30 January 2013

Uganda: Asaba Sold His Land to Author Mathematics Books

He is composed, resolute and determined. However risky a venture it looked, he sold off land he had inherited from his father.

He had decided to quit teaching and start publishing books to help in the teaching and learning of mathematics. His passion is now in writing, not teaching.

But he did not have the money to kick-start his dream. Selling off his treasure was the only option left for Vincent Asaba, a retired teacher.

Although this did not come as early as he had expected, Asaba's prayers were partly answered, when in 2004, he resigned from teaching to pursue a career in writing.

He started writing teachers' mathematics guide books. He knew that this was the best way to improve the teaching of mathematics, which has been the worst done subject in Primary Leaving Examinations for the last decade. But he had to start from scratch.

Clad in a long-sleeve blue shirt, grey trousers and black shoes, Asaba is not different from most teachers in Uganda. His manners too, betray him, although he maintains that he lost interest in the job and opted to write.

His passion is still strong and is rife throughout the interview. He, on several occasions, picks papers from his bag, grabs my pen and tries to explain to me some of the new practical concepts he has developed in his teaching guide.

He wears a smile throughout the interview and pays all the necessary attention, like a teacher attending to a pupil. He keeps asking throughout the interview if I have understood his explanations.

His teaching career started in early 1992 at Mugwanya Primary School in Kaboja, where he had applied just after his graduation as a Grade III teacher at Gaba Teachers College. However, he left and joined Aga Khan Primary and later Kampala Parents School before resigning years later.

The 45-year-old teacher wanted to be remembered for making a difference in Uganda's education sector. But he knew this could only be done by leaving a noticeable mark, which he is slowly, but strongly pursuing. He has devoted his life to writing.

Asaba says even before he started out as a teacher, he always wanted to make a difference in people's lives. He admired teachers and always envied some of them, given the respect the profession commanded then, accompanied by the 'attractive' salaries.

"Unlike today, teaching then was one of the most respectable, envious and attractive professions in Uganda," he explains.

As a young aspiring teacher, having lost his father in 1978 while in P.2, he grew up wondering how he would impact the education system, given the large number of teachers in the country. He was challenged by former US president JF Kennedy's quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

He also argues that: "Success is not all about how much wealth one has accumulated, but rather the difference one makes in other people's lives." After being in the profession for over a decade, teaching in three schools and realising he could not create a big impact, he decided to venture into writing.

Although his savings were not enough, he did not give up. He decided to make some sacrifices, consequently selling part of the land he had inherited from his late father to see his dream come true.

He raised about sh10m with which he started the project. However, part of the money came from the contributions of his wife, who is also a teacher.

His books, which have not yet been published, do not teach pupils how to cram and merely pass examinations, but instead offer practical concepts that are easily understood by pupils.

"In most schools, pupils are taught how to cram concepts and formulae and not how to understand them. This is not learning," argues Asaba.

"This, therefore, means that after the cram work has served its purpose, the pupil forgets everything. But learning means accumulating knowledge," he adds. Asaba argues that whereas some textbooks are shallow, his project offers more detailed works with practical solutions.

"My work is unique in a way that it is original and not plagiarised like some of the books and pamphlets on the market. I did research extensively and generated my own content that I deem necessary," he says.

According to Asaba, students are continuously failing mathematics, which he thinks is the easiest subject because it is taught in isolation of other subjects and lacks teaching aids.

He argues that most maths teachers enter the classroom without teaching aides, a reason they are never good at passing on knowledge to the learners.

"Besides, some of these aids are diffi cult to make locally, which poses a challenge to the teachers, given their meagre income," he says.

Asaba adds that in most schools, three quarters of the teaching time is dedicated to passing exams instead of learning. This, he says, is typified in the continuous assessment tests where they keep repeating internal examinations and test questions.

"Duplicating the same questions from the previous test papers and exams only encourages cram work and prepares the student only how to pass examinations and not how to understand,"he explains.

Asaba also notes that poor remuneration of the teachers is also killing the teaching profession. "Generally, teaching is one of the poorly paid professions with a lot of work and expectations from the public," he notes, adding that primary teachers are specifically paid poorly, yet they are the ones who lay the foundation of the children's careers.

He says for pupils to excel in mathematics, the teaching and learning of the concepts should appeal to all the five senses.

"Students should be able to touch, feel, smell, taste and hear theoretical principles and concepts used in the learning of mathematics," he argues in his books.

What Asaba's colleagues say:

His colleagues describe him as a committed teacher, who, during his time in teaching, made sure that all his pupils passed mathematics.

He did not believe in seeing his leaners fail. Asaba says completion of his multimillion project, has, however, been largely hampered by the challenge of limited funds.

He appeals to anyone interested in sharing his dream to assist him complete the publishing of the books.

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