Back-to-school time — in Uganda

September 13, 2012

PDF version

SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN — We’re in the air again, my family and me and today’s newspaper.

This time it’s the Daily Telegraph, dominated on Page 14 by a large ad for the latest iPad. Beside it, a smaller story on how one in four U.K. teachers wouldn’t send their own kids to the schools they teach in. And below, a brief about a Pediatrics Journal study that shows obese youth don’t think so well.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Our kids can access easy information, but need so much more.

I think about it now during my family’s own back-to-school week in Uganda. Once again we’ll be up with the sun weekday mornings to get our three to classes.

It’s not an easy slog, getting to this pricey but decent international school in Kampala proper. The traffic can be deadly. But we have few alternatives. And more than ever, I appreciate the school’s more traditional approach.

Take that grossly overweight gym teacher who breaks a sweat just getting to the starting line. This was the recent lament of a Les Chater YMCA instructor to several of us after we had finished our morning swim.

Not that Ontario doesn’t have some very worthy teachers. It does. But his point, and I think it’s valid, is that our culture — Ontario school culture and I’ll say western culture in general — has slid into some very generous ways. There was a time when gym teachers had to be in shape.

So am I surprised when my kids, who attend an Ancaster school every May and June, tell me how easy their Canadian school is?

I think of my own childhood experience, with, say, track-and-field days and high-jumping in the pouring rain and getting ribbons for winning — not just participating — then going with my best buddy to regional meets, our heads held high.

How many Ontario elementary schools have dropped such competitions altogether? Someone’s feelings, apparently, might get hurt.

We can still applaud a 14-year-old who swims across Lake Ontario. But do more of us wonder why she’d put a toe in the cold water to begin with?

Now I’m on BA Flight 63 over the Atlantic, heading back to the so-called Dark Continent, Year Eight in Africa for my family, grown to the Froese Five and including my lovely bride Jean.

Ugandans will ask us to help get their kids into anything but government-funded schools, schools that, in Uganda anyway, lead to certain education death.

We’ll respond in various ways, including with the spirit of our home and its large community playground, the one that took years to build.

There, Sunday mornings can now be filled with the laughter of dozens of African kids. Expatriates and Ugandans alike use our asphalt hockey pad, another place of learning, likely the only hockey pad in Uganda, where, sure, we play to win.

New for this year is something from my nine-year-old, Liz. Packed in the belly of this plane, along with this season’s hockey gear (thank you Canadian Tire and National Sports for the discounts), are Liz’s folders and pencils and glue sticks for what she calls Making A Difference.

Her heart already set on a teaching career, Liz is known to gather Ugandans into her outdoor classrooms. In this case her subjects won’t be math or reading, but life skills more along the lines of “Recycling” and “How to Make Money,” and “Christianity.”

“It’s just how I’m made,” she said when I asked why she’s doing this.

It’s how she’s made. To challenge and to be challenged. It’s how we’re all made, really.

Not that Liz sees everything perfectly. She recently told me about her Hamilton friend visiting France. It was Paris and the Eiffel Tower and, and Daddy, oh Daddy, why can’t we go to France? And “Oh Daddy, we never go anywhere!”

This, from a child who gets around more than Samsonite luggage, a girl splashed in this newspaper shortly after her birth with a column and large photo and telling headline “A daughter of the world.”

I told Liz that Paris will come. “But in the meantime,” I said, “you can’t compare yourself to Canadian kids. A lot of them have too much.”

And in another way, not nearly enough.

Share this post

September 13, 2012 • Posted in ,
Contact Thomas at [email protected]


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top