The Family of Humanist Schools in Uganda is Growing

We have just returned from a 3-week visit to Uganda, where we visited some of the growing band of Humanist Schools.

A-Level Chemistry Practical

Isaac Newton High School, near Masaka, is a beacon for high education and welfare standards in its District, where it is the 5th best performing school out of 35. Its visionary and energetic Director, Peter Kisirinya, and the school’s hardworking and talented staff are determined to make it even better. Recent site additions, including a fine new teaching block with 3 additional classrooms and a well-equipped science lab and a second boys’ hostel nearing completion, make the school well-equipped for teaching 600 students, with two classes (North and South) in each O-level year. The school has a thriving Humanist Student Association, which works to improve life in the local villages and promotes First Aid skills with help from the Red Cross.

Winners of Reading for Pleasure Competition

Mustard Seed Secondary School, near Kamuli, is also rapidly becoming the school of choice in its area where, in 2018, the national examination results placed the school 6th out of over 30 schools in its District. As at Isaac Newton School, two-thirds of students board, while the rest walk to school from the vicinity. Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s supporters fund around 60 boarding places in each school. They are allocated to bright children from the most-needy homes. The school has an active sports programme for boys and girls. The boys are proud of their achievement in winning the District CocaCola cup championship this year. There is an active scouting group, which has performed well in competitions around Uganda and in Rwanda. Simon Bogere, the school’s Humanist Counsellor, has just qualified as a Humanist Celebrant and has officiated at his first Humanist wedding.

Primary Children in the Rukoki School

Kasese Humanist School is the umbrella for 3 primaries and a secondary school. They are run by Robert Bwambale, who has an active and inspiring Humanist presence on Facebook. After two attempts in rented buildings in Kilembe, known for mining copper and cobalt, and in the disused railway station in Kasese, Robert bought land next to the Rukoki River and established a permanent primary school which currently educates 69 boys and 70 girls. Two years ago, alongside the primary school he founded a small secondary school, which educates 51 students. He has also constructed a small orphanage (Bizoha), in Mohokya to the south of Kasese, which provides a home for 12 orphan children; a cause dear to Robert’s heart as he himself was orphaned as a young child. Next to the orphanage a successful primary school with 245 children is ably led by their headteacher, Phiona Ngabirwe, who has just completed her Diploma in Education, with help from Uganda Humanist Schools Trust supporters. Another project caters for really needy children of primary age from the destitute fishing village of Kahendero, on Lake George. Unfortunately, the school roll has fallen this year from 200 to 120 after government officials confiscated boats and fishing nets after alleged illegal fishing. Robert has built his schools on a shoestring. He educates really needy children, charging very low fees and subsidising the schools from the proceeds of a number of small businesses. UHST helps the Kasese schools by providing funds for books and science materials. The schools have a strong Humanist ethos and their two best students, for the past 5 years, have been awarded UHST scholarships to attend Isaac Newton Humanist School, near Masaka, where they are among the best performing students in the school as well as being exemplary for their Humanist life stances.

Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School was set up 4 years ago in a small village 3km from the Congo border in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains, the fabled Mountains of the Moon. The initiative came from a group of

Site for new Katumba School

parents,  Maate Hassan, Irumba Juma Siriwayo and Matte Elisha Ssebaddu, who were desperate to provide a decent education for their children. These three provided their own land for the school and created a group of parents to manage it. Using what little money they could muster and using timber cut from local forests they constructed make-shift classrooms with earth floors and opened the school in 2010. In a failed insurrection in 2014 many people in the area were killed, including 100 fathers from the school, leaving 180 children to be brought up by their mothers alone. In that year, disillusioned with religion and witchcraft, the school adopted a Humanist constitution and set out to combat superstition and the influence of local witch-doctors and clerics. The school educates over 200 children and remarkably some of them attain Grade 1 in their primary leaving certificates. Since 2018, UHST has contributed towards the school fees of the 180 orphans and we have given the school money to buy books. We have also provided scholarships to enable 3 children to pursue secondary education at Isaac Newton Humanist School near Masaka. The school has registered as a not-for-profit company and UHST has a Director. During our visit this year we were shown a large, flat plot of land that a parent has given for the building of a new school. We are currently considering whether our charity might be able to raise the resources to help them realise this ambition.

UHST is also corresponding with a number of other schools that embrace a Humanist ethos including:

Pearl Vocational Training College – established by Kato Mukasa, Chair of Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO) – which teaches a wide range of vocational skills.

Kanungu Secular Schools: Comprising Kanungu Humanist Primary School and Rugyeyo Community High School founded by Robert Magara in an area affected by cult killings.

Kasito Vocational College – established by Kisehya Bebson in Bukonzo District near Kasese.

In addition to these, there are a number of other schools in the West of Uganda that are getting help to adopt a Humanist ethos from Hank Pellissier, from the Brighter Brains Institute in the USA.

Given the rapid growth in the number of Humanist schools in Uganda, UHST will be funding a 3rd Uganda Humanist Schools Conference in January 2020. The 3-day conference will be held from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 23rd January

at Isaac Newton High School. It will bring together the full-time teachers from those schools that belong to Uganda Humanist Schools Association, with two representatives from the each of the wider group of schools that have not yet become members.

Teachers at Last Humanist Schools Conference

The conference will enable teachers from the different schools to meet together and share ideas. They will revisit the materials developed a few years ago in the Humanist Ethos Project and refine and extend them. Workshops will be held to finalise the syllabus and materials for a new course on Humanist Philosophy, Society and the Global Environment to be taught to senior 1 and 2 students in Humanist schools. The Raising Voices Project team will lead workshops on how to develop school disciplinary procedures based on empathy and personal responsibility. The final day of the conference will focus on the theme, Raising Educational Standards in Humanist Schools. This will be led by academics from the School of Education at Makerere University, and primary and secondary school examiners and curriculum developers. We are hoping the conference will energise the participants and send them away feeling that they are part of an exciting common endeavour to open young minds by exposing them to liberal secular humanist education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Isaac Newton: Climate Change & other Challenges

New Classroom Block

This is the latest report from Peter Kisirinya, the Director of Isaac Newton High School:

Isaac Newton High School has reached the end of term one of 2019. It is satisfying to reflect on the progress we have made in developing the school and improving the education and welfare of our students, which are both paramount in a Humanist School. We are grateful for the long-term commitment that Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have shown towards helping us to achieve our educational and social goals. The school has developed out of all recognition since we were founded in 2005.

The latest new classroom block is fully completed. This gives us 3 additional classrooms and an additional science laboratory – each with large attached storerooms. The building has been painted and all rooms have chairs and tables. The Ian Gurney Laboratory is furnished and ready for the science equipment and chemicals that we are about to order from a science supplier in Kampala.

2nd boys hostel under construction with refurbished original hostel behind.

The new boys’ hostel is roofed and ceilings have been constructed to reduce the transit of mosquitoes from room to room.  56 double bunk beds have been made ready to accommodate students who, at the moment, are sleeping in make-shift conditions in classrooms.  All that remains is the completion of floor finishes, the fitting of windows and doors, and plastering and painting.

The school has finally been connected to mains electricity from the national grid and we are using it for lighting and for powering computers on cloudy days, when the solar power is low.

We recognise that the standard of nutrition is important, and we have been doing our best to offer a more varied diet. The variety of foods served to the students has been widened by introducing rice and sweet potatoes as a change from posho (maize flour dough). The sweet potatoes we use are a variety which is rich in essential vitamins. Protein comes from beans and peas.

Current Challenges

Our school is close to the equator, in an area that has been used to rain in every week of the year. However, due to climate change, in recent years we have experienced long dry spells followed by torrential rains. This has made crop yields more variable and sometimes lead to a complete failure of the harvest. Low rainfall in February and March has pushed the prices of maize very high indeed. The prices have trebled and, at the time we are breaking off for holidays, a 100 kg sack of maize flour had gone up to 235,000 Uganda shillings (£50) from a normal level of 80,000 Ushs (£16). Unless we can buy maize stocks soon, we will have serious problems feeding our students next term.

Registration for national exams has to be completed by 31st May. Exam entry fees increase each year and late registration attracts a surcharge of 100%. Normally the families are expected to find the exam entry fees, though the school does its best to help the most needy. Unfortunately, by the end of term we have only managed to collect exam fees from 40% of candidates, which leaves a huge gap of unpaid fees. We hope that, as the term starts, some more will pay but others may not be able to before the deadline.

The school contributes to the National Social Security Fund an additional 10% on top of salary for all employees. This will provide a transferable pension fund for everyone who works at the school. It will bring security in old age and helps to encourage staff retention. However, it has substantially increased the cost of running the school and, as we have to make lump sum payments to the government scheme, it puts considerable pressure on our cash budgets.

Until last year, Isaac Newton High School operated with one class in each year. As the school has become more popular, class sizes grew to over 100. This was beginning to have an adverse effect on learning, as students at the back of the class found it harder to hear the teacher and vice versa. To improve matters we move last year to two classes in each year. This reduced average class sizes to 50-60, which are low for Uganda. We are already seeing the educational benefits, but it has had the effect of almost doubling teaching costs, with the consequent financial pressure this brings.

The school’s water is pumped up through a high-pressure pipe from a well in the valley bottom. Unfortunately, the plastic pipes we used have become old and are constantly springing leaks. Replacing this pipe is an urgent priority if we are to maintain our access to clean water for use throughout the school.

The area where the school is located is in the process of being gazetted as part of the greater Masaka City – even though Masaka is a good 10-15 miles away. The consequence of this is that the Masaka authorities will start to levy municipal taxes on the school – this will bring further pressure on the school’s stretched resources.

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Uganda Humanist Schools Trust’s infrastructure appeal reaches the half-way point

UHST is delighted to announce that our 10th Anniversary Building Appeal has brought in donations from our supporters of £75,300. This takes us half-way towards our goal of raising £150,000 to complete the major infrastructure of the two Uganda high schools we support.

During 2018, contributions from UHST supporters have made a huge difference to the Humanist High Schools.

Isaac Newton School has undergone a major transformation. A second girls’ hostel was opened last year. It provides 96 girls with a safe and comfortable place to sleep, overseen by a resident warden. Between 6 and 8 girls share each room, sleeping in double bunk beds. Each room has a ceiling to reduce noise disturbance and to cut down disease transfer by mosquitoes during

New Teaching Block at Isaac Newton School

the night. It is recognised locally as the best girls’ accommodation in the region.

Isaac Newton High School is in a remote rural location, far away from mains water. During 2018, the school alleviated its endemic water shortage by completing a 100,000 litre underground concrete tank that harvests rainwater from the roof of the girls’ hostel. This water is now used for washing clothes and for cleaning. It leaves the pumped water from the well on the valley floor to be used for drinking and for personal hygiene.

A fine new teaching block has just received the last lick of paint. It contains 3 large classrooms and a new A-level science laboratory. The lab has been constructed using funds from North-East of England Humanists and will be named the Ian Gurney laboratory to commemorate the  Newcastle University Physicist, who was an active member of the NE Humanist group. The additional classrooms will

Stone walls to prevent soil slip

enable the school to halve class sizes, which had been exceeding 100, by running two parallel classes in each school year.

Because Isaac Newton High School is on the side of a hill, the building work has required flat stances to be excavated into the hillside, leaving soil cliffs behind each of the new buildings. These pose dangers of soil slip and flooding of the classrooms and hostels from heavy rain storms. Money raised in the appeal has allowed the school to secure the soil with stone walls and to construct culverts to divert rain water.

Before the end of the year the school and 5 local villages will be connected to mains electricity. This is the culmination of a two year project funded in

Humble but life transforming tap for piped water

large part by the World Bank but requiring a contribution from the community of £10,000 which two UHST supporters generously provided. The arrival of electricity in the school and community will trasform the lives of everyone in this remote rural community, and it represents a major benefit that the school has brought to the locality.

Things have been moving at an equally rapid pace at Mustard Seed School. At the end of last year, UHST found the money to connect the school to mains water, from a pumping station on the River Nile. The effect has been transformational. With running water on site washing and personal hygiene is hugely enhanced as well as obviating the need to have students taking time out of lessons to ferry water from the nearest bore hole and pump a half mile away.

Architect’s impression of multi-purpose Hall at Mustard Seed

Early in the year a new teaching block with 4 classrooms and staffrooms was completed with UHST funding. This will allow the school to operate two classes in each year, and so cut class sizes in half.

However, the major project during 2018 has been the completion of a multi-purpose hall that will be used for assemblies, music, dance, drama, school debates and for local community gatherings. Once the Humanist Counsellor has completed his training as a Humanist Celebrant, there are plans to use the hall for Humanist weddings, funerals and baby naming.

Our appeal has recently raised sufficient funds to do something to allevaite the unacceptable levels of overcrowding in the sleeping accommodation at the two schools. We have approved the refurbishment of the old boys hostel at Isaac Newton School, which had never been properly finished. The work includes putting in ceilings, plastering and painting. We have also sent the first instalment of funds for the construction of a much needed second boys hostel at Isaac Newton High School and a second girls’ hostel at Mustard Seed School. Artist’s impressions of these two buildings are shown below:

2nd Boys’ Hostel at Isaac Newton High School

 

2nd Girls’ Hostel at Mustard Seed School

 

 

 

 

 

We are seeking to raise more funds to finish off the basic infrastructure of the two schools. Remaining priorities at Mustard Seed School are to create from the old Hall a new Library  & Information Centre, housing books and computers to support subject study; to enlarge and refurbish the science lab and to generally smarten up the school buildings and site. Isaac Newton School also needs a Library & Information Centre and study space that can also serve as a dining hall.

As these are the first two Humanist Secondary Schools in the world we are seeking to turn them into models for the rest of Africa and the world. We are working with the schools to help them create an exemplary standard of liberal-secular education and welfare. If you would like to help us in our efforts to complete the two schools then we would really appreciate additional donations through our website:

http://www.ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/

Make a donation

A Further Year of Progress at Mustard Seed School

New Multi-use Hall

Moses Kamya, the Director of Mustard Seed School, reports on another year of progress:

“We closed for the end of 2018 holidays on the 7th of December with a total enrolment of 565 children, 333 of whom were in boarding. We conducted UNEB exams successfully and are expecting good results early next year. The increase in enrollment demonstrates growing community acceptance of secular education.
Thanks to our supporters in Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and particularly Steve and Hilary Hurd ( who make annual visits to the school  and mobilise ongoing funding) we have made the following achievements over the past year:
  • Adding to our existing stock of text books to enable children to research and thus take charge of their own learning. Lots of other books to enable reading for pleasure.
  • Purchase of science equipment and chemicals to facilitate practicals that promote evidence-based learning.
  • Girls receiving Afripads

    Giving all our girls free reusable sanitary pads that has promoted retention in school and confidence.

  • Our new 4-classroom block is now fully operational. Next year, this will allow us to reduce class sizes by running two parallel classes from senior one to four.
  • Construction of a multipurpose hall to be used upon completion for concerts, meetings, exams etc
  • Giving scholarships to 67 financially disadvantaged but bright children to attnd school so they can be able to help themselves and others in future.
  • Extension of piped water to the school via the national water authority.
  • Race on Sports Day

    Fencing off the playing field site for students safety.

Humanism

In addition to teaching the curriculum prescribed by the Ministry of Education, we have been able to introduce critical thinking lessons. Dan Beat, from UK, visited in October holding a workshop on critical thinking for both staff and children. David Pollock from IHEU equally visited with his wife Louis in October and gave us courage in efforts to provide a humanist education to children in Uganda.

Children have participated in open debates, charity activities at school and in the nearby community. The humanist club football team narrowly missed winning this year’s club football competitions at the end of year.

Girls’ Football Team

Teacher Simon, the school’s Humanist Counsellor, has been attending an online course to become a humanist celebrant. The course was set up by Kato Mukasa of Uganda Humanist Association, with help from some Scottish Humanists. Simon will be graduating next february.

The school maintains  good relations with the local community who supply the school with foodstuffs. As Mustard Seed School has grown it has become a substantail financial contributor to the local economy. The wages it pays to staff are spent in the local community on housing, foodstuffs and other articles. The school paid 2 million Uganda Shillings (£445) as local government tax to municipal authorities and 3 million USh (£667) as social security fund contributions to fund staff pensions.”

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Isaac Newton School’s big leap forward in 2018

Humanist Association outing to Lake Nabugabo

Peter Kisirinya, the Director of Isaac Newton High School, has just sent this report of impressive progress during 2018.

“The school ended its 2018 academic year on 7th December with a total of 573 students, out of which 369 are boarding students with 194 girls and 175 boys. This year we are proud to report tremendous achievements. Our students have performed even better in national examinations. Funds from supporters of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust have enabled us to make great strides forward in the physical development of the school. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Learning science by doing

    As well as teaching the subjects prescribed in the national curriculum we have introduced special classes on critical thinking.

  • We teach science subjects mainly using a practical approach and this has encouraged our students to like science and to perform better in examinations, whereas in many other schools science is taught by talk and chalk and is seen to be difficult and uninteresting.
  • We have completed a large new classroom block, which will enable us to run two parallel classes in each year and so reduce class sizes and improve the quality of learning.
  • The classroom block includes an additional science laboratory – named to commemorate the life of Ian Gurney, a Physicist who had been an active member of North-East Humanists. The science lab has been fitted out with benches and stools. The next step will be to purchase equipment and chemicals so it can function as a specialist laboratory for A-level students.
  • New classroom block with science lab

    We built an underground water tank of 98,000 litres at the girls’ wing to harvest all rainwater from the girls hostels. There are no prospects of getting a mains water supply, but the new tank will give us greater security over water supplies

  • We made 125 new smart examination chairs for the examination hall and students have used them during the recently concluded national exams. They are extra comfortable and we are hoping for even better grades this year.
  • We have had a total of 74 O level candidates and 40 A-level candidates sitting national exams from our school. We are very hopeful that they will produce good results.
  • UHST supporters provide scholarships for more than 70 students. These enable bright students to access education that would be seemingly impossible without the said assistance.
  • David Pollock teaching Humanism

    We hosted visitors from the UK – from UHST in a Friendship week in July and David Pollock from Humanist UK, who met the humanist students association and gave a talk about humanism.

  • A total of 326 girls received reusable sanitary towels from UHST UK and this has improved attendance of girls in school by 40%.
  • UHST has provided more learning materials in the form of laboratory equipment and text books, and we are now proud of being one of the best equipped schools in the whole region.
  • Girls are accommodated in spacious modern hostels and the new girls hostel – named after Malala Yusufzai and funded by St Louis Ethical Society – ranks as the most modern school hostel in the region.
  • The school employs a total of 53 people directly, excluding those that are contracted to do works at the school.
  • New Power line beside computer lab

    Through a Uganda government rural electrification project, UHST provided £10,000 and the World Bank a further £90,000, to extended a high voltage power from Hydro power dams on the River Nile to the school and the villages around it. Now a total if 58 homesteads are poised to be connected to the national power grid. This initiative will transform lives in the area. The power will greatly boost living standards and economic development in the area, making possible the establishment of agricultural processing factories and, at the same time, bringing more academic progress in school as students will have lighting for studying in the evenings.

  • Construction of retaining walls

    We are currently constructing a perimeter fence around the girls hostel to improve the security.

  • We have works on the compound to reduce the steep drops arising from levelled sections for buildings. We are also constructing steps between buildings.
  • Academic grades have improved in all classes and more bright students are seeking admission. We are hopeful that this year performance in national examinations will be better than ever.
  • The school is the biggest enterprise in the area and is itself helping to promote economic development by employing staff and purchasing foodstuffs and other materials from the local community. In 2018 the school paid taxes of 3,245,000 Uganda shillings (£700) to local government and close to 5 million shillings (over £1,000) to central government in addition 6 million shillings (£1,300) to the social security saving scheme of staff.”

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Barrie Berkley

We have just learned the sad news that Barrie Berkley died last Tuesday.
Barrie made contact with the Ugandan founders of the pioneering Humanist Schools in 2004 and worked hard to stimulate international support for the schools. In 2008 he joined Uganda Humanist Schools Trust as one of our founding Trustees. He and his wife Jean have supported the schools through the difficult early years right up to this year, when the schools are starting to shine out as beacons of liberal, secular education in Uganda and beyond. Barrie and Jean have been true friends of the schools, and not least of Isaac Newton School, over the more than the ten years they have been developing.
Even in the past year, well into Barrie’s nineties, the Berkley’s have been instrumental in garnering substantial funds which have made possible the completion of a fine new teaching block at Isaac Newton. It includes three large classrooms and a second science laboratory, which I know, as a scientist, Barrie would have been proud. In the new school year, the additional classrooms will allow the school to lower class sizes substantially by running two parallel classes in each year and thus bring further rises in educational standards.
Barrie’s actions have always been guided by firm humanitarian principles. Convinced from the start of the enormous value of the Humanist Schools’ Project, he has shown great determination to see it through to the very end of his life.
Barrie and Jean also worked together to support the wider cause of fostering a gentler more liberal society through Humanism. They were both active, for many years, in the North-East Humanists and fervent supporters of the International and Ethical Union (IHEU) and of Humanists UK, and they made a huge contribution to the work of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and, in so doing, the education of many hundreds of disadvantaged children  who have been exposed to a caring and liberal Humanist education in Humanist Schools.
So many people will miss Barrie. Throughout his life, Barrie endeavoured to make the world a better place. There can be no better legacy than to see the life-changing impact of the Humanist schools in Uganda and of his other projects to help disadvantaged people in Uganda and Kenya.

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UHST 10th Anniversary £150,000 Building Appeal

Two months ago we launched a building appeal, marking the 10th Anniversary of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, with the aim of completing the infrastructure of the two Humanist High Schools we support, Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools.

The money will be used to build Library & Information Centres, Multi-purpose School Halls, Boarding Hostels and Science Laboratories. These faciities are needed to cope with the growing numbers of students being attracted by the high educational and welfare standards in the Humanist Schools. For many years the schools struggled with fewer than 100 students, but they are now attracting their target intakes of 600 students, which places great pressure on building capacity.

The appeal has got off to a good start, with over £60,000 pledged already. The appeal is not time limited. We aim to continue it until the job is done.

I attach for your information a copy of the leaflet (click link) we have produced to support the appeal. Clearly we should be delighted if you would help us personally with a donation. Equally we would
be grateful for anything you could do to spread word of the appeal through friends or groups with which you are associated. I should be happy to send you copies of the printed leaflet. Just let me know how many you would like, where you would like them sent and I will pop them in the post.

The staff and students in the schools are excited about the appeal. We aim to progress the work as the money comes in so that, over the course of the next year, we hope to see the money raised making a real difference to the schools and communities where the schools operate.

We really do appreciate the support you have given the schools over the years. We are delighted that the long-term commitment shown by our supporters and the enormous efforts made by the schools themselves seems to be transforming the lives of the children, their families and the wider communities. Everyone involved should feel proud of the progress made. It has been a long, and not always smooth process, but we now have grounds for cautious optimism.

Thank you for your help.

Best wishes

Steve Hurd

Chair, UHST

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Welcome to Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School

We should like to congratulate Katumba Parents Humanist Primary School on being accepted as the 4th member of Uganda Humanist Schools Association.

The school is on the outskirts of the small town of Bundibugyo, situated on the remote western border of Uganda. It was set up in 2010 by a group of parents living in a mountain village, which had no accessible school for their children. The three founding parents gave up part of their own land to create a small plot on which classrooms could be built using local materials. Juma, one of the founding parents, who had been brought up a Moslem, became disillusioned with organised religion and found that the principles of Humanism struck a chord with him. His views were reinforced in 2014, when a bloody insurrection inspired by a local witchdoctor left 180 children in the school without fathers. Following this tragic incident, Juma persuaded the parents to rewrite the school’s constitution on the basis of the recommendations of Uganda Humanist Schools Association in 2016. The full story is in the attached report following our visit to the school in July this year.

The school provides nursery and primary education to 285 children. Full local day-school fees are the equivalent of £58 per child per year. This is far too low to provide the resources the school needs or indeed to pay the teachers adequately. Many children in the school pay nothing and rely on the generosity of others in the community. However, despite all of these difficulties, we were impressed during our visit by the standard of education being achieved. The children seemed to feel secure and happy in the school. They were making very good progress in reading and speaking English and they had the confidence to speak and to perform music, dance and drama in public.

At out next trustees meetings in September we shall most certainly be considering the ways in which UHST might be able to help the school. I should be delighted if our supporters would read the full report on the school and let us have their views on whether and how we should help the school.

 

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UHST 10th Anniversary £150,000 Building Appeal

This is the 10th Anniversary of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust existence.
We have just returned from a wonderful two weeks in Uganda visiting the Humanist Schools.
 
I attach reports on the two secondary schools, Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed School, which are both thriving.
Isaac Newton School Report
Mustard Seed School Report
 
Due to their growing reputation for good educational standards and high levels of student satisfaction and welfare, the schools are growing fast and either at, or very close to, their target sizes of 600 students. Existing infrastructure is good, though that built a few years ago is in need of repair and repainting.
 

We have worked out what each school needs to cater well for the needs of 600 student and are launching an appeal for a final few buildings, including:

  • two hostels where needy students can live and study in a safe environment
  • a multi-purpose hall for assemblies, music, dance, drama, dining and examination
  • two Library & Information Centres for independent resource-based learning
  • two labs for computer studies
We are preparing the ground for holding an International Humanist Education Conference in Uganda in the 3rd week of January, 2020. The conference will be an opportunity to showcase the achievement of the schools by bringing conference participants to spend some time at each of the schools. Some UHST supporters might wish to plan to visit Uganda to combine a visit to the schools with a wildlife safari. Uganda is becoming a popular tourist destination.
 
We really appreciate your ongoing support for the Humanist Schools in Uganda and we are delighted that the effort we have all made together is coming to fruition. We would really appreciate your help in this big push, coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of UHST, to finish off the schools so they can continue to provide high standards of education and welfare for all the students within them. There is a growing self-confidence in the schools and a real sense of pride in which we should all share.
 
We are currently preparing publicity fliers, which we will try to get out to as many people as possible and we welcome any ideas you, or any groups you belong to, may have to help us reach our target of £150,000. To set this in perspective, in 2017 we raised £125,000, including a substantial amount in scholarships.
 
I welcome your questions or suggestions.

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Mustard Seed School makes great strides

Moses Kamya, the Mustard Seed School Director, has just sent the following report of progress at the school over the past year:

The support of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UHST) has enabled the Mustard Seed School Busota to continuously transform; not just in infrastructure and facilities, but
also the lives of learners therein.  Scholarships enabled over 60 bright but financially disadvantaged children to attain education that would have been beyond their reach.

In the 2017 UCE “O-level” UNEB results, we gained 12 first grades, 6 of whom were on UHST scholarships. In A-level, our best student scored 14 points and had been on a UHST scholarship through out her secondary schooling. Joan is now pursuing a B.A. degree course at university.

UHST provided all girls with reusable sanitary pads which has tremendously improved retention of girls in school. The steady supply of text books, science materials and equipment have been responsible for continuous
academic improvements at our school. Solar systems donated by UHST enable students in the boarding section to study even when mains power goes off, as it often does. Our children are happy at this development.

The RISO graphics printer now allows students to have printed handouts at minimum cost. Additional computers have made IT education fun for the whole school not just for passing of UNEB exams but for
computer literacy, general education and as a leisure activity for the whole school.

Most importantly, we have been able to take out long-term leases on all school land, except for one plot remaining, with legal fees met by UHST. The school now has safe piped water supplied by national water which has greatly improved on hygiene and sanitation.

The Four class room block at the lower campus(football field) funded by UHST has allowed us to reduce class sizes. Furthermore, the entire campus is fenced with chain link for children’s security.

In spite of the above developments, Mustard Seed School continues to face challenges:

  • The computer room is still small and needs a bigger space to allow it serve its intended purpose.
  • The same applies to the existing library.
  • Dormitories are no longer enough for the children.
  • A multi purpose hall is needed to have children served meals from one place as opposed to eating from dormitories, and to use for school meetings, concerts and examinations.

Nonetheless, we shall reach there.
We are grateful to all our supporters for standing with us in helping the Mustard Seed School Busota provide Humanist education to children in Uganda.”

 

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Mustard Seed School proclaims its Humanist Vision

Mustard Seed Schools sits in a deeply religious community, both Christian and Moslem. It has therefore tried not to alienate the parents and families of its students. There have been periods when religious symbols have been banned in school, but these days the school takes a more tolerant stance towards private adherence to religious faith. It does expect students to show mutual understanding, though proselytising by any group is against the school rules and last year a student actively promoting extreme evangelical views was asked to leave the school.

As the quality of the school infrastructure and educational standards have grown, its standing in the local community has increased and it is becoming the school of choice for local families. As a result, Moses Kamya has made the decision to make more effort to publicise the school’s Humanist ethos to members of the local community. In a recent email he wrote:

Cutting grass to deter snakes in local town

“Ever since the conclusion of the UHST/IHEU funded Humanist Ethos Project, Humanist principles have been embedded in the day-to-day management of Mustard Seed School. In common with the other Humanist Schools in Uganda we encourage positive discipline, based upon the principles of empathy and responsibility to the wider community rather than upon physical punishment, which is so common in many other Ugandan schools.

The principles of Humanism are set out in inspiring posters, which are placed prominently around the school, including the Headteacher’s office, reception, bursar’ office, staffroom, library, dormitories, computer lab and clinic. Guidelines for promoting positive discipline, emphasising guidance and not violence, are equally displayed on walls everywhere.

Litter picking in Busota town

A humanist counsellor, Simon Bogere supports students in the school by promoting Humanist ideas and being patron to the Humanist Student Club and helping it to carry out good works in the local community. The Humanist Counsellor is also a member of the student-staff disciplinary committee. The Humanist Club meets every Friday and Sunday to have discussions and debates on social issues and to carry out voluntary work around the school and in the community. Recent work by the group has included litter picking in the nearby town and local tree planting.

The school’s Humanist Counsellor, Simon Bogere, is currently enrolled on an online course to train him as a humanist celebrant, which is funded by the Humanist Society of Scotland in collaboration with the Chair of Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO), Kato Mukasa. Once the training is completed, the school will be offering Humanist wedding, funeral and baby naming ceremonies to the local community. A newly designed hall, which is being funded by Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, will be an ideal venue for such events. The school’s Humanist Club also intends to organise humanist outreach programs to teach our communities basic hygiene practices and to highlight the dangers of believing in superstition and witchcraft.”

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9th UHST Annual Report

The 9th Annual Report of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust has just been published.

The Humanist Schools in Uganda have made huge progress in the past two years. They are beginning to turn in very respectable results in national examinations, such that both Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed School are among the top 5 schools in their districts and, as a result of this success, are becoming schools of choice for local families. There is huge pressure to get local children into the schools, which are recognised as having high standards of welfare as well as good educational performance. Children leaving the schools are get good jobs, which boost their family incomes, many go on to vocational courses to gain craft skills, nursing and primary and secondary teaching qualifications and a growing number go on to degree and postgraduate study in good universities.

In 5 years the number of children in each school has increased from about 150 to over 500. This is a welcome development because it shows a growing acceptance of secular humanist education in highly religious communities. The growth, however, puts huge pressure on infrastructure and learning resources. We are very grateful to all our supporters for sticking with us to develop the schools and we are receiving help from Humanists in the United States, in particular from St. Louis Ethical Society members, who have raised large additional sums to help the schools.

In 2017 we awarded grants of over £140,000. This is a record for a single year. This included money for 129 full boarding scholarships of £300, to enable children who gain a grade 1 in their primary leaving certificate and who are orphaned or come from very poor homes to attend a Humanist school. We have increased spending on books, learning materials, science practical equipment and chemicals, and computers. We feel that developing the ability of students to learn independently is the essence of a humanist education, so we are committed to maintaining a book rich environment in the schools. In the period 2016-8 we have made great strides with improving infrastructure. At Isaac Newton School we have funded: a second girls’ hostel, a new teaching block with 3 classrooms and a science lab, and connected the school and neighbouring communities to mains electricity. Mustard Seed School has received funds for: a new teaching block with 4 classrooms and staff rooms, connection of the school to high pressure mains water from a pumping and purification station on the River Nile, and we are about to embark on a new school hall that will be used for meetings, concerts and examinations.

Thanks to your ongoing support the schools are being gradually transformed so that they stand out among rural schools for the quality of their facilities and for offering educational and welfare standards that approach the standards of the best urban schools.

Since our charity began in November 2008, with your help, we have built up these schools from small, struggling entities to organisations we can all feel proud to be associated with. Making them self-sustaining and beacons of secular humanism is still our goal and we are getting closer, but they will need our help for some time yet. Please stay with us on the journey.

Click to Download Report

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Humanist students’ Away Day

In 2016 Isaac Newton High School set up a Humanist Association to promote humanist values and put them into practice by working in the local community. They decided to offer practical help to some of the poorest members of the nearby village and chose to focus particularly on hygiene and sanitation. The projects they have helped with include repairing old pit latrines, making racks for drying utensils to keep them off the ground and giving soap to these poor families.

To celebrate their efforts the School Director and the teacher who runs the Humanist Association arranged for them to have a day trip to nearby Lake Nabagabo so they could discuss Humanist ideas and relax together.

There is a small beach resort there with a café and some basic accommodation. Unlike most lakes in Uganda, it is considered safe to swim in because the high copper content of the water makes it unsuitable for the small water snail that harbours the human parasite Schistosoma which causes much morbidity in Africa. These are blood flukes which live in the vessels surrounding the bladder or the intestine.

The young humanists enjoyed games of football and volley ball and going for a boat ride. Some of them even braved the water to try swimming. They also enjoyed a meal and a soft drink, a welcome change from school meals. Here are two descriptions of their day, written by Thembo Paul and Bwambale Robert, two students who attended the Kasase Humanist Primary School and have UHST scholarships to enable them to attend Isaac Newton High.

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Humanist Schools defy expectations at A-level

Lifted high by fellow students

The pictures show Mustard Seed School’s star student, Joan Mukisa, being congratulated for her outstanding A-level performance when the results, two Bs and a C, were released last week.

Joan, or Joanex as she prefers to be known, stood out as an exceptional student when she joined the school.  She is a single orphan, who has been supported on a UHST scholarship throughout her secondary schooling. When her father died, her mother, a market trader, was left to bring up Joan with her 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Their home is near Iganga, 2 hour’s drive from the school, so she has lived in the boarding hostel. In Senior 3 Joan set her sights on becoming a lawyer, so she could fight injustice. Joan has always displayed considerable leadership and communication skills. She chaired the school Disciplinary Committee and brought considerable acclaim to the school as the scout troop leader. She took them to triumph in Jamborees at District and National Level, and gained third position in the East African Scouting Competitions in Rwanda. She was prominent in the debating society, which should be good training if she achieves her ambition to be a lawyer. In March 2016 Joan gained a division 1 grade in her National School Certificate (O-level) exams, and in the sixth form she has studied History, Economics, Divinity, Subsidiary Mathematics and General Studies and served the school as Head Prefect. She is a delightful girl who has been a role model throughout her schooling. We all expect great things of her as she moves on next to a place in a good university.

Mustard Seed entered 25 students for A-levels in 2017 and every one of them obtained the minimum pass grades. The three lowest achieving students gained two A-levels at Grade D level. The majority of students gained averages of C/D

Congratulations from History and Head teachers

grades with a few grade Bs.

Isaac Newton High School’s A-level results are also remarkable for a rural school in a poor area, where almost all children are first generation educated. While the school gained few very high grades, almost all students gained the matriculation (minimum for university entry) requirement of 2 A-levels and there were many students who achieve C and D grades. This may seem modest, but Uganda has recently stiffened its standards and only the exceptional few students are awarded A and B grades. In National terms out of 2600 A-level centres, Isaac Newton came 124th. The school was 40th in terms of lowest proportion of outright failures. It had the 3rd best results in Agriculture, and they were 113th in science performance (this seems surprising given the relatively low absolute grades in science). However, it is important to note that A-level grades in Uganda are criterion referenced rather than norm referenced. The U.K., which is norm referenced, allows roughly the same number of A, B, C grades – even when the actual standards in the exam fall. Whereas in Uganda they have national descriptors for the characteristics of A, B , C scripts and if no students reach that level then they award no A grades at all – and this has been the position for the last 3 years. A hard exam begets low grades. So getting all students through with C, D, E can put a school high up the league tables.

What is really great, is the position measured on a value added basis – the average percentage rise in the grades of individual students from O level to A level. On this statistic, Isaac Newton came 21st out of 2600 Centres. This shows just how effective the school is at raising achievement from O to A level of relatively poorly performing students at the earlier stage. Their value added from primary leaving is even more remarkable.

The Humanist Schools have defied expectations by matching and surpassing the A-level results of many more established schools. Both Mustard Seed and Isaac Newton Schools are in impoverished rural areas and, for most of their existence, they have had to get by with whatever casual and part-time teachers they could get to cover the secondary curriculum. After 12 years of operation, educational and welfare standards have improved and student numbers have risen from less than 100 to over 500 students. Furthermore, for the past two years they have increased the pay of teachers (though still below most other schools), given full and part time teachers contracts and enrolled them in the National Social Security

Scheme. Despite these improvement in conditions, the schools still rely on young, newly-trained and less-well qualified teachers. However, they make up for this by fostering a sense of belonging and commitment to the school, the community and

Local press at goat presentation

the students. Staff turnover is still a problem but has reduced hugely. Efforts to bring the teachers together to learn from each other through the Humanist Ethos Project and other initiatives has also played its part. UHST has also played a part in the improvement by flooding books, computers and other resources into the schools and supplementing the pay of teachers and directors through a salary bonus scheme funded using donations from our loyal supporters, many of whom have stuck with us through the early years of trials and tribulations. It goes without saying, that everyone involved with UHST is delighted with the schools’ outstanding progress.

 

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Excellent O-level results at Isaac Newton

Newspaper showing high ranking among all Uganda Schools

The Uganda Certificate of Education (O-level) results were released last week. Isaac Newton High School had their best results ever – a huge leap in performance on last year.

50 candidates were entered for the exams. There are 9 grades overall and Isaac Newton’s results were stellar:

  • 13 (26%) gained Grade 1
  • 23 (46%) gained Grade 2
  • 13 (26%) gained Grade 3

Isaac Newton High School was ranked 181st countrywide out of 3620 schools that presented candidates. In science subjects they did even better, being ranked 45th out of all the schools in Uganda.

In their home district of Kalungu Isaac Newton was the 5th highest of all the schools in the district.

O-level in Uganda is like the old Matriculation in the UK, which preceded O-levels. The overall grade is based on performance in 7 subjects. For a grade 1 students must have an aggregate below 32 across 7 subjects. However, if students gain less than a grade 5 in English Language they are prevented from being awarded a grade 1 overall. Fewer than 7% of students in the whole of Uganda gain a Grade 1 grade – so the students that do are rather special.
According to Peter Kisirinya, the school’s Director, “The failure of quite a number of students to achieve a grade 5 in English Language destroyed some of the 1st grades, and otherwise excellent students received 2nd grades.”
English has been a problem for these students. Although all lessons are in English, they come from an impoverished rural area where they speak Luganda at home and among themselves. UHST has made a concerted effort with the school to raise attainment in English. We are trying to flood the school with books. In 2016 we started a Reading for Pleasure Programme and each of our schools nominated a Reading Coordinator. We bought many general reading books and ran a very successful Reading for Pleasure Competition in June and July 2017. However, as Peter says, the children need even more English story books, but they need to include many stories that are set in an African (or Caribbean) setting that students can relate to their own daily lives. The school shows the students Films in English from DVDs at the weekends. These greatly improve English listening comprehension.

Ellen

This years results will be life transforming for most of these students. Many of the students are the first to be educated in their families. Most will now be able to go on with their studies, in academic and vocational fields. They will gain good jobs in the

Robert

formal sector of the economy and the money they earn will help to transform the lives of their families. In Uganda there is a strong sense of responsibility to the family and children who do well send money home, even when they now have good jobs in the towns.

One such student is Ellen. She was the second best student in school and passed all 10 subjects and was awarded an overall grade 1. Her best subjects were History, Geography and Agriculture. She is 15 years old and has received a scholarship from a UHST supporter throughout her schooling. Her parents died and she lives with her aunt who has a restaurant. She has 2 brothers and 1 sister. Ellen is now well on the way to achieving her dream of becoming a nurse. Though with these outstanding results she may want to raise her sights towards becoming a doctor.

The best performing student in the school was Robert Semagula. Robert joined the school on a scholarship after completing his primary leaving certificate at Kasese Humanist Primary School. He has had a Humanist education throughout his schooling. Robert was entered for and passed in 10 subjects. He gained an excellent aggregate mark and was awarded an overall a grade 1. His best subjects were Maths, Computer Studies and History. Robert is 16 years old and comes from Kasese District in Western Uganda. His parents are both alive, but very poor, and he has 2 brothers and 3 sisters. He lives with his aunt in the holidays. She makes a living by selling coffee beans grown on her plot of land. Robert’s wish since joining the school has been to become a doctor. With excellent performance in science and plans to study Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A-level, he is well on his way to achieving his ambition. This will be another life completely transformed by education.

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Josh Kutchinsky dancing

Here is Josh dancing at the Humanist School in Uganda:

Happy memories

Steve Hurd

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