In Uganda, bringing more children to school by mobilizing communities
In Uganda, the organization Building Tomorrow builds schools and trains young Ugandan graduates to go around the country and enroll children in school.
December 27, 2017 by George Srour, Building Tomorrow
8 minutes read
Students of Building Tomorrow Kyambogo Primary School wave hello to Building Tomorrow staff and goodbye to another year as they celebrate the last days of school in 2017
Students of Building Tomorrow Kyambogo Primary School wave hello to Building Tomorrow staff and goodbye to another year as they celebrate the last days of school in 2017
Credit: Building Tomorrow

It was one of the most exciting days in the life of Building Tomorrow. A member of the new Building Tomorrow Academy of Mabaale’s School Management Committee stood up at the site’s commissioning and held a mirror to the organization’s work:

“You came here and helped us reignite the community we have with one another. That was lost. Now it is found. For this we are so grateful.”

Before Building Tomorrow came to Mabaale, parents in the surrounding communities had two choices: allow their children to walk up to 10 km a day in pursuit of education at a formal school, or send their children to an informal, makeshift school without an accredited teacher. Mabaale’s reality is one that still confronts thousands of communities throughout rural Uganda.

While Uganda enjoyed a significant rise in the number of students accessing primary education since the enactment of universal primary education, today an estimated 700,000 primary-age children in Uganda are still without access to quality education. Currently, 7 out of every 10 Ugandan primary students who begin their studies will not finish a full cycle of schooling. UWEZO reports 85% of students in the equivalent of 3rd grade cannot read, write or do basic math at a second-grade level. 

Building Tomorrow’s experience has shown investments in improving access to quality education must begin with the engagement of local communities like Mabaale. This is achieved through two distinct interventions: the first, working with local communities to construct new primary schools, and second, the Building Tomorrow Fellows Program, placing Ugandan university graduates in rural schools to help connect schools to their local communities while improving the quality of leadership and teaching among a school’s staff. Throughout both of these interventions, Building Tomorrow works with the government—the country’s largest education service provider—to pilot and scale innovations that can have a system-wide impact.

School construction

To date, 62 communities throughout Uganda have supported the construction of a new Building Tomorrow Academy. In doing so, communities pledge over 15,000 hours of unskilled labor and at least three acres of land on which each Academy is built. More than 11,000 students throughout Uganda call a Building Tomorrow-constructed classroom their own.

Once schools are constructed, Building Tomorrow works with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance to ensure that they become sustainably supported as government-aided schools. This partnership is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding that provides for salaries to be paid to teachers, creating a hybrid school structure with Building Tomorrow as a founding body and the government providing ongoing resources.

The Building Tomorrow Fellows Program

Our Fellows Program trains and deploys young Ugandan graduates who catalyze systemic change across rural Uganda’s public education system by strengthening school leadership and the human capacity of teachers. Fellows train School Management Committees to successfully perform their school oversight duties and to create school development plans, which outline goals for improving the school.

Fellows also work to improve teacher effectiveness by facilitating teacher networks, where teachers come together to learn new teaching methods and share innovations. Additionally, Fellows work with community volunteers to enroll or re-enroll school-aged children who have not been in the formal education system while changing the mindsets of their parents on the value of education.

In the last three years, with only 50 Fellows deployed in the field, over 15,000 out-of-school students have been enrolled.

Over the next three years, Building Tomorrow will impact over 280,000 students and enroll 60,000 previously out-of-school children.

The Fellows Program also supports the aims of the Ugandan government by training school leadership on government policies. Although the Ministry of Education has developed comprehensive policies on WASH, child protection, and the roles of a school management committee, the school leadership in most rural communities does not have the resources or training to successfully carry out these policies, and in some instances, rural communities may not even know they exist.

By training schools on government policies, Fellows build the capacity of school leadership to create a well-managed and child-friendly learning environment. Elements of the program are being considered for nationwide adoption by the Ugandan government, including the Fellows’ community-based solutions to bringing students back to school.

Focus on inclusive education

In August 2017, Building Tomorrow launched a partnership with the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation to provide training to Building Tomorrow Fellows in hopes of introducing inclusive education to rural schools nationwide.

UNICEF estimates that only 6% of children with a disability in Uganda access primary school. In many of the rural areas in which Building Tomorrow Fellows work, parents are ill-informed as to how to care for a child with special needs let alone comfortable in sending them to school.

In a bid to start changing the conversation around individuals with intellectual disabilities, Building Tomorrow Fellows will name students with disabilities as Junior Kennedy Fellows at 200 schools to create a corps of ambassadors pushing for change. This will be done in conjunction with conversations with parents and community members around the many benefits of inclusive schools.

Community ownership

Mabaale now has a brand new primary school that educates hundreds of students—many of whom are attending school for the first time. Although Building Tomorrow provided the construction materials and technical knowledge, the school now belongs to the community. Parents regularly participate in school meetings and development planning, and they recognize the value of sending their children to school. The Ugandan Ministry of Education has taken over the ongoing costs by hiring teachers and providing funding for textbooks and scholastic materials, enabling the school to run sustainably.

Today, Mabaale and hundreds of other communities throughout Uganda are benefiting from Building Tomorrow’s community-centered approach to rural education delivery, with the hope of thousands more to come. 

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Uganda

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What a brilliant carefully designed programme - wishing it every success !!

In reply to by Kelvin van Hasselt

Kibibi Royal Vocational Training Institute supports by giving them Skills also needs cooperation with you and support with tools

Dear George and team, thank you for sharing this interesting experience! I would like to learn more from other experiences and other countries experiences on learning improvements based on the active involvement of the communities.

In reply to by Zaida Cabral

Thanks for the comment--in addition to other groups in East Africa, we have looked to a couple programs in India doing great work around this topic as well.

Dear George, thank you for providing this interesting information and experience for development of our nation. I introduce to your Future Glory Nursery, Day care and primary school, a new school in the rural village of Gulu district with the objective of promoting basic education, Increasing the number of school going children and Improving children performance at primary living examination (PLE) level. Support them by providing classroom and sanitation facilities among other requirement

Dear George thanks for the great work you and the team are doing in Uganda. Do you also support Secondary education to assist Post primary education? Or what kind of support is provided to those who complete primary level

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