Uganda: Brain Behind the Inaugural Chinese Syllabus in Uganda

18 November 2019

Silas Oluka loves learning languages. The 31-year-old teaches Mandarin, English, and Literature in English, as well as Physical Education and General Paper at Teso College Aloet.

Born in Nyero hardly a kilometre away from the historical rock paintings in Kumi, Oluka is a resident of Soroti. He was named after his father. Born to Agnes Apolot, he is the last born of five children. His father, a prominent businessman in Kumi, had 27 children before his death in 2007.

"I shared so much of his love that is why he gave me all his names," Oluka proudly recalls, adding that he sees his father's traits in himself.

"He was an amazing father; kind, caring and very intelligent that many people looked up to him in the community. He was also a very generous person and our home was as big as a barracks as my father kept relatives, in-laws and some members from the community. He was a fine football player too and played as a striker with Ngora Rock Stars. All this aside, he was a hardworking man," Oluka recounts.

His love for sports

As a child, Oluka played and developed a deep love for volleyball, which is taken as the 'national sport' of Kumi. He played with his friends but his passion lay elsewhere. He had to make way for a teaching career although it was never in his family.

"I picked teaching from my personal interest because I like to guide others. My father was always at the forefront and I felt teaching would make me like him. I wanted to be sought after in the community," Oluka says.

"My desire to pursue a teaching career started in primary school due to how intelligent my teacher Steven Olokojo's of Kumi Primary School was. His children were my friends. But at Jinja College the passion died out as sports and student leadership made me think I could become a lawyer, journalist or administrator. But I revived the passion for teaching at Rock High School in Nyero during A-Level," Oluka says.

Oluka started school at Victoria Nile Primary School in Jinja for lower primary and completed from Kumi Boys before joining Jinja College from Senior One to Senior Three.

He completed O-Level at Rock High School and joined Ngora High School where he completed A-Level in 2007.

"My dynamics of paying school fees were not easy and it became even more evident that I could not pursue Law and Mass Communication," Oluka, who was the best student in Kumi District with 18 points in History, Literature, Economics and Divinity, said.

"I suffered another heartbreak when despite being the best student in Kumi my points could not enable me pursue Law or Mass Communication on government sponsorship," he said. Instead, he was admitted to Makerere University on a Diploma in Leisure and Hospitality. He pleaded for change of course but could not manage the costs involved. Hospitality was not something he envisioned himself studying given that Teso sub-region could not offer many opportunities in that area.

Rescue plan

Good thing he had done dress rehearsals in teaching during Senior Six vacation when he taught in Mayirikiti, Nakasongola District.

"I applied for a Diploma in Education at Kyambogo University because selections for National Teachers' Colleges (NTCs) had not yet been done. I chose Literature in English as my teaching subject, after all teaching still promoted my interests in sports, leadership and guidance and schools are everywhere," Oluka says.

He was admitted to NTC Ngetta where he graduated with a second class upper diploma in 2009.

Thus his teaching journey started at Bethany Girls' SS in Soroti and Amuria Secondary School, where he was a part-timer. In 2010, government advertised teaching jobs and he was enrolled but his challenge was that he was two years shy of the required age of 23 years.

"I had a lot of testimonials that backed my good academic papers but the interview panel was concerned, with one of them even asking me; aren't you going to spoil our girls?" he recounts.

"I answered her, 'your intentions are clear. You are looking for people to teach students and my interests are equally clear. I am looking for a job, not someone to marry'," he adds.

Oluka got the job despite sitting the same interview with the head teacher who taught at one of his former teachers.

He was posted to Mbale Secondary School but Sylvester Ocatum, the former head teacher of Teso College Aloet who had monitored Oluka at Amuria SS worked hard for his stay. At Amuria, he was named head of English department.

"My unique experience was that Soroti was recovering from the war and some students were all older than me." Oluka found a strong school team which acted as a feeder for Amuria Crane City, now Light SS Football Club, which he also founded with Simon Otim.

During the time, Amuria SS became a regular at national sports competitions. Oluka had made his mark as he was elected a Fufa delegate in 2009 while also acting as the Teso region football association general secretary.

Moving on

When he sought to upgrade, he joined Wiggins SS Kumi in 2012, effectively interacting with his birthplace for the first time. Oluka enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts with Education at Uganda Christian University (UCU).

At Wiggins, his star continued to shine as he was named the game's master and school coach. After many years, Wiggins qualified to the regional football finals.

Oluka graduated from UCU in 2017 as the best student in Education which opened up more opportunities for him.

He recalls that during the graduation, the then minister of Education Jessica Alupo as guest of honour was impressed by a fellow Itesot being the best.

When she learned of an opportunity for panel members at the NCDC to design the inaugural Chinese language syllabus, she seconded him.

At the same time, he enrolled at the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) as an examiner for Literature Paper One, a role he plays todate.

With many schools keen on working with him, his mentor, Ocatum, now at Teso College, took him on in 2014 before he was named the games teacher after working for a year.

In 2015, he undertook training as Chinese language curriculum developer. His journey started at the Confucius Institute at Makerere University before graduating with a Post-graduate Diploma in Chinese language from Xiangtan University, China last year.

He attended the course with four others, including; Adramungu Nihendri, Osbert Atuhaire, Prof Matthias Lumumba and Scovia Ayikoru.

As the best student, he was awarded a four-year master's scholarship which he will embark on next year. Chinese, which is the sixth language in the country's secondary school curricula, is now his passion.

Motivation

Oluka is a very ambitious person. His target is to become a university lecturer as well as work with Chinese firms. "I want to expand my horizons which might not be possible with my current job."

He lives by a motto he got from American painter William H Johnsen; "If it is to be, then it is up to me."

"My belief is that I am destined for something great. I grew up in a rich family but many of my siblings did not succeed. People mock teaching but I want to make a different type of teacher. I am happy it is happening," Oluka says.

In 2012, he settled with his long-time girlfriend and together they have two daughters. He lives a busy life as a sports administrator, Caf-C licenced football coach and athletics Level One coach.

Oluka's brief bio

Silas Oluka started school at Victoria Nile Primary School in Jinja and completed from Kumi Boys. He joined Jinja College from Senior One to Senior Three and completed O-Level at Rock High School from where he joined Ngora High School for A-Level and completed in 2007. He was admitted to NTC Ngetta where he graduated with a second class upper diploma in 2009. He started at Bethany Girls' SS in Soroti and Amuria Secondary School. In 2010, he got onto government teaching job at only 23. He joined Wiggins SS Kumi in 2012 and enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts with Education at Uganda Christian University. He graduated in 2017, was given an opportunity to be a panel member at the NCDC to design the inaugural Chinese language syllabus. That same year, he became an examiner for Literature Paper One at the Uganda National Examinations Board. In 2015, he undertook training as Chinese language curriculum developer at the Confucius Institute at Makerere University before graduating with a Post-graduate Diploma in Chinese language from Xiangtan University, China last year. He was awarded a four-year master's scholarship which he will embark on next year.

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