By Patricia Taremwa
Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten and lower primary school is located in Kazo zone off Bwaise, a Kampala suburb. The school runs an integrated system that has parts of the international curriculum and the national curriculum. When Charity Kahuku, the proprietor and director had to get her child into nursery school, she encountered a challenge. The national school standards were quite low and yet the international school curriculums were to a certain degree better, but very expensive.
Kahuku spent 24 years in the international educations system where she was exposed to several curriculum. During this time, she had the chance compare the national and international curriculum. Kahuku admits that both systems have their short comings but they also have strong points.
A report compiled after the 1st National Conference on Learning Outcomes in Uganda brought together information centers including Uwezo, Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and National Assessment for progress in Education (NAPE) in partnership with Kyambogo University, Makerere University and Curriculum, Assessment and Certification Systems Architect – Australia (CACSA). Research carried out by these two groups of stakeholders revealed that Uganda failed to meet key Millennial Development Goals in Education.
The learning outcomes needed by the world of work were not being realized. It was recorded that high academic qualifications were attained by students but practical and important competences needed for the real world like critical thinking, team work, creativity and resilience among others were not acquired. What the latter situation ultimately concludes in a write up produced by Uwezo is that, students who are being schooled but are almost not learning at all.
Research done by motherly, an online website that aims at providing mothers with practical parenting advise reveals that the first three to six years of children’s lives are a period when they learn easily. According to Motherly, foundations for attitudes, thinking, learning among others are established in this period.
Gertrude Tumusiime is a parent who has put her child through Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten. She attests to the fact that the school gave her child a holistic experience of education by meeting her child’s academic, social and psychological needs. Her child Natasha enrolled at Bethel Bunnies when she was just 2 years and 2 months old. Natasha who as a young pupil needed more social attention and connection with her teacher was able to thrive in this environment.
Natasha’s grades had been seen to fluctuate with how she was doing socially. She is in St. Theresa Namilyango girl’s school in primary four and she is doing well according to her Mother.
Tumusiime also doubles as a school owner at a primary school called Skylark and she has admitted some pupils from Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten. When asked if pupils from Bethel Bunnies were any different, she said she realized they spoke good English and they were more confident than the ordinary child their age.
Another parent only identified as mummy Hope said that she had children who had gone through Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten and they had now transferred to City Parents school, a school that strictly runs a for upper primary education and they were doing well.
The method approach in teaching various aspects like education and hygiene is also different, an example given is one where an aspect like teaching about school is introduced. Instead of asking what the importance of school is and teaching pupils to cram the various uses mentioned, the children are asked to mention the people in the school environment and how they contribute to it. In that way the children do not only learn about schools but they also learn that all the people around them are equally important.
She also highlighted a flaw in the international curriculum myths like maintaining smaller groups. With her fairly large classes she realizes that the numbers do not matter for as long as the methodology is well thought through and implemented to help achieve one’s goal.
Aside from the national curriculum which she follows, Kahuku says they borrow greatly from the Jolly Phonics which helps them to learn reading, writing and spelling.
Kahuku says she puts emphasis on reading which is something that is not emphasized in our national curriculum but is emphasized in the international curriculum. As she took us through some classes the teacher quickly changed the program to allow the children to do some reading in order to prove what she explained.
Being Inquisitive, research and reading are some of pillars upon which bethel bunnies stands. Kahuku explained how in a subtle way she plants the seed of research in the littles ones who are about 3 years old. She reads to them from a book of which they are given a copy, and then later reads out a sound and asks the pupils to identify it and show it to her. Once a pupil identifies it he or she is free to approach her and show it to her.
Kato is a school inspector who inspects schools around Kazo area. When contacted and asked about the school methodology of teaching, he said it is a good methodology in a sense that the environment was conducive for pupils to study. He also positively commented on the display of work in the classrooms. Mr. Kato said that he commended the school in regard to sanitation.
A limitation cited by Kato was that the content should be put in a more local context. When asked to give a specific example he said he would reserve his comment as he had not critically looked at all the content. He also said he would not comment concerning the difference he saw in Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten and the surrounding schools.
The teacher-pupil relationship is one of the things that have been mended in the Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten. The national school setting presents a teacher as someone who is not only unapproachable but one who pupils have to be afraid of and the reality is that pupils are afraid of teachers. In this setting however, children have been encouraged to be inquisitive, to fearlessly approach teachers and ask where they do not understand.
The relationship between the students and the pupils is so closely knit that the progress of students is monitor and the schools that receive them are quite impressed with how the children carry on. The school system has sent out children to schools like Sir Apollo Kaggwa, Winston among others. An incident that Kahuku cited was when a primary two pupil went to visit her sibling who is in primary four at a different school, and pupil casually at passed around the classroom reading chats that were primary four stage. Surprised, the teachers inquired which class she was in and her being in primary two was quite astonishing.
Kahuku also says parents around her community have commended her because of the significant difference they’re noticing with their children and inspectors of schools who were initially skeptical about her methodology are now always impressed.
Bethel Bunnies Kindergarten also charges about 300,000/- to 400,000/- which for an average income household would be a fair amount for an average parent who could be bound to pay 600,000/- or more in a similar school.
A factor that limits the school system is facing is breaking old age cultures which partly start at home. Even as confirmed by Kahuku, in the African culture, children do not talk back to elders. This is a double ended situation as inquiring is not always a bad thing. In the setting where most children come from and Uganda in general, being inquisitive can be mistaken for being rude. In the face of this challenge, children are encouraged to ask and express themselves differently. An example that was highlighted was that in the even a child is given a gift at home that she does not like, she is encouraged to appreciate it but then also tell her parent what she would prefer instead. In this way the children gradually learn to question things and be involved in the learning process.