How to train a generation of schoolhouse leaders

Not everyone would travel 500 kilometers from home to ask the president of Uganda for help attending secondary school, but James Kassaga Arinaitwe was one determined 11-year-old. Three university degrees later, Arinaitwe is still pestering political leaders for educational opportunity, only this time he is not alone.

Sixteen young people set out this February as the inaugural class of Teach For Uganda, a two-year fellowship program founded by Arinaitwe that places university graduates into teaching positions in underserved primary schools across Uganda.

If this program sounds familiar, it is because Teach For Uganda is a member of Teach For All, a global network of organizations based on the Teach For America model.

Social entrepreneur Wendy Kopp founded Teach For America in 1990 when the United States faced a national teacher shortage and education institutions needed to overcome decades of stagnation. Teach For All came about in 2007 after education advocates from as far afield as India and Chile asked Kopp how to replicate her model in their own countries.

“The benefit of Teach For All is that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” says Leigh Kincaid, director of partner support for Teach For All. “Part of our work is capturing and spreading best practices and insights globally,” she says. Today, the network has independent partners in 48 countries, and Teach For Uganda is one of the newest.

Woman standing next to a blackboard teaching seated students in an outdoor classroom (Teach For Uganda)
Teach For Uganda partners with low-resource schools. Here, the students of Matembe Primary School have class outside. (Teach For Uganda)

Arinaitwe calls it education by and for Ugandans: “We know our challenges, our context.” By context, he means the education system’s struggle with teacher absenteeism and high student drop-out rates.

As an 11-year-old, he made a successful plea at the president’s house to pursue secondary school. Later, an American couple sponsored his university education in the United States. But Arinaitwe believes Ugandan students need well-trained teachers before scholarships to go abroad.

When Teach For Uganda began fundraising in 2016, the country’s primary schools were short 23,000 teachers. Half of all working teachers were absent from class each day. This has taken a toll on student outcomes: 57 percent of students do not complete primary school in Uganda, according to the World Bank.

Teach For Uganda offers a dual solution by attracting well-educated graduates as teachers who receive ongoing training in leadership and pedagogy. They then deliver quality instruction for students, who are then motivated to stay in school.

At the start of the school year, Teach For Uganda fellow Patricia Nakimbugwe had a lot of absent students in her fourth-grade and fifth-grade classes at Kasiso Primary School in central Uganda. She and another fellow at the school campaigned to convince the community that a student’s time in the classroom is well spent. “Now, the turn up in these classes is so amazing,” Nakimbugwe says.

“The program is meant to foster strong classroom leaders and long-term leaders in and beyond the classroom,” Kincaid says.