can have a column in our leading newspapers were I can pour out my ideas and contribute to intellectual discourse in our beloved country. End.

2017 Teachers Making a Difference awards

October 05, 2017 found me in Kampala, at New Vision offices in the industrial area. I had been invited to attend the Teachers Making a Difference award ceremony.  I was feeling happy and calm. Getting to be nominated for an award is easy, but winning that award is different. You may have heard how awards start well, and then later become very controversial because those who win happen to be those who don’t deserve the awards.

In Uganda, this happened to good Annual Communication Innovation Awards (ACIA). There was a time when a school with a “manila” project won the “Young ICT Innovators” award (I think that was 2015). I have also heard about people grumbling about the unfairness of the Young Achievers Awards Uganda – that the awards are given to “old people” instead of the young guys. And then the our national medals and awards have even been more controversial – with only regime loyalists getting them.

But it is not only in Uganda where awards can be controversial. Over the years, the BET awards, the Grammy awards, and even the world-famous Nobel Peace Prize have been quite controversial. Last year, the Nobel Peace prize went to an unknown Medical doctor in the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Away with that.

This year, my boss (now former) was also nominated for the Teachers Making a Difference awards. I know she is in good contention to grab an award. The record of the awards also favours her. The TMD awards have gone more to headteachers than to ordinary teachers. In 2017, in the top 12, there were only 4 ordinary teachers. And again in the top 5, there was only one ordinary teacher (that was me).

In fact, at the awards ceremony, some teachers were saying that the awards should be changed to “Headteachers Making a Difference.” If she wins, I have already told her that I will be happy to welcome her to Dublin, Ireland in January.

And again, I think the awards should have different categories for different education sub-sectors, for example, Secondary category, Primary category, Kindergarten category, and Vocational category. Right now, everyone is thrown into the same box. And you know it is very difficult to compete with primary and kindergarten teachers because the problems they gave at that level are quite different from problems in the secondary sector.

Click here to read a copy of the report I submitted to New Vision after the whole process.

Happy World Teachers Day.

 

Stories from Cork, Ireland (Part 1)

I have so far spent 26 days in Cork, Ireland. Cork is Ireland second biggest city after Dublin. People of Cork are called Corkonians (sounds funny). Cork is also known as the “rebel county”. I like it here because you get to feel the real culture and traditions of people. There is a good quote that says “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

The best way to travel to Cork is by train from Dublin Heuston train station. It is a 2 ½ hour journey to Kent train station in Cork. The first days in a foreign country can be very stressful, emotional and also confusing. So many things to understand and workaround. Understanding the currency, where to buy basics like food and medicine. Adjusting to time zone. And many other things.

Food, shopping and accommodation. We were lucky that ICOS has already booked and paid for accommodation within university hostels. That is good. A well-furnished room, with a shared kitchen and common room. Perfect place for a postgrad student. Other foreign students had difficulty getting accommodation. Apparently, there is a housing shortage in Ireland, especially in college towns like Cork.

When it comes to shopping, at first you find it difficult because of trying to convert the prices to Ugandan shillings. For example a meal in a restaurant maybe 10 euros, so in your head, you try to calculate 10 x 4000 gives you UGX 40,000. Why would you use all that for just one meal only? That amount buys you food for one week in Lira. However, I got advice from a Ugandan living here in Cork – that the best way to live a normal life is that don’t convert currencies. Just buy whatever you want. After all, you are in Ireland, not Uganda. Currency values and prices are different. Just like in Uganda, eating out (in restaurants) is quite expensive. To cut down food spending, the best way is to buy food and cook. It is even better because you get to eat what you are familiar with – in my case Irish potatoes, rice, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, eggplant, chicken and cabbages are good. While I am upgrading my papers, I am also upgrading my cooking skills. It has been a long time since I last prepared a meal back home (Mandela’s mum is always fully in charge of the kitchen).

Lectures, multinational class & accents. The first week of lectures was difficult, trying to get used to mzungu’s accent. Funny enough, just like in Uganda, every region here is Ireland has a different accent. And the Cork accent is weird. The trick was to sit in front, so I could grab all the words. Another thing was getting used to a class of students from many countries. Uganda, Togo, Nigeria, Japan, China, Slovenia, Ireland, UK, US, Korea. Different countries, different accents but same class.

The weather, leisure and culture. Ireland is predominantly Catholic, while their neighbours Northern Ireland are Anglican. Despite being overly religious, they are also have drinking & smoking culture. As my favourite taxi man told me, the Irish people believe that God will always forgive them for taking a little Guinness. Smoking? Don’t blame them – the weather is harsh. For leisure sport, the university has a sports arena (Mardyke) free for all students. I am yet to go there. For now, I prefer taking walks, sitting somewhere listening to Irish traditional and pop music on FM stations. And then, there is the internet of course – stream anything. Summer is over. We are now in autumn (remember geography lessons about 4 seasons in Europe?) up to November. The Irish say they have changeable weather (one-minute raining, next minute shinning). For now, it is much getting colder (average 11-140C) with lots of rain. You can forget your phone but not an umbrella & jacket.

Traditional, Analogue, Digital – all together. One thing I have found absurd is that the Irish people have the technology to do things, but also like to keep the old traditional way of doing things. After opening an account, the bank insisted that they would post (instead of giving me) the Debit card to me, yet I stay 200 metres away. Then, after getting the card, they insist I had to download an app to set me up for internet bank. They treasure their old ways of doing things but also incorporate modern technology. Sounds good because it favours all generations of people. I am slowly getting used to it. For official things, you need an appointment. The other thing is adjusting the time. I had never known that in Europe, they adjust the time (one hour forward) during winter and again 1 hour back during summer. We were told at the orientation to be ready to time adjustments (meaning Uganda will be 2 or 3 hours behind) depending on the period. I just find unfair. But nothing to do. And the Irish people only strictly follow time for only official things. Otherwise, they use what they call “5-minute rule”-be at least 5 minutes late. This applies to social events & functions.

Stress, Loneliness and Courage to move forward. I must admit that one of the hardest decisions I have made in life is to decide to come here- leaving family behind. It is very difficult walking away from kids – and answering the many questions they ask. Sometimes, I still think I made the wrong decision. That I could have remained in Uganda and tried other ways of moving my career forward. This only brings stress. When these thoughts come to my mind, I remember that I am not the first, neither will I be the last – in pursuing education abroad. Through the history of mankind, many men and women have left the homeland to go to distant lands to pursue different things. For pursuing education, these people come to mind. Aggrey Awori, Museveni, Mwalimu Nyerere, Andrew Mwenda, Peter Okwoko, Paul Kagame, Winnie Byanyima, my friend Zibusiso Dube from Zimbabwe. The list is endless. And there is a sense in which society listens and appreciate you more. After all, you have seen things in distant lands (that most haven’t seen). Of course, most people come here and refuse to go back. For me, my project here is the MSc only, nothing more. I have never entertained the idea of coming to Europe or America and remaining here permanently. Working for a few years is okay. Finally, the loneliness is real. Just too much. Everyone stays indoors. I miss home. Fair enough, WhatsApp takes you home – to at least to hear their voices and see their smiles. for now, I am still a Ugandan Corkonian. End.