Uganda: Solar Lightens Classes in Northern Uganda

Gulu — Sheila Ayo, 13, a former pupil of Pokwelo Primary School in Gulu, northern Uganda, will be joining her dream school, Trinity College Nabbingo, after a good performance in the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE). She passed with a first grade (12 points) last year.

Dominic Ondongo, a former pupil of Labuuoromor Primary School passed his PLE with a super second grade, 14 points, granting him passage to secondary school education. Earlier on in the Primary Level Mock Examinations Ondongo scored 25 points.

That kind of performance or a worse performance wouldn't enable him go to a good school and threatened his post primary education.

Ondongo had to study hard and improve so he could get better marks to join Gulu Secondary School, the school he fancies.

The success story of Ayoo and Ondongo is one that is earned on a bed of roses but rather through hard work, perseveres and sacrifice.

The two pupils and many others in northern Uganda are enduring terrible learning conditions just to achieve the promises that formal education can deliver to them.

Some pupils are lucky to get past Primary Level and progress to Secondary Level and later join a university or tertiary institution.

Many bow out at the Primary Level because of diverse reasons. Some especially the girl-child are forced into early marriage. Some children are forced to labour to earn a wage. Some children are orphaned and have no one to turn to for financial support. The reasons are diverse. Fact is pupil need tuition fees, scholastic materials, financial and moral support.

Northern Uganda continues to nurse and heal the wounds inflicted during the two decades of war orchestrated by Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The war demobilized the way of life in the region. Elders and leaders in the region are relying on education as a pillar in the quest for a better life and eventual return of greatness that once described the region.

This quest however has its well documented hurdles that have made it hard for the realization of proper education standards if compared to other parts of the country particularly central Uganda.

The lack of scholastic materials, classrooms, teaching staff and continued poverty has made it hard for the northern region to acquire quality education.

Northern Uganda was one of the regions with a poor performance in the last PLE examinations.

But all hope is not lost as new partnerships are being formed to ensure that less privileged learners are in different ways helped to improve academically and be at the same level with the well privileged ones in urban areas.

For the second and now third year running, employees of Century Bottling Company (CBL) also known as Coca-cola Uganda the makers of Coke products in the country have been able to install solar energy panels in different schools in northern Uganda.

The solar panels produce light which has been wired in classrooms, teacher's staff rooms and security lighting.

The availability of lighting has enabled pupils and teachers to have extra learning hours and enabled pupils to learn at night.

Coca-cola Uganda employees under their Community Development Projects initiated the Light for Education project in which they pool together money from their salaries and other resources and they send it to northern Uganda to help rural schools.

To date Ush150m (about US $ 56,603) has been spent on installing solar panels in 35 schools to enable pupils carry on with their studies in when darkness returns.

The solar panels provide lighting in classrooms, teacher's staff rooms and security lighting.

In the first year of the projects nine schools in the districts of Pader, Lamwo and Kitgum benefitted. Last year, January 12 schools in Gulu had solar panels installed benefiting over 1000 pupils.

Last week, CBL employees where in Lira district at Akia Primary School to commission the Light for Education project that will benefit close to 1500 pupils in14 schools in the area.

"We took it upon us to do something for the communities. The best foundation you can give to the future leaders is education," said Maureen Kyomuhendo, the Corporate and Public Affairs Manager at Century Bottling Company.

Such help has motivated pupils to read hard during night and morning preps. The availability of light also meant that teachers can plan for the next day's lessons early enough.

"We learnt so much during preps. We were inspired to come in and study at night and those who couldn't come in the night would come in early in the morning at five and read," Ayoo, a former P7 pupil and beneficiary said in an interview.

Joyce Acan Orema, the headmistress of Pokwelo Primary School stated that since the solar lights were installed, there has been an improvement in class performance as the PLE exams showed.

Acan said that Pokwelo P/S in 2012 had only one first grade out of 38 candidates but when Coca Cola installed the solar power lights in 2013 the school has improved its performance after it registered eleven first grades, 38 second grades and six in third grade out of the 55 candidates who sat the final national examinations.

"The performance has improved drastically. All of them succeeded. This year we have not had any fourth grades or ungraded pupils. They all passed because the solar lightings helped them read extra hours, it enables them to come for evening preps," the headmistress pointed out.

The headmistress adds that light was a motivation for pupils to read and revise.

Simon Elaku, a Primary 7 teacher at Pokwelo Primary School said the school was privileged to have solar at the school because it made reading and revising effective.

"We encouraged our pupils to read so they can improve. The presence of solar light has done something to motivate pupils and teachers," Elaku said.

Elaku explained that the presence of lights around the schools has improved security. He said the schools never incur any maintenance costs because the sponsors, Coca Cola takes care of that always.

Elaku observed that not all pupils were able to come to school to make use of the facilities because they have to walk several miles to get school. It was not safe for them to come to school at night. The same challenge affected teachers who couldn't come to teach in the night for fear of their safety.

Elaku says that if the school had dormitories and enough teacher houses the case would have been different and many learners would have benefitted and passed well.

Kyomuhendo said that Century Bottling was committed to reach other schools because they want rural schools to favorably compete with the pupils of Kampala and other urban centers.

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