After a hot morning at the S.t Joseph Nansana Catholic School, a primary school in the suburbs of Kampala, followed by a site tour of an education- and health-focused NGO based in Nansana, called “Nurture Africa”, exhaustion overruled our group’s ability and willingness to actively engage in discussion. Even the vanilla ice cream bought at our roadside stop that reminded many Hopkins students of Betty Crocker Vanilla Frosting, and was deliciously cold hadn’t helped much.
While our trio’s focus for the trip was on education, we had planned for a rather academic reflection session with our peers. Looking at the tired faces, and back at each other, we knew we’d pull this through.
While in Uganda, we had predominantly focused on the disparities between public and private schools, at both the primary and secondary levels. Specifically, we had looked at the effects of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE), policies with the goal of providing free primary and secondary education to children in Uganda. Furthermore, our time in Uganda had coincided with the release of PLE results, the marks on the national Primary Leaving Examination, that likely cemented the fate of many young minds. The exams and results had served as a great backdrop to our lively discussions that settled around the inequity between public and private schools, and had highlighted educational patterns similar not across Uganda and in the US, but maybe across the World. While entertaining these similarities, we had begun forming a draft for our reflection.
When planning four our reflection session, and throughout the trip, the diversity of our trio played an essential role in steering conversation. Amongst the three of us, we had attended both public and private schools in a total of six different countries: Switzerland, Germany, Uganda, Ivory Coast, and the USA. Through our own experiences, our group discussions, and our experiences during structured activities in Uganda, we realized just how much we had in common, and what a large role misconceptions, especially in regards to education could have. With this in mind, we began our reflection session.
While the fatigue was still visible in our peer’s faces while we questioned them about their academic past, we did find out some interesting facts about our group:
- Most JHU students attended public secondary schools; most Makerere students attended private secondary schools.
- JHU students generally defined their scholastic experience by social experiences, Makerere students by academic rigor.
- For most students, at least one parent had previously attended university. (The three students whose parents both had not attended university were all from Hopkins)
- When inquiring about student’s perception of their secondary education system’s fairness (predominantly in regards to gender), we got mixed, but overall relatively positive answers from both Makerere and Hopkins students.
- The majority of students, Makerere and Hopkins alike, perceived their secondary education as extremely helpful and beneficial in their development. (Three students felt that their social experiences and environments, especially at the university level, were more impactful in their development)
- While parental involvement varied from person to person regardless of origin, all students acknowledged that parental value of education is a critical factor in educational achievement.
- Given enough money and the choice of sending their children to either a public or private school of similar academic reputation, most students, from both universities, would send their child to the same type of secondary school they attended (ie. If they attended private school, they would send their child to private school and vice versa)
To conclude our reflection session, we handed out pieces of paper with two questions:
1) Public school students: How would you describe a private school?
Private school students: How would you describe a public school?
2) If you could only send one of your children to school, would you send your son or your daughter?
While public school students (predominantly American) described public schools as “snotty”, “prestige”, “elitist”, “having better teachers and academics”, “affluent” and “sheltered”, their public school attending counterparts (mostly Ugandan) described private schools as “congested”, “underequipped”, “”having limited options”, “full of inequality”, and “diverse”. As discussed as a group after reading out the results, we realized that both public and private students had a largely negative opinion about the opposite type of school.
While our discussion was cut short by our speaker, a head teacher from Kampala entering the room for our talk, our trio was pleasantly surprised to note that, when faced with the choice of only sending one, the majority (63%) of our group would send their daughter, rather than their son to school. This ended our day on a rather optimistic note, especially after weeks of reading and hearing about the high drop-our rate of girls in Uganda.