Harriet Nomi Namusoke is using her experience as a teacher in the UK as well as connections in the diaspora to champion the education of unprivileged children in a rural village in Kakiri and beyond, writes Justus Lyatuu.
Namusoke has an unquenchable passion for teaching that goes back to the eighties. After completing her grade III teaching course at Shimoni Teachers College, she taught in various schools such as Kampala Parents School, St Savio Kisubi and St Mary’s primary school Nabbingo.
She moved to the United Kingdom determined to fulfil her passion and enrolled at Southwark College, where she obtained a diploma in pre-school learning. She later joined Middlesex University, where she attained a degree in primary education and has since then taught in various schools in London.
Her speciality is the proper teaching of reading and writing English using phonics. She returned home for the first time in 2013 and felt the need to share her expertise.
Together with her partner, John Senteza, they set up Basena Agro Creativity Centre in Kabowa, a Kampala suburb. The aim is awakening and strengthening creativity among young learners. “We wanted a place where children would learn with practical examples,” she says.
In 2015, as they went about stocking the centre, she learnt about a rundown primary school in Kakiri, Wakiso district and the community needed help to revamp this hub for three neighbouring villages.
“We were not keen at first but when we reached there, indeed, help was needed and it was hard to turn our backs on those children; we had to help,” says Namusoke.
They took on the task of rescuing this school, which had about 120 learners. It is now called Two Bridges community primary school, named so because it is nestled between two bridges in the village of Kawalira.
“Luckily, we have made friends and well-wishers at home and in the diaspora, who provide some help,” she says. “We are happy with the progress so far, especially seeing children smiling, enjoying school life and progressing in their learning.”
The experience of teaching in two different settings is helping her integrate the phonetic approach at Two Bridges.
“I work alongside the teachers and then assess the children; so far I’m impressed with the progress,” she says. “I also reach out to other teachers in different schools by organising workshops and on general guidance of teaching.”
Currently, the school has approximately 160 children whose parents struggle with the very minimal fees. Some do work at school and engage in activities such as cooking, building, digging or carpentry.
“Others simply offer maize and beans as form of school fees,” she says. “I’m happy parents are trying though a lot still needs to be done for the school to meet the challenges of modern teaching and learning.”
Namusoke co-authored a research titled Fabulous Phonics: A creative approach to teaching reading and writing in The Guardian in which she details the values of the phonetic approach.
In 2016, Two Bridges was selected for partnership by a UK team of educationists because of its creative approach to teaching.
Two weeks ago, a group of students from Royal Russell School in London visited Two Bridges to establish links.
They stayed in the village working alongside the teachers to help the learners. They also got involved with the local community, creating an unforgettable experience for all. Prior to the visit, the visiting students organised fundraising events that enabled three classrooms to be built.
“When these students come and help the school meet some of these challenges, the community is highly appreciative,” says Namusoke.
Explaining the choice to partner Two Bridges, Paul Endersby from Royal Russell says Namusoke’s extensive experience offers learners with an imaginative, thematic and pupil-centred approach to learning.
“I have noted that learners work alongside teachers to deliver this teaching style which has enabled pupils to make accelerated progress,” he says. “I’m glad they are learning to be problem solvers.”
Zack Allen, the spokesman for the group, said: “This experience has been the most profound and life-changing of my life so far.”
The visit came with renewed hope in the community because every school-going child is given an opportunity.
“Such visits offer learners a much-needed exposure and improve their self-esteem,” Namusoke says.
“We try as much to make them critical thinkers and problem solvers equipped with techniques which enable them discover for themselves. They have to see to believe. For example, why should a teacher introduce fractions on the blackboard when he/she can guide them cut an orange or fold a piece of paper?”
Looking ahead, Namusoke hopes to turn Two Bridges into a demonstration centre for other schools in the region.