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.

My unforgettable 7 years of work at Lira Town College

In late June 2012, I came back from Gulu University, with all my belongings after finishing the 3-year Bachelor of ICT study programme. Actually, I did final exams in May but had to stay because of financial issues, final year project issues, and personal ambition. I wanted to try to get work in Gulu, West Nile or Karamoja. It didn’t work out, the only remaining option was to return to Lira or Dokolo.

After arriving in Lira, I had to get something to do & had 3 places in mind – All Saints University Lango (since I had been reading there during holidays), Lira Town College (because my two siblings were studying there) and Dr. Obote College (my former school).

On Monday, July 02, 2012, I walked to town to kick-start my job search. I had 3 applications for 3 target places. I had already made up my mind to travel to the village after dropping off my applications. I started with ASUL, up along Obote Avenue (Lira’s main street). They declined, though they said they would have loved to have me since they wanted to start the department of ICT. No problem, I continued to Lira Town College.

At Lira Town College, I met the Headteacher, Ms. Acen Sophia Rose. After a brief discussion about my competencies (about 10 minutes), she told me I could take me & start work. That very day. I had to cancel my journey to the village immediately.

First Assignment-processing results

My first work assignment was to compute student marks for the whole school. I still don’t know how I managed to do that. Imagine marks for about 2,600 students. That was in July 2012. In early August, I then took over as ICT teacher for A-level. It was only one class (S.5) because the curriculum was changed that year from 4 Principal subjects & 1 subsidiary subject (G.P) to 3 Principal subjects & 2 subsidiary subjects (GP & ICT/sub-maths). So, the opportunity I got was also partly because there was an institutional problem to manage the change. In fact, many schools did the same – hired IT or CS graduates to teach the “new, complicated” subject.

From IT to Education

One would wonder how I managed to teach, yet primarily I was not trained as a teacher. While I in A-level, I admired teaching a lot (I was a “teacher” in discussion groups) and wanted to be a teacher of English/Literature. The other options I wanted was Mass Communication & IT (because it was the in-thing). In spite of this desire, I was unable to get government scholarship to do my education course. I then changed my mind to do IT, the in-thing then. Resultantly, choosing to study IT didn’t rub off the desire for “teaching”. I think that is why I was able to stay longer, even when I got many opportunities that would have halted my “teaching”. Today, most people actually think I studied education, and they call me “Apwony Emma” (Teacher Emma or Mwalimu Emma). I became a teacher by practice, not qualification. Train on job kind of arrangement. I believe that qualification just gives us the foundation to kick start our careers.

Working with diverse Students

For the 7 years I was at Lira Town College, I met very many good students. And I love the diversity in that school. It has students from all over the country & abroad (South Sudan of course). It has a good social mix – biggest number of adult students, Muslims, students with disabilities, the urban poor, the rural poor and Indian students. It is culturally very diverse, with many ethnicities and languages.

Also enjoyed involving students in tech activities, and together, we won quite a number of awards. Even after leaving school, we have always kept in touch, and many of their parents are my friends. I like that.

Recognition from outside school, not the school

In the first 5 years, I was very dedicated to my work. My work in class and other tech activities brought me some awards and recognition at various tech events. I was featured on TV, newspapers and radio many times. I was made an Examiner, gained respect and my social status reputation improved. I became a role model for many young people. However, I was never ever acknowledged or recognized (in private or publicly) for anything. Very ironical but I don’t feel bad. It was always that this is not working, this is wrong. And bla bla bla. But that’s life. Most times we don’t appreciate what we have, and admire what we don’t have. What mattered for me was the impact my efforts had on students & respect from the community. It is very uplifting & fulfilling to know that your effort has propelled someone’s career. That your little help opened other opportunities for them. And that you made a difference in their lives.

Diving into STEM & national recognition.

In a school with about 2,600 students and 100 teachers (right now), it is difficult to get the attention of the boss. There is a lot of drama involved in getting this attention. Some people spread rumours, lies or buy the boss something – just to get their attention (and some favours as well). For me, at first, I would overwork, so much. Sometimes I would go home at 11:00pm. I would work sometimes 16 hours a day to beat unrealistic deadlines. In spite of all this, I didn’t get any attention or recognition. But kept working no matter. The turning point came when one day, left school, passed by supermarket to buy some groceries (sugar, bread etc.) and went home (ate something and slept). The following day I rushed to school again. More work. More work. Then one day I opened my bag and saw sugar that I had bought many days ago. I bought, forgot to remove it, carried it in my bag for days. I realised that I was overworking so much so that I did not have me time (on the other hand, it also saved me from many challenges that come from being youth). I did not have life after work. After that incident, I cut off most work (secretarial work), focused only on class & tech projects. My life came back to normal.

In 2013, together with students, we won our first tech award (Robotics). We were featured in newspapers & TV. We were good. That moment made me focus more on getting national awards & recognition, not school recognition (it was not coming). That meant doing many things differently, different from other teachers. That made me closer to students, but farther from my colleague teachers. I stopped pursuing money (it never came to me). I pursued excellence & recognition outside. The following year we won ACIA, pioneered with Technovation Challenge, Africa Code Week, HIVOS Social Innovation awards, Biotechnology Essay writing competitions. We got full board into STEM. We did any tech project we could find. All was good. We competed against the best schools in the country, and many times, we beat them.

All these came with awards, recognition & popularity. Unfortunately, funding for these activities were cut off, leaving me with no choice but opt-out.

What was not possible?

I kind of feel uneasy that during those 7 years, many good ideas were never implemented. My aim to make Lira Town College the best school when it comes to use of technology. The teaching was good, however the percentage pass in computer studies & ICT were averaging at 30-38% (not so good). I was not the only one with this not-so-good statistics. I still feel some kind of guilt. I was not successful in making management adopt to use school management system, school-wide e-learning system and website (I hosted a school website for 2 years on my account). I was also not able to fully make the computer lab a centre of excellence (community learning & innovation centre) and procure all-year internet access for students & staff.

Returning for school and putting self

In 2016, when I made 30 years, I had a moment of reflection. One of the things that came to my mind was that, I had worked for 5 years, but didn’t have anything to show for it. It seemed like for I was working for the school. Nothing for me. I was part of “young teachers” paid by the board (not on government payroll). The money – let me not talk about that. It was only good for bachelor. That changed in 2017. I now had a wife. But also, we lost dad (January 2017) and was made heir to family. That is huge responsibility. I made a decision in that in the New Year (2017), I would still be working in school, but I would focus on my myself. Circumstances change people. Experiences change people. I needed new thinking. I decided to return to school for Masters, and as they say, when you join another road, it takes you to another destination. The Masters class opened my mind. My wife also opened another part of my mind. We work so that our families are fine. And family includes children! That’s the point.

With the loss of dad, the going back to school, and family life, the year went by very fast. But within the year, I won the 2017 Teachers Making a Difference award, and that opened more doors. It made it possible for me to travel abroad –for the first time. My aim then was to finish masters and cross over to university. I had started my journey out of Lira Town College.

Many teachers, many friends & solidarity

One of the things I loved most from Lira Town College is the solidarity that the teachers have. Many are very dedicated to their work and are generally free with each other. They are also ambitious. It is only at Lira Town College were you can find teachers in school all year round –everyday – even on Christmas day. To most of us, the college is like home.

Headteacher, the good & the bad.

The Headteacher, Ms Acen Sophia Rose has done a good job. After the mismanagement that occurred over the years (including during the 20-year insurgency in the north), she has managed to put most things right. From the time she came to Lira Town College, she has done many things. New structures are many, student enrolment is up & good teachers are in place. But just like most leaders, there are bad things that she is blamed for. I take the view that one person cannot be blamed for all the problems in society. There are many socio-economic & political issues that invade Lira Town College, considering that it is within an urban area. As a person, I choose to complain less, and work hard instead. For the rest of my life, I will always remember her for giving me the opportunity to serve and trusting me at the time at was just 25 years, with no experience. I know she will also remember me for having remained faithful & staying longer, even when opportunities knocked on me.

When will studies stop?

My decision to return to school in 2017 has brought both good luck and challenges. I have traversed places I didn’t know I would reach. But above all, I have been to many universities – Mbarara University of Science & Technology (2 weeks only), UTAMU (4 semesters), Uganda Martyrs University – Rubaga (1 ½  months), Kampala University (not admitted) University of Delaware – U.S.A (6 weeks, Mandela Washington Fellowship) and now here at University College Cork, Ireland (1 year). When will studies stop? Definitely after that PhD.

What’s the next plan?

When I return to Uganda next year, I will be playing with children at home and do some agriculture as I look for the next opportunity. I will end with this quote from William Ayers that; “Teaching is an act of hope for a better future. The reward of teaching is knowing that your life has made a difference.” End.

Meeting 120 Irish Aid Fellows from 17 countries

Yesterday, September 21, 2019, was the official orientation and welcome for the 2019 Ireland’s Fellowship Programme. Fellows from 17 countries from Africa, Middle East and Asia assembled for the official orientation, organised by the Government of Ireland – through Irish Aid (sponsors) and International Council for International Students (ICOS) – the implementing agency. I think these fellows are from countries in which the Republic of Ireland has its embassies and consulates.

Since we applied for the fellowship last year, I only knew fellows from Uganda and Rwanda, since we did some activities together with them. The last day we met was at the pre-departure orientation, at the Ambassador’s residence in Kampala.

When it came to travel, we traveled differently, and travel was timed with the orientation at the university in which you were admitted. All the fellows, therefore, even those from the same country, travelled on different days & different flights.

The day was special because it was the first time all the fellows from 17 countries were meeting. People from different countries, different universities in Ireland gathered in one hotel, one hall.

For me, the highlight of the day was meeting and interacting with fellows from Palestine and Vietnam. You know, with all the challenges that Palestinians face in their country (including hostility from the Israel which we fantasize about), they are very resilient people, and not afraid to take a stand to support their country (or rather nation).

While growing up, I watched a lot of movies – you remember America versus Vietnam kind of movies, it was nice hearing and listening to them. They are focused, patriotic and loyal to their country (you know how they are depicted in the movies). Of course, they looked all the same – both height and faces. It’s difficult to tell who is who. But I recall from my Political Education class (in secondary school – before it was scrapped for obvious reasons) that monolithic nations (countries that evolve from one dynasty /emperor) are very closed societies and tend to marry from their own relatives – which makes them look very similar to each other. All in all, they were amazing.

Events like these are meant to mainly disseminate information and accord you some kind “official welcome”. What liked most was the presentation “Becoming a Student in Ireland,” presented by Dr. Padraig Wims of University College Dublin. And the perspectives of the finishing fellows. It was very insightful. That being said, I believe that however much somebody tells you about something, your experience is mostly going to be different. And so, most times you just have to live on and let things unfold for you.

For now, I am part of the about 3,300 international students at University College Cork, Ireland from 144 countries. Broadly, this number is part of the bigger 17,000 international students – about 20% of the student population (most of them postgraduate) studying in Ireland. The diversity of huge. This year I have been quite fortunate to have met people from all corners of the world – first during the Mandela Washington Fellowship (June and August) and then now with Ireland Fellowship programme – which will enable me to attain highly regarded European postgraduate education.

With the arrival, university and Irish Aid orientations over, I now look forward to settling into the real academics – reading, lectures, assignments and lab sessions.  Nothing more. End.

Ireland-Africa Fellows Programme fulfills my dream for European education

On Monday, September 02, 2019 I arrived in Dublin, Ireland as a beneficiary of the Irish Aid Fellowships 2019/2020 (now called Ireland-Africa Fellows Programme) to pursue postgraduate studies in Ireland. I was part of the only 11 Ugandans selected for these fully sponsored study fellowships. In Rwanda, only 4 were selected.

Since childhood, I have always admired to study in Europe, especially the UK. I remember writing to some distance learning institutions in the UK back in 2002 (17 years ago), after reading about it in a newspaper. I was in S.3 and 16 years old. That’s the same year I started buying newspapers for myself. Of course, I didn’t have the money to fully pay and enrol. I again did the same 8 years later while at Gulu University in 2010. This time, I was even sent (by Post Office) course information, notes and some assignments. However, due to financial challenges, I could not fully enrol.

The turning point was in 2014. A friend of mine, Kisarach Phillips, who at the time was teaching in Kigumba Intensive S.S managed to obtain a scholarship to study at the University of Liverpool. We had been marking mock exams together at Lira Town College, and immediately after that exercise, the guy left for the UK. I admired him a lot. After a while, another classmate from Gulu University, Peter Okwoko also went to Denmark for master’s education. Later, I was a survey respondent for his research. I admired him a lot.

As a teacher, I always wanted to attain a postgraduate education at all costs. My serious search for this opportunity was ignited in 2014 by Kisarach. However, at the time, I did not have my undergraduate papers at hand (you know how long it takes to get papers after graduation).

Finally, in March 2017, I was able to get my papers and without wasting time, I immediately applied for Msc Information Systems at Mbarara University of Science & Technology (MUST). I was admitted, but due to the distance, I later changed my mind and applied and enrolled to UTAMU for Master of Information Technology (MIT). This programme was flexible (you attend lectures 6 weekends only). I am hopeful I will go back and finish (still have a few things to complete, including research).

The UTAMU experience was every good. I enjoyed the lecturers and their system of learning, they inspired me further. All of them had attained masters and PhDs from Europe. Dr. Drake Mirembe. Prof. Jude Lubega. Dr. Rehema Baguma. They are really good. I remember one lecturer told us that “when you do masters, you master your destiny.” I believe that very much.

While still at UTAMU, I again saw a World Bank Funded scholarship advert for master’s study at Uganda Martyrs University (UMU). Together with colleagues at Lira Town College (Peter & Dick), we applied. We were later invited to do GAT (which was expensive). We all passed the Graduate Admission Test (GAT) and we were all admitted. This was Msc. in Monitoring & Evaluation. In mid-August 2018, we started classes at UMU Kampala campus. Around that time, I was actually pursuing two masters’ programmes at the same time. I had to balance the Bugolobi & Rubaga timetables accurately, which was tiring & expensive. However, I was not given the scholarship (but Dick got it). So, in October I dropped out from UMU (due to financial challenges) but I had already learnt so much about M & E (I am still on their WhatsApp group).

While juggling all this busy study stuff (my wife had also just given birth to a baby boy in July), I applied for the Irish Aid Fellowships (Sept/October 2018) and the Mandela Washington Fellowship (Sept 2018). However, I had to leave my lecturing job at All Saints University Lango (ASUL) in order to concentrate on studies & the baby. It was a very busy year.

In January 2019, the Embassy shortlisted 20 Ugandans and 4 Rwandese to continue further to do the English test – IELTS which was paid for by the embassy (about UGX 912,000). On February 02, 2019, we did the test and thankfully, I passed on the first attempt. However, many others failed and were allowed to redo it (at their expense of course). After that, a list was then sent to Dublin for final selection. When the list came in March, I was successful. But other names were dropped again, despite passing IELTS.

The 11 successful Ugandans and the Rwandese were then invited to apply for their chosen 2 programmes of study in the application (the application fee was also paid for us). I think I managed to get this because I had come to Ireland last year because of the Teachers Making a Difference award, which was also sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland. But my application was always strong. In early June 2019, was admitted to University College Cork (UCC) to pursue MSc. Interactive Media. I choose this because I wanted to be within the tech domain but study something I had not done already at Gulu University or UTAMU or UMU. The second choice was MEd, however, it delayed so I had to accept the MSc. offer.

On June 19th, I travelled to the U.S for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, civic leadership institute at the University of Delaware. I was very scared, thinking the travel may coincide with travel to Ireland. The U.S experience was very good because I learnt a few things on how to live in the developed world. I was there for 6 weeks – actually 44 days.

I finally received the final offer of award while still in the U.S (it nearly collided). I sent my acceptance from there and requested the Embassy to consider adjusting the date for me to medical test & submission of other documents (date was August 02, my departure from the U.S). Thankfully, this was accepted and I was able to do my medical the week after, and also apply for the visa.

# Name Sex Programme
1 Isabella Janet Nakimuli F LLM in International Human Rights Law and Public Policy, UCC
2 Innocent Aleto F LLM in International Criminal Law, NUIG
3 David Mugarra M MA in Peace and Development Studies, UL
4 Asha Nakiwate F MSc in Human Rights, UCD
5 Angela Nyesiga F LLM in International Commercial Law,
6 Frank Ssemakula M MSc in Electronic and Communications Engineering, TUD
7 Rachel Juliet Mujawimana F MSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences
8 Lindah Niwenyesiga F MA in Public Relations with New Media, CIT
9 Susan Labwot F LLM in International Human Rights Law and Public Policy, UCC
10 Benna Lolem F Master in Education – Foundation Studies, TCD
11 Emmanuel Angoda M MSc in Computer Science (Interactive Media), UCC

For now, my dream has been fulfilled. I know after here, I will continue for PhD here or cross over to the U.S. I also believe life will be much better after here. One day I will be Dr. Emmanuel Angoda (BIT, MIT, Msc.IM, PhD). After being a secondary school teacher for 7 years, my ambition now is to be a lecturer at nearby Lira University or Soroti University (I have never admired working in Kampala). That small position will enable me to continue working with young people, continue with STEM activities and become a famous scholar. It is possible to pursue your dream, no matter how long or hard it takes. If you remain persistent & focussed, you can achieve it. I rest my case.