What is Happening To Catholic Faith Based Schools in Northern Uganda ?
Opinion by Jimmy Odoki Acellam
Recently an Old Boy of Bishop Angelo Negri Primary School, David Martin Aliker stirred what some would call controversy in his popular Lagulu blog-post; Is Gulu Archdiocese against Christians speaking up? His reflection was in the wake of Hon. Odonga Otto’s clash with Fr. Charles Onen of Holy Rosary parish in Gulu town. He explained how the conflict and its resolution relate to the malaise in standards of Catholic Faith based schools in Gulu Archdiocese.
In an earlier article on this platform, I attempted to explain the decline in education standards in Northern Uganda with a particular focus on the glory days of Bishop Angelo Negri Primary School under the Comboni Missionary Sisters as compared to the current leadership of the Brothers of St. Martin De Porres. There has been a serious decline in imparting holistic education as compared to what the missionaries did. It is important to sample a few of the students who were privileged to get such wonderful education and what contributions they are making to their country. What our young brothers are being taught now may not give them the ability to excel in national examinations and have the confidence to progress in their careers.
The facilities and infrastructures at our al mater is very depressing. According to the Old Boys leadership, the current conversation about the decay in our schools has attracted the attention of The Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese, His Grace John Baptist Odama. He is reported to have called for a meeting with the leadership of Bishop Angelo Negri Old Students Association (BANOSA). We must welcome this gesture to have an honest discussion with the Archbishop. We shouldn’t lose hope and focus on getting back schools under the Archdiocese on track.
Here is a sample of people who went through Bishop Angelo Negri Primary school and are making a remarkable contribution in various sectors; Dr. Oringtho Stephen is Medical Superintendent at Anaka General Hospital.(At school he was famous for his bend it like Beckham corner kicks nicknamed Banana ), Dr. Edward Ogwang is one of the few Dermatologists in Uganda. He also lectures at the Gulu University Medical School, Dr. Olum John Paul is a General Practitioner at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, Dr. Caesar Otim is ENT specialist at Mulago National Referral Hospital. Dr. Thomas Odong is a plant breeder at the RUFORUM, a Regional Program on Plant Breeding, Biotechnology and Seed
Systems Programs at Makerere University and West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI). Eng. Ojok Isaac initially worked with MANTRAC, a brand with global reputation for supplying construction equipment and generators.
He is currently works with KCCA. Louis Okello is Technical Advisor-Governance at GIZ (Uganda Country Office). Oketayot Geoffrey, a former Head Prefect who was known for his kindness unlike other prefects is Finance Manager at Mednet Healthcare (U) Ltd. Former Head-prefect Alex Latim in the late 1980’s lives in London and continues to provide leadership among the Old Boys by organizing meetings to keep them updated with what is going on in the school. Tom Nyeko-Olam lives in London too and is Director of Africa Jobs Limited: UK. Previously he worked as Senior Consultant with Thomas Laker Associates. Oola Samuel’s command of the English language and confidence always set him apart from other pupils during his days at the great school. He contested in the last EALA elections but was a few votes shy in winning the coveted position of Legislator. With the revised election road map released by the EC chairman Justice Simon Byabakama, Sam says he is contesting in the new Gulu West constituency. Daniel Opiyo belongs to the last group of the late 1990’s lot who were lucky to study in Negri just before the gradual decline started. He went to another Catholic institution; Uganda Martyrs University and worked at Parliament of Uganda, AAR Health Service and Insurance in Northern Uganda. Current Daniel works with The Joined UAP –Old Mutual Investment Group. The caliber of jobs and responsibilities held by this generation that got their primary education during the time missionaries were in charge says a lot. These days parents who are looking for very good education and grades for their children have to endure the inconvenience of traveling long distances to Kampala and beyond.
It would be very unfair not to mention some teachers, matrons that were very instrumental in seeing the high achieving lot through the school. Matron Rose will always be a favorite, very kind and motherly. It was exciting to meet her at Sr. Veronica’s farewell in Namugongo. Matron Margaret worked tirelessly to see that both regular uniform and the after bath uniforms were always provided. Matron Maria who helped Kasimiro in kitchen to enable good nourishment. They were wonderful parents to us. All the other teaching and support staff were great. Mr. Abacu, who retired from the teaching service as Headteacher of a primary school in Coo Pee is remembered by most OBs as the best Maths teacher in Northern Uganda. Sir Ken who taught Maths in Gulu Public School is also referred to by his former pupils as an excellent teacher of a subject many feared. Do we still have such good teachers? Mr. Linus Lajul who taught science is now a teacher of Biology at St. Joseph’s College Layibi having taught at Teso College Aloet before. Mr. Dominic Otto aka Scientist, why not? made learning science very interesting. He now works with the District Local Government in Amuru. Mr. Canpawegi, Bro. Santo Okema and Mr. Olobo are talked about as very good teachers of the English Language. The fact that the boys are eloquent and confident while expressing themselves is testament of the good teaching of the staff then. A prominent member of the community raised a complaint that most of the good teachers from the Northern part of country have left for greener pasture in Kampala. This allegation has to be interrogated seriously. Can’t schools in Northern Uganda give good remuneration to their teachers? What should be done to avoid the exodus of teachers?
What is very special with traditional Catholic schools like St. Mary’s College Kisubi, St. Henry’s College Kitovu, Mount St. Mary’s College Namagunga whose excellent standards haven’t dropped since the leadership transfer from white missionaries to the Ugandan Brothers of the Christian Instruction and Nuns from Congregations within Uganda.
I will quote an excerpt from the inaugural Lapwony Micheal Ocan memorial lecture delivered in 2018 at the Gulu District Council Hall to show how serious the education problem is; “ it will not be possible to revive the civilization, education, culture and prosperity of Acholi land. Impossible. We cannot do when there are only small islands of children who are educated when the rest are wallowing in poverty and ignorance; those who can afford very high paying private schools when about 90% of the children are failing in schools with dismal performances. There is no way Acholi land can be revived on that basis. The few children taken to Kampala will be absorbed in Kampala; they will remain there and this place will stay backward.
I was fortunate to have gone to the schools I went, I was fortunate that my parents could pay school fees, what happens if it been the opposite, what happens if my parents were too poor to pay fees?” The standards of schools within the Gulu Archdiocese needs improvement as soon as possible to allow more pupils and students to study from home as well as make contributions in School Development when parents have more confidence in the system and management.
Jimmy Odoki Acellam is Coordinator of Heartsounds Uganda and has interests in Mental Health Advocacy, Education Matters. He is an Old Boy of Bishop Angelo Negri Primary School.