Uganda’s education is plagued with a multitude of challenges and incidences of retarding educational outcomes have been reported. Examples of shortfalls highlighted include poor performance, low completion rates and even low literacy and numeracy among pupils. These drawbacks are attributed to poor learning environment, poor knowledge delivery at schools and absenteeism.

Primary education in Bududa district is characterized poor performance and high school dropout rates (EMIS, 2014). Absenteeism by both teachers and pupils as a recurrent phenomenon is attributed to inadequacy of teacher housing, steep terrain, weather calamities and participation in the local economy. The trends in learning outcomes and challenges of the education sector are not unique, however for Bududa’s case, the existence of two markets organized during working is a major factor which strays children away from attending school. According to residents in the area, during market days, children are forced by their parents either to transport goods from their homes to markets or to tend to their younger siblings as the family head(s) go to earn the much needed income. The vibrancy in the market attracts teachers’ participation to the extent that children who go to school do not learn.

buwaali child market
School going children participating in a local market in Bududa District.

Aside from forced participation in the market, children are mentally disoriented from school because of their family or individual conditions. Prolonged absenteeism retards academic progress and at later stages either results in poor performance at school or increased dropout rate and illiteracy among the population.

The case with Buwaali Primary School is different. The trends in education outcomes, attitude at the school and attendance of both teachers and pupils contravenes the UPE outcome pattern in Bududa district. Based on data available at the school, overall performance has been improving; better still, the last three years have recorded more girls among the best performing pupils.

 graph 2 buwala school

A closer look at day to day operations of the school revealed that one of the unique attributes is existence of a “child led school-community club”. The club comprises of pupils, teachers and parents as members. As the name suggests, it is steered by pupils with support and participation of the other stakeholders. Its core objective is to nurture motivation and desire for members to look out for each other and help in times of need. Together, club members identify and support school dropouts to reintegrate, recognize individual challenges, carry out guidance & counselling and support the feeding program in the school.

The importance of a child’s emotional wellbeing at a determinant of learning cannot be underscored. According to child development experts, school attendance is hindered by a complex set of intertwined reasons. The most common causes of absenteeism attributed to children are linked to the health, emotional and physiological state of the child. Even when a child goes to school their learning ability may be impaired when they are emotionally unstable. Richard and Abott (2007) argue that the mindset of a child impacts their school performance, teenage parenthood as well as criminal activity.

Among the several options for managing psychological wellbeing of children, supportive networks are identified as strategic. In fact in defining holistic learning, the component of human experiences that permit for self-identity and co-existence with other people and the environment is emphasized. Because of its direct influence on social-emotional health, Ron Miller (2008) identifies personal relationships as central for stability of children. Drawing from this, peer influence is critical for promoting learners’ self-control, independence and cooperation.  

Experience of the child led clubs has shown that where children’s absenteeism is associated social challenges like poverty, chaotic families, emotional or health problems; supportive rather than punitive interventions have been more effective in enabling them cope. Other findings in Uganda have previously reported a positive impact of communal monitoring on school attendance. According to a study on management and motivation in Ugandan Primary schools, participatory community monitoring improved sense of ownership among stakeholders and improved performance.

Over the years, common causes of dropout in Buwaali have been identified as inadequate school feeding, absence of basic needs, limited infrastructure like toilets which have affected participation of especially the girl child and corporal punishment. Within their mandate, the club has endeavored to deal with some of these challenges, which explains their unique outcomes. By complementing education curriculum with material and social support, the club psychologically provides an environment for the child to gain acceptance and trust. Members generally cope better with behavioral, emotional and social difficulties. Club initiatives in the school have had significant effects on teacher attendance as well as parent and school management committee commitment. Team work has improved among pupils, teachers and parents. Teachers in this school are also hailed for timely arrival.

Although differentiating when to refer children to peers or specialists for support has not been explored, the head teacher Mr. Simon Makuma reiterates that the school will continue to combine the hard work and dedication of its teaching staff with efforts of child led clubs as a model to succeed. 

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