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Good education helps development in Uganda

Training & Education

After driving out the rebel army in 2008, northern Uganda is working determinedly on furthering development. Education is essential in this but there’s a shortage of good teachers. The John Fisher Teachers Training Institute (JFTTI) in Lira is trying to change the situation and asked PUM for assistance.   

The JFTTI is a teacher training college for students wanting to teach infants and children in primary schools. PUM education expert Marja Verzijlberg was one of the experts asked to help improve and implement the training programme.


Building without windows

‘In my first mission in 2016, I saw a half-finished building without doors or windows. The classes were being given in an annex building and the main building was nowhere near ready for use,’ says Marja. ‘And the programme, which I’d been asked to help with, wasn’t immediately forthcoming either. The school’s head George Rember Okello proved to be an enthusiastic and visionary man. Despite everything that still needed to be organised and the war traumas so many people were having to cope with, he knew that his school could be an example to the local area and even to the whole of northern Uganda.’

‘Good education is essential to progress’

Long -term project

In consultation with the school head, it was decided that the mission would become a long-term project with three PUM experts, one for ICT, one for trauma therapy, and one for education and didactics. The latter area is Marja’s responsibility. ‘We’ve since come a long way. Thanks to aid from the Hans Blankert Fonds, PUM’s fund for small grants, rainwater no longer just streams off the roof but is collected via a gutter in a huge water tank. And a PUM expert has helped to take ICT to a higher level. They’re working hard on creating a computer lab with 15 computers. It should be finished by the end of 2018.’

Trauma therapy

It became apparent that many of the teachers and students also needed psychological support. ‘Despite these people’s resilience, the 20-year long war that ended in 2008 has left deep wounds. People have been through the most terrible times and this will have an effect on generations to come. You need to bear this in mind when it comes to education and it’s why we’ve also designated a PUM expert to develop a trauma therapy programme. This psychiatrist’s work is extremely important.’     

‘Teachers now use international teaching methods’

Global network

In order to improve the curriculum, Marja looked at the different teaching methods used by the institute and in partner schools. ‘When the ICT lab is finished, the school can start using MySchoolsNetwork. This is a global network of schools in which pupils can stay in touch with peers in other schools. I’ve also given lots of training courses and advice to teachers. For instance, I saw very young children nicely naming everything the teacher pointed to on the blackboard, chorusing “the letter A, the letter B” and so on, but they had no idea what a letter was. If you tell the children a story using words and names that all start with the letter A, then it comes to life for them. They learn to read much more quickly!’

George Rember Okello, directeur John Fisher Training Institute - Headmaster Okello had already set up a successful infant school and primary school in Lira when he established the John Fisher Teachers Training Institute. ‘The collaboration with PUM has helped us put the Early Childhood Development programme (ECD) on the map. Marja’s contribution was really inspiring and it’s meant the teachers at the JFTTI and its ten partner schools are all much more capable of their work. The collaboration has also helped strengthen the relationship between the JFTTI and our affiliate Kyambogo University, an affiliation that is required by the Ministry of Education so as to ensure quality and uniformity in education. Marja also shared a lot of valuable knowledge with us about the Learning Framework, the Ugandan school curriculum for young children. And she helped us obtain the Caregivers syllabi, important textbooks published by the Ministry of Education.’

Marja Verzijlberg (70) is educationalist and has taught at various teacher training institutes including NHL University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden. This was her fourth mission for PUM in Uganda.