In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga (RK) is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he hosts Audrey Dralega (AD) to talk on Education in the Lockdown.
RK: Thank you for joining us today. How’s your day?
AD: Been a busy day considering its Eid, but good.
RK: Let’s take this moment to wish our Muslim friends a wonderful Eid.
RK: Who is Audrey? You have 35 years in education, how did you get into this territory for this long?
AD: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to this group, I have really enjoyed the conversations shared here before and I am looking forward to what will come out this as well. I am a Jamaican born in Britain. Many people expect to hear me sound Jamaican but I surprise them with a British accent. My parents travelled to Britain in the 1950s. They were part of the economic migration. What our national poets called colonising England in reverse. Lots of us showed up in England. Our parents showed up on invitation after the war, there was a lot that needed to be done. My dad went first in 1957 and my mum followed n 1958. The plan was not to stay in Britain. The plan was like how people pretty much go to Dubai today. Their plan was to go for five years, save up some money go back home and open up a shop or set up a business on the island. But when they arrived there, they realised the condition was quite a hostile one. Only low paid work was available to them, but the jobs were very many. My dad said when he arrived he walked down the road, the town he went to was Sheffield in the north. He said he would walk down the street and there would be signs reading “jobs available”. You could walk in and they said, if you can, start now. If you said yes, you started working immediately. These were unskilled jobs, you would walk into a factory and start working immediately.
I was the second born, my elder sister is the one who was born in Jamaica. My brother and I were born in Britain. Then they decided to stay for their education. Not only that, but I would say it was more of my father’s decision than my mother’s, for her to stay home and raise us which was unusual. Those days’ money was tight. It was a decision which had its cost but it meant that we had mum at home and we had some good conversations. She was very funny. A lively woman and very interested in our history as a people not just as Caribbean but even what came before that. Our history in Africa.
My childhood was one of a great deal of laughter and sharing a lot of stories. My dad worked in the steel industry. He would sometimes work seven days a week. I remember him being sick once my entire childhood. One thing stands out though about education. Often he would come back, have a bath, a meal and go to sleep. But this one day, he came and told us to change clothes, we were going out. I was so excited. I thought maybe we were going to the cinema or for ice cream or something which was going to be a great deal. He instead took us to a library. I had never seen a library before. He signed us up for the library. So every Saturday as long as he was not working, he took us to the library. There began my adventure in reading.
I started teaching in 1984. I had studied at university. I was thinking I was going study law at university and my head teacher came to me and said, “I don’t think law is for you Audrey” and I thought the nerve of this man, why doesn’t he want me to do it? But when I reflected on it, I would have made the world’s worst lawyer. I like people and learning. I decided to teach. In Britain, that was a positive choice at the time. I joined and the rest is history.
We came to Uganda in 2001. I am married to Anguyo Dralega who is the owner of Med Optics and he is the Resident Director now. We used to come visit Uganda when we were still staying in England and he used to say people are losing their sight for no good reason back home. Maybe we should consider doing something about that. When he saw there was not much response with that, he said, “…wouldn’t it be great to travel again?” We had travelled before. We met in Khartoum, Sudan and moved to England. “I need to travel back home,” he confessed. We then sold the house, packed up our three kids and we came to Uganda. At the time, I was teaching at the University of Leeds and so I decided I would go back to the classroom. That would be able to give us an income while we were setting up our new business. A new business would take time before it picked up. I came in as a Kabira teacher, and did that for 3 years.
I actually became the head teacher of Rainbow by accident. It wasn’t intentional I had left Kabira. I had taken up a Consultancy with NCDC writing part of the curriculum. Then I went to Rainbow. We had moved our children from Kabira to Rainbow. We loved the school, so I went in to buy uniforms one day and as I was leaving I had a conversation with the Deputy Head Teacher who said one of the teachers hadn’t come back. She had gone on holiday and she decided to join her husband. This was two days to the beginning of the term in August. They were stranded. As the conversation progressed she asked me about Kabira. I told her I had left. She asked me to help them out for a few weeks. And 11 years later, I never left. It was probably the world’s longest shopping expedition. I am now in Med-Optics.
RK: In my conversation with you about having this session, you said there is a very big difference between learning and schooling. Can you just explain that please?
AD: Well, schooling is what happens in the confines of an established space, and we have to remember that school was created for children but children were not created for school. It is not the other way round. Often we find that there are some forms of schooling that do not fit the human mind and child development. But schooling is an organised way of delivering the values, the knowledge of a society. Schooling can be great. Being a head teacher is the best thing I ever did. I loved it, but like someone once said; education is what someone remembers after you have finished your schooling. I think that is the case. There is a lot more that is required of the children right now than the A grades. The aggregate 4s are great as a means of measuring a progress in some instances but not in the 21st century. If there is one thing I needed staff to understand because I worked in consultancy for four years before I joined my husband in Med-Optics is that;
- The child who is passing the exams is not necessarily the brightest kid in the class. I need to qualify that; I do not want to give the impression that not passing means you are bright. What I am saying is this; passing exams is a skill. There are some children if you locked them in a cupboard and took them out after a year, they would still pass their exams.
- There are children who have certain types of intelligence that is not measured by exams. I will give you an example, when I was still a head teacher, I used to run a competition at lunch time. One of them was called just a minute. In this game, you are given a random subject to speak on for a minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation. I used to do this with Primary School children from 8 years upwards. I was amazed by some of the children who would stand up and speak on a random subject like what I like about bodabodas. Sometimes, quiet unassuming children could stand up and they would speak with a precision, with humour, they would not deviate from the subject and they would have the audience in the palms of their hand. Now that is oratory. There are no exams for that in our schools, but one of the things I guess we are looking at today is; what opportunities does this lockdown give us and one of them is to rethink what constitutes a good education.
A head teacher, that made me realise that there are so many areas we needed to explore in terms of human capability. Another example was when my son went for an interview for university. It was so hard to get into. So I told him to call me after the interview. He was a straight A student, he calls me and he says it was fantastic. The lecturers were interesting and funny but there is something I need to tell you. Everybody has 4 As. And some of them had five.
When your child is in a room where there are 4000 students but with only 20 slots available. When the child is in that room where everybody has As, what makes them stand out among the other 4000 students? That is the difference between education and schooling.
Schooling is going to get you the As hopefully. But education is what will distinguish you from the rest in that room. Think of it this way, the schooling is going to open the doors but when you get into the room, you should be able to do something. So I asked him what they were looking for.
They were looking for the ability to collaborate, the ability to come up with fresh ideas. They were looking for the ability to hear other people’s opinions and be able to work as a team. That is the 21st century education.
RK: You said something about school opening the door but education is what will get you to talk to the people and convince them, now that people are at home, what does that mean? How can parents turn the home into an education experience?
AD: If you are dealing with more than one child, you are dealing with different people at the same time. That is one of the key differences between learning at home and learning in the classroom. In a classroom, you are all of a similar age group usually. You have to juggle more as a parent. You have to think of those little people you have got in your family. The dinner table is the simplest of things. In the busy-ness of life, as parents we leave home early and come back late, now for the first time, we have time with our children. Sometimes it feels like a lot of time. Children can be work, I tell you. Children do not need clear parameters; they need to understand what is expected of them. it is important not to let the stress of the moment feed into your children. We seem to get caught up in this invisible race. Where we think we’ve got to catch up. My husband and I have been married to 30 years (next year) and he is from West Nile. He used to walk through tall elephant grass to get to his classroom. By the time he would reach his classroom, his shorts would be wet. That did not stop him from excelling in his studies. I went to Leeds yet he still beats me at math.
The DNA of the people hasn’t changed. The ability of the people hasn’t changed. We have the same span of ability as people in other countries. What is different is how we treat those children. we have got an opportunity. Talk is incredibly important to the human development of the mind.
I’m very interested in neural science. There is a lot of research that shows that young children at the age of 7 learn less efficiently from a screen. Had I been a head teacher at the start of lockdown, I would have been in a lot of trouble. I would have said there is going to be extremely limited screen time. They are going to kick a ball, climb a tree, play in the mud and parents would have hated me.
In terms of what parents can do, it is going to take a bit of imagination. When I was lecturing post grad students in primary mathematics, I had one year in which to turn a physics or math graduate into a teacher. To teach primary in England you have to teach all the subjects. I had one year to help them understand the principles of how to teach maths in a great way, the best tip I ever received was the don’t give up tips. Give the principles and allow people to think of their methods.
In the confines of these times, concentrate on having verbal interactions with your children as much as possible. Tell them about your childhood. We have heard fantastic stories from people that have done the 40 Day Mentor and I was listening to Grace and he’s such a great story teller. I was wondering if his children know his story?
Your story is very incredible. Men in particular are less inclined to telling their stories. They assume they will bore them, but they won’t.
It is inspirational to her how your dad got from A to B. It is inspirational to hear how you used to shoot with a bow and arrow, or with a catapult.
RK: We made cars out of boxes and bottle tops. What parents need to look at in this whole lockdown is not look at it as a burden or an irritation but an opportunity to engage our personal lives with the kids. All of us are not going anywhere anyway. We are confined in these little spaces, is this what you are telling us?
AD: Yes. I am. And I know it is very difficult. I have heard from parents and teachers.
Parents aspire to give the best to their children. There is a story of this girl from our place in Yumbe. This girl had been put in a school in Arua. But lockdown closed it. When she came home, the dad said to his son, put her in a school. This is a school that had never got a first grade in 50 years. This kid got 11 points. Usually, schools will finish their P7 curriculum by the end of P5. The whole of P7 is revising, haven’t you seen children who have been passing with great aggregates, what does that tell us about the need for our children to be in school from 5am in the morning to 7pm. The stress that we are seeing in children is that of what can happen to my future if I am not in that intense environment. The body is also changing. That is not by accident. It is part of becoming an adult. My last child is now 18 years old, and the rest are in their 20s. I have enjoyed every stage of their growth and development. And the teen years can be challenging but also incredibly interesting. Children at that stage are thinking about values. They need to know what yours are and why?
You have to give them opportunity to make decisions. Now we have an opportunity of shaping their ability to make decisions. Give them pocket money. I gave my children pocket money from the age of four. It changes the dialogue. They would come with me to the shops and the dialogue would change from “mummy may I have” to “you mean I don’t have enough?” then came the notion of accumulation. Delayed gratification. Making decisions based on priorities. Something as simple as that can change them. Sending them to the shops themselves. The child in the market sitting as the mum sells tomatoes is often more street wise because they are often interacting with money and purchases and conversations of how businesses run.
Give them opportunities to make choices and decisions and talk about it. Basic things like that, teaching them money sense in a practical way, letting them earn an allowance, those are some of the life skills that we have an opportunity to teach right now.
RK: The opportunity in this focus is to develop and sharpen life skills like delayed gratification, how to manage money… and they say why covid and lockdown. They have given us 42 days to be able to lay the foundation of things like that especially those of us shielding our children from all these experiences because we are thinking we are saving them from danger. So you are saying parents should look at this as another opportunity to deliver life lessons?
AD: Yes. My dad had limited education himself. He started school when he was 8. He had to stop school when he was about 13 because of ill health but he knew the value of education. That is what caused him to stay in Britain that long. Whenever I was about to mess up, I would get this same speech: we are in this cold country because you need an education.
RK: When they asked the question of what will it take our children to succeed, what was the response?
AD: they were told let them play. It doesn’t matter what they are reading as long as it is of interest. Hence the library. He would tell stories.We would cook and bake. They allowed us all aspects of running a home. Now being in a messy house was a part of it. my mum used to say, I don’t care who is coming to this house, they need to know there is a child that stays in this house.
When I became a parent myself, I realised it helped with mutual respect. To know here your parameters are. And I am going to trust you to stay in those parameters and If I find you out of them, there are going to be consequences.
Letting children be children does not mean you let them make a mock of your house. They still need to have some parameters. They need to know why those rules are there. And you need to start taking responsibilities as early for some of their choices.
Politeness is also a life skill. That is why I set to greet everybody at school. I wanted the children to see that every person is a person. Respect is earned. I would pick up litter. Let the children clean the compound. give the maid a day off. Let them see that you are working yourself. It is okay. They don’t lose anything. They become quietly confident instead because they are comfortable in themselves and everybody they meet.
Comrade Otoa: Many parents have failed to get in sync with their children during this lockdown, what would be your advice to these parents? Also, for the first time, we appreciate the idea of home schooling, would this be the future?
AD: On home schooling, I home-schooled my children for about a month and it was enough for me. It’s not easy when you are dealing with children of different ages. It is not easy, if a child does not see the pattern, it is not if their ability is low, sometimes it is because children need different types of learning. Sometimes, it hasn’t made sense to them. I once had an issue of one of my children. He didn’t like reading. Didn’t pay and attention in class and yet he was a bright child.
So I had to trick him into a game for him to read without him realising it. make it fun if you can. Explain to them in simple terms. Remember they are logical creatures. From birth, they are hearing, they are collecting data and making sense of it out of logical sentences without anybody having to say to that baby that the pas tense of push is pushed. You never say that to a 2-year-old baby. But they pick that up. the brain that can do that can understand mathematics. Mathematics is about patterns and relationships. Unfortunately, if it is poorly taught, if you have some bricks missing, you can go through life thinking you are never good at maths. We need to try and not make this into a battle.
There are huge advantages of being at schools, and there are also advantages of being at home, each family should make an independent decision on what they want.
Sandor Walusimbi: Considering the global pandemic that we are faced with, don’t you think that people like you should build narratives of what the new relay is likely to be like in regards to education.
AD: This is the right time to have this conversation. People tend to assume that downloading something is the same as reading it. the skill of the educator is to be able to understand the individuals and groups they are interacting with and to be able to bring that to life. That is one of the advantages of school. You need to be quite attentive on the time children spend on screens. It affects their thinking and attention span.
Sarah Kagingo: Were we subjected to the right things while growing up? Were we raised as conservatives who needed to change?
Jackie Oloya: You relocated to Uganda, was there any adverse effect of your relocation to your children?
AD: To both Sarah and Jackie,
Things seem to have changed. It is the same thing that your parents had about you while growing up. Generation to generation always looks different. But there are points where you have to draw a line. Children should know how society operates. It is a joint task between the family and school. We have a choice in life, we can either enjoy our children or to endure them. To be able to enjoy them they have understand your values, what you want to see and what you don’t want to see. Like Bruce Lee said: in life we have to be like water, we have to fill whatever vessel we are poured into.
In terms of social graces, it is important that children have the basics. It’s going to vary from family to family. Make a decision for what is important for you now.
Parents, do not think that because your children are playing with you in the living room, everything is okay. There are so many things you are oblivious of. Over strictness is a problem because you are giving the children too much to rebel against. Give them reasons why you don’t want them to do what you don’t want. Teach them the values in the things you believe in.
Mary Apolot: Could you speak on the type of language a parent should use while teaching.
Tina: What are Audrey’s thoughts on time management and life skills to us as parents as we teach from home. There is a lot of room for madness, is there a way to have new skills that they need to learn.
AD: It is important to teach children about time. Give them some control. But at the same time, if they do not do it, let them know they crossed a line.
RK: In a family, it is very easy to compare children especially when one is an over achiever and when the other is good but not an A++ performer. As a parent, how does one condition themselves not to do that?
AD: It goes back to what I said earlier, the child passing the tests is not the brightest. Every society needs a wide variety of abilities. Not all abilities are reflected in exam results. But also some children are hindered by people’s perceptions of them. it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some parents have gone to another extreme whereby they will not talk about anyone else’s results. By all means talk about them.
Then think of what the other child is doing that is also great. They could be very disciplined.
RK: Your last word on this. What is the opportunity for schools and teachers?
AD: I’d say this is an opportunity to recalibrate. Rethink. Reboot. And reconsider whether it is really important to have the long hours of overlearning.
In terms of business growth, supplying materials, ideas for parents. It should not be a normal expectation that a parent can teach their children like it is that because I have my own teeth, I can do my own dentistry. The role of the school is still very strong. Spend some time in understanding how children learn.
RK: Thank you so much for your time.
AD: Thank you so much. I count it a privilege.