Ugandan educators tour Queensbury schools

For two weeks, it was a look into another world for four educators from Uganda. A world that doesn’t compare to what they are used to seeing: schools with no power, schools with no sanitation, and schools with teachers who struggle to pass fourth grade math and and literacy tests.

During their visit, these Ugandan educators toured Capital Region schools to learn about best practices in the classrooms and see those practices in action. The Ugandans’ first stop was Queensbury, where they spent three days. Moses Wambi’s answer was very simple when asked what aspects of American schools he’d like to bring back to Ugandan schools.

“The attitude,” said Wambi. “The attitude. The feeling of yes, we can.”

Wambi said the differences between American classrooms and Ugandan classrooms are vast, but some of the biggest differences include the number of students learning and the readiness and preparedness of teachers.

Right now, some Ugandans attend school in devastating poverty. Teachers make less than one dollar a day, and the national average for passing a high school entrance exam is 40 percent; the rest drop-out. So one might ask, how will a visit to American schools have any effect on an impoverished area. That’s where The Giving Circle, a non-profit organization out of Saratoga Springs steps in.

The Giving Circle supports two schools in Uganda. The Busoga Primary School in Uganda serves students in grades 1-7 with an inclusion program for many deaf and special needs children. The entire student body and teachers are becoming fluent in sign language. The second school is the Kagoma Gate Village School, a grades 1-7 primary school in what was once Uganda’s poorest village. The school celebrated its first graduating class this past year.

“Wherever the Giving Circle goes, we respect the culture,” said Executive Director Mark Bertrand. “We don’t want to force American education on Ugandan schools, rather, we want to examine current Ugandan curriculum and fill the holes using programs from the United States.”

Bertrand says his organization’s major focus is education, because for Ugandan children, education is a pathway out of devastating poverty.

The Ugandan educators’ visit to Queensbury was also coordinated by Liz Daley, a Queensbury teacher and also a Teacher Leadership Coach for Special Education at the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center. The Ugandans toured classrooms in Queensbury elementary school, WHBI, and the middle school, looking through different lenses of what education looks like at varying grade levels. Following their time in Queensbury, the Ugandans visited five other area school districts to gather information and inspiration in hopes of designing their own teacher university for practicing teachers in Uganda. Their focus was learning about inclusive classrooms, diverse classrooms with English as a New Language learners and early childhood education classrooms.

“We are trying to reach a community that has none of the resources we have, but can still benefit from our pedagogy,” said Liz Daley.

“We want to form constructs,” added Ugandan educator Emmanuel Gusango. “Constructs to improve our system and to improve the culture in our schools.”

Bertrand says the goal of the teacher university will be to start with ten of the poorest local schools in the Busoga region and build a teacher education program. The program will strive to lift the level of education teachers can provide, and therein improve the grades of students. Bertrand says as schools improve, the hope is that more parents will want to send their children.

“It has been a wonderful experience for my team,” said Moses Wambi. “We have been watching teachers engage with their students and for us, the teachers are our main source of inspiration.”

“I strongly believe in our public school system and what we’re doing here,” added WHBI Principal John Luthringer. “If they can take something away that we feel is best practice and put it into place in their schools to improve their students’ lives, families and community, that’s a win-win.”

Also during the visit, Queensbury’s International Baccalaureate students documents it through video and photography and also participated in a roundtable discussion with the educators about authentic global engagement.

“I was amazed by how amazed they were by everything,” said junior IB student Kailey Baxstrome. “We are very privileged. They are giving us a new perspective on education and we’re giving them tools they have not had before. Education is something that needs to be spread throughout all nations, and it’s really cool watching that happen.”