By Conan Businge
THE sun has just risen. Children, about three years old, stream into the school in this city suburb. Lessons are about to start. As a teacher approaches one of the classes, an excited toddler runs up to her and says: “Teacher, I saw a cow on my way to school.” The teacher hastily replies, “That is really nice,” and asks the class: “Do you know what a cow is?” Most of the children nod in affirmation. She turns to the excited toddler and asks: “What do people get from cows?” The smartly dressed child replies, “Milk and cheese.” The teacher explains to the class what cheese is. The teacher goes on to ask, “What else do we get from cows?” The child looking puzzled, dashes to the library and looks for a book with a cow’s picture on the cover. The child then walks to teacher Irene Nabulwala to find out the other values of a cow.
This is at Beacon School East Africa, a school started by Rachael Adriko. The school is located on Luthuli Avenue in Bugolobi. The cow subject just made the day’s learning. At this school, lessons are influenced by what is intriguing to the children at that particular moment, but the teacher keeps within the boundaries of the curriculum. “Children at this school are taught basing on their interests, experiences and environment. Teachers draw from the learners’ interests to use the set curriculum,” Nabulwala says.
Nabulwala is the curriculum director at the school. Children are taught to look for answers from the surroundings. The school emphasises hands-on special education and application. Parents or guardians pay sh1.4m per term. The school has a revised international curriculum. Six-year-old Nathaniel Mara, a pupil at the school, says, “We learn about gardening, communities, the planet and the human body in science.” He just looks passionate about his schooling programme. The school started in July last year. Currently, it has ranks to become the director of co-curricular programmes, and now her latest appointment as principal. She now heads a school, which educates a good number of world leaders’ children.
It is this same school which nurtured the US’s former presidents George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy. She is the first black woman to head the school, but most importantly, the first African and Uganda to be in such a position at this prestigious school. “I felt I had to build a school, with a unique model of teaching back in Uganda. We are doing this in the US. I felt we needed to replicate it back at home in Uganda.
We wanted to give our parents a better option of education,” Adriko explains. A parent at the school, Dr. Cecilia Watyema Kiyimba, who has a four-year-old son in the school, says Adriko is passionate about the school. “You want your child to be educated by a person who understands the kind of education you want. Adriko is just that person. She is more into education than money,” Kiyimba says. “Nowadays, I learn from my child, instead of him asking me questions,” she explains.
She believes the country’s local education curriculum does not give children an opportunity to be inquisitive enough or study what they want, which is wrong. “Children must learn by investigating, not being fed on ready information,” she adds. Kiyimba says that children at this school do projects, which require them to plan and think. “My child has amazing knowledge about the galaxy and he just keeps me wondering and excited.” Andrew Kirama who is the director of finance and administration at National Information Technology Authority says: “Lifelong learners are what we were promised. This school has a curriculum, but children choose what they want to learn.” Kirama has all his three children at the school.
Beacon School East Africa in Bugolobi. Children are taught basing on their interests. Photos by Abou Kisige
Nabulwala also describes Adriko as a passionate and hardworking person who gives in her best to see children learn. She adds that Adriko is also willing to support other teachers in the country, to learn skills from Beacon’s way of teaching. Adriko believes that every year, Beacon School East Africa will be growing to another grade. “I believe that one day we shall have a university as this school keeps growing.” “It is not about money. It is about trying to offer a unique level of education to our country, different from the country’s usual education system that is curriculum and examination-centred,” she explains. As part of her experience, Adriko has coached, supported and mentored teachers in the US.
She also plans to train teachers who are willing in Uganda, at no cost, on the child-centred learning. “I am trying to teach some of these teaching skills to other local teachers who are willing to come for training,” she says. She is a publisher, public speaker, journalist, Eleanor Roosevelt Teacher Fellow and former board member of Fox Point Citizens Association. She is also a movie producer and director. Adriko appeals to the Government, to support all teachers making a difference to redeem the country’s education. “I am here to invest in the future of Uganda and to support fellow teachers to make this come true,” she adds.
You possibly know the You raise me up song. That is Josh Groban’s song. Adriko’s husband, Richard Spillberg works with Groban, as a guitarist. Groban is expected in the country soon, Adriko says, to visit the school; and he might return with Spillberg who was at the school late last year. The school will this Saturday hold International Leadership Conference at its premises. At the same event leading personalities shall be honoured for their distinguishing service in society.
- Simmons College, Boston, (2014) MS educational Leadership lSuffolk University-Boston, 2001 BS health and human services and minor in elementary education
- Fisher College -Boston, 1999 business administrator lKatatumba Academy-GCE, 1995-Uganda lSt. Agnes Primary School