By Charles Kakamwa
He is almost two decades into retirement, but Zia-Ud Din Ahmed Toor has not given up teaching. He is soldiering on proudly.
Each day, adult learners from different backgrounds walk into Toor Adult Literacy Centre in Jinja Municipality, where he is the director and instructor. The veteran educationist, popularly known as Z.A Toor, conducts classes, alongside other staff.
He teaches English, Kiswahili, numeracy and public speaking. Hundreds of students have gone through his hands.
Toor is undoubtedly a man in love with teaching. The passion, with which he plies his trade, is only rivalled by that of a fresh graduate.
The expansive classroom is crammed with books and portraits of prominent leaders.
The learners include market vendors, foreigners, corporates and politicians. Majority of his students are working class or married people with limited time for studying.
Twenty-eight-year-old Joweri Mutesi, who joined the centre in October last year, to learn English and Swahili boasts of tremendous improvement. “When I came here I could not write my name; but now I can. I can also write and read several English and Swahili words,” she says.
Mutesi adds that though she still finds difficulties with English she has gained more confidence.
As an enthusiast of the adult literacy campaign, Toor is a strong believer of having knowledge as the centre of power. He says education is the magic bullet to the elimination of poverty and its causative factors which include illiteracy, ignorance and backwardness.
“I believe that the best means of reducing poverty is through promotion of literacy. Literacy can improve people’s lifestyles. You cannot empower people by giving them money, but knowledge,” Toor explains.
He adds that it is useless to distribute funds for poverty alleviation to illiterates; majority of whom cannot run bank accounts.
Toor’s love for adult education started in the 1959, when he joined Shimoni Primary Teachers’ College. After graduating in 1961, he was posted to Soroti Pioneer School.
He later served in several other primary schools, rising to the position of deputy and later head teacher. Despite his busy schedule , Toor would spare time to teach adult literacy.
From his savings, Toor set up an adult literacy centre in Loco a slum in Jinja. He went on to open three other centres at Kyagwe village, Grant village and Mvule Crescent.
Toor operated the centres using personal resources and taught for free. But in the 1990s, he was involved in an accident, which forced him to close all the other centres except for one, which still stands today.
Toor is, however, disappointed that the sector is given little attention, on top of being despised.
“Adult literacy takes so much effort for one to succeed,” he says.
Concerned by the poor state of adult education in Uganda, Toor’s vision is to establish a fully-fledged adult literacy teacher training centre with an adult literacy school in Jinja.
“The centre will take up young people, who drop out of formal education and train them for a year as adult educators,” he adds.
Determined to make his dream come true, Toor hopes to attract support from partners such as the government, non-government organisations or donors interested in transformation of communities through education.
“Our mission is to improve the literacy levels of learners so that they can read, write and speak English to fit well in the community,” he argues.
He is known as a committed man by his peers and colleagues, he once worked with.
Background and carreer
Toor was born to the late Dr. A.D Ahmed and Amtul Rehman in Kamuli district in 1937.
He studied at St. Henry’s College Kitovu in Masaka where he acquired a Cambridge certificate in 1958 before joining Shimoni Teacher Training College in 1959.
He graduated in 1960, and the following year, he was posted to Soroti Pioneer School as a teacher. He was later promoted to deputy head teacher.
In December 1964, Toor became headmaster of Ikwera Boys’ Primary School in northern Uganda.
In a career spanning over 34 years, Toor has served in over 10 schools both as a teacher and headmaster.
His last posting was at Uganda Railways Primary School in Jinja municipality where he retired in 1995 as a Grade One headmaster.
In 1966 he we was appointed chairperson of northern Uganda Region Teaching Coordination Committee. The same year, he was declared outstanding head teacher of the year in the region.
In 1987, while headmaster of Army Boarding Primary School in Jinja, he was again declared the best headteacher in Jinja and Njeru districts.
Toor is currently the general secretary of Jinja district Uganda Government Pensioners Association.
He holds the same position in Busoga region.
Toor commends the government for programmes such as Universal Primary and Secondary Education programme.
He says this as a step towards elimination of illiteracy.
He believes priority should be given to good remuneration for teachers.