Learning about Great Leaders Cross Curricula
Two years ago, I moved out of Kampala to support a team building an alternative model for educating children in Uganda. Like me, the members of this team, and their leader, believed that our public and private education systems weren’t doing enough to prepare children to function effectively in a fast-changing world. Some are teachers by training. Others are spiritual or intellectual nomads who love teaching.
I first visited Sadhguru School as a guest poet invited to inspire a love for poetry in the children. The school was in its fourth year at the time. They had been using Activity Based Learning and Montessori to deliver an international standard of education to rural children at Ndali, a village 25km away from Fort Portal City. I was instantly enthralled.
Sprawling along a valley enclosed by regenerated forest, tall hills with an imposing humanesque presence, and a crater lake that appears on Uganda’s 20,000shs note, it felt like the school sat in the palm of an ancient, wise deity.
The atmosphere was tranquil and calming the moment you stepped onto the premises. The buildings felt like they were engrossed in a mute conversation on intelligent co-existence with nature. The lawn was clean and well-kempt. The teachers and ground staff were warm and friendly, albeit busy. And the children seemed like they were actually happy to be in school — a sentiment I never felt in my school-going years. I wanted to be part of whatever was going on here.
A year later, while taking a break from city life to rejuvenate my creative juices, I found myself volunteering at the school. The school was starting its secondary section and I was asked to help develop the curriculum — a task that gave me the opportunity to experience the school from within.
Sadhguru School caters to a demographic of children getting the short stick in life and education. They live in a part of Uganda where the economy is so bad that many households barely earn more than 100,000shs a month, so access to meaningful education is non-existent.
As you know, the public education system has been plunged into comatose with its ill-thought and under-funded UPE and USE programs. If private schools in Kampala have reduced children to exam-passing memorization robots to feed their ever-increasing avarice for first grades — because first grades mean more parents, more money, and more profit — you can imagine what the neglect of rural schools has reduced the public education system to.
Sadhguru School is one of a few initiatives rising to the occasion to solve this problem. But what I find most outstanding about their approach is their commitment to providing an international level of education. Never in my life did I imagine that I’d ever find a school giving an IGCSE to children in a rural pocket of western Uganda. Yet here they were.
We all know the merits of the IGCSE system. It’s a dynamic and ever-evolving model of pedagogy. But Sadhguru School goes beyond that. The children also receive yoga classes, psychosocial support from teachers, knowledge of modern gardening, exposure to all sorts of professionals who visit to expand their worldview, language training in Rutooro (the language of the region where the school is found), education in performing and literary arts, a comprehensive program for their physical development, and a diet that balances some of the nutritional shortfalls that have become endemic to rural settlements in Uganda.
In the time since I joined, the school has embarked on a journey to evolve its Activity Based Learning model into a Project-Based Learning model that makes me wish I could be young again so I could go to school in a place like this.
With Project-Based Learning, students learn a mixture of curriculum and extra-curricula material through simulations of real-life situations. For instance, a project to turn a 4x5m garden into a 3-acre farm requires students to apply knowledge of maths (ratio, fraction, scale, etc), soil composition (soil) and agriculture to complete the project.
As the students work, teachers will require them to keep records and write essays (and sometimes poems) at certain points, thereby enriching their language development. For them, learning is an integrated experience that breaks the tedium of taking subjects that will never be useful to your life.
To get the most out of Project-Based Learning in a rural environment where there’s no access to modern books and technology, Sadhguru School is moving to set up smart classrooms to maximize their model’s transformative potential.
Smart classrooms are currently the best way to connect students to the galaxy of knowledge available in the digital space. They also prepare them to function effectively in an increasingly digital world.
But for all the wonderful work the school is doing, it struggles to sustain the right mix of resources and staff needed to maintain an international quality of education. As with most initiatives solving a major social problem, funding is a constant battle.
From what little I’ve experienced observing these students at close quarters for a year now, I’m convinced beyond reasonable doubt that enabling this model is probably the most important thing to make happen; not just in Uganda’s education sphere, but all Africa’s.
This model goes beyond making learning interesting and practical. It prepares students to integrate diverse fields of knowledge in solving real-world problems.
That is how we prepare our children to become problem-solvers.
Every child has a right to quality education. Not just because the SDGs say so. But because children are the true wealth of any nation and when we cultivate their potential we unlock limitless possibilities for our most pressing problems.
Sadhguru School’s model is doing just that. That is what makes it so important. The moment this model is perfected and shipped to every school in Uganda and Africa, the promise of cultural and economic renaissance that has eluded us since independence will cease to be a hope. It will become a tangible reality.
You, too, can be part of the solution. You can volunteer to spend a year or three teaching at the school.
You can contribute a portion of your monthly income to the school.
You can make a one-off donation, a quarterly donation, or an annual donation.
No amount is too big or too small.
On 25th June, the students of Sadhguru School presented a play at Kampala National Theatre — Isaza & the King of the Underworld; a musical production based on a popular legend of how the mightiest empire in the region’s history came to an end.
The play re-enacts the events of Isaza’s clash with Nyamiyonga with a potpourri of dialogue, rap, song, and dance. The songs and dances are taken from Tooro and Bunyoro, twin kingdoms ruled by a lineage that claims to be the last legitimate heir of the Tembuzi dynasty. The raps are written by the students. And the dialogue is the joint effort of teachers Daniel and Carol.
Before Uganda was ever Uganda, there were four kingdoms locked in a never-ending dance for ascendence. Buganda in the central region, Bunyoro in the northwest, Tooro in the midwest, and Ankore in the southwest.
But before any of these kingdoms ever existed, they were once provinces of a larger and much more revered polity — the empire called Kitara.
Legend has it that Kitara’s borders went all the way to Kakamega in western Kenya, perhaps even Nakuru; to northern Tanzania, all the way to Tabora; to eastern DRC, all the way to Beni; ensconcing the lakes now erroneously known as Victoria, Albert, George, and Edward within its territory.
Kitara is fabled to have been founded by the first Bantu settlers during the early period of the Great Bantu Migration (1000 BCE), who came into the great lakes region with knowledge of iron smelting, crafts, crop and animal husbandry, city building, centralized government, and the clan system of organizing society.
To the original settlers of the region, whose economy mostly consisted of living off the forest, the newcomers seemed like magical beings.
This production is a good demonstration of how the school’s unique pedagogy brings mundane subjects to life.
The idea to do the play, incidentally, came from a teachers’ meeting. Year 3 students had been learning about Tooro culture and folklore in class and one of their favourite topics was the Legend of Isaza & Nyamiyonga.
A volunteer from Kenya who happened to be there when the legend was taught thought the story was rich material for a musical. One comment in a staff meeting became a project. And before anyone could say #IsazaUnderworld, the entire school was rolling up sleeves and getting to work.
From Reception to Year 6, the entire school came together to build, stage manage, and organize a production that was nothing short of mesmerizing. Early Years and Key Stage 1 students helped their music teacher build the dance and songs.
Key Stage 2 students worked with their art and tailoring instructors to design costumes, props, and items for the set. And under the stewardship of arts teachers Natasha, Massa, and Gideon, a work of magic came to life.
Sadhguru School nestled below Nyinambuga Lake
Learning English vocab through play
Preparing for #IsazaUnderworld