ON a chilly morning, some students walk into Ngora High School accompanied by parents to request for a grace period as many a parent have not paid the fees.
Located 12 kilometers off the Kampala â€“ Soroti Highway in Ngora district, Ngora High School was an academic centre of excellence that attracted a variety of students across Uganda. The headmaster - Martin Okiria â€“ takes me around the school as he supervises on going works. â€œThis school faced hard times that forced it to break down but we are working hard to make it better,â€ explains Okiria.
Dormitories have rotting roofs, broken windows and some classrooms and teachersâ€™ houses are not fit for human dwelling. With the bulging number of students due to the introduction of Universal Secondary Education, the books and the lab equipment are hardly enough and accommodation is insufficient.
The school is struggling to get back on its feet despite the enormous challenges. Two new classroom blocks have been built while the administration block, classrooms and dormitories spot a fresh coat of paint. A new kitchen with a fire place using less firewood compared to the past has been built to save some money.
Founded in 1914 by the Church of Uganda, the school was to groom morally upright and God fearing citizens as well as professionals.
Between the 1940s and the 1980s, it used to appear among the best ten schools in the country.
It sent an annual average of about 40 out of 45 students in first grade at Ordinary Level and about 58 out of 65 senior six leavers to University on Government sponsorship.
John Michael Odeke, the director of studies and an old student says between 1973 and 1976, the school attracted only the best students.
â€œAdmission was strictly limited to those short listed by the Government. The classes were small with a ratio of 40 students per teacher and only the best students sat the final national exams â€ Odeke recalls. The school had motivated teachers, textbooks and lab equipment. Teachers and students also had exemplary discipline.
What went wrong?
The school suffered a unique but severe kind of problem that crippled it academically: it was a site of war.
â€œBetween 1980 and 1994, it was a site for so many battles between several Governments and rebels. On different occasions, it was a camp for displaced people,â€ explains Okiria.
Infrastructure was destroyed. Desks and files were used as firewood and laboratories and library looted.
Parents relocated their children to other schools and teachers also fled.
The Student population declined from 1,000 to less than 600 between 1980 and 1994. The teachers also declined from over 28 to less than 10.
â€œThe war also traumatised teachers. The school collapsed academically,â€ says Okiria.
Odeke, says the school would get an average of less than five first grades at senior four out of 60 and less than one student got University sponsorship.
Extra â€“ curricular activities like games and sports collapsed. The emergence of private schools posed stiff competition for the school.
â€œThe private schools had better infrastructure and performed better than us. This affected admission, all the best students were taken to private schools and we were left with poor quality,â€ explains Odeke.
The school had to rely only on school fees to do everything; it had to admit more students regardless of quality because they could not increase school fees.
The student population was increased from 400 to 1,000 and today, it stands at about 1,200 students.
The school that used to admit students with aggregate four at senior one started admitting students with over aggregate 25. It also increased its admission at S4 from 17 for best eight to over 50.
â€œThis money from high numbers helped us to buy textbooks, laboratory equipment and also recruit temporary teachers to increase the staff,â€ says Justine Isau, the assistant headteacher.
Teachers have increased from only 20 to over 62 today. The Parents Teachers Association allowances were increased from only sh40, 000 to sh120,000.
The teachers also get some food allowance.
Teachers are also involved in decision making and this has motivated them to work hard. Chemistry head of department Jude Tadeo Inyalot says they are also undergoing refresher courses like computer lessons and this is making them better skilled than before.
Moses Matovu, a form three student hailing from Masaka says that so many good students from the region were going to private schools outside Teso thinking that Ngora High School is no longer an academic powerhouse.
â€œBut they are re-thinking. Each year, our grades get better. The school has also started attracting students from far north, central and western Uganda.â€
Limited finances remains the biggest challenge. The school mostly relies on only school fees to support all school activities.
While private schools in the region charge over sh700, 000 per student , Ngora still charges sh200, 000 at Oâ€™ level and sh300, 000 at A,level.
The school is also only able to maintain a few structures but cannot build new ones due to lack of funds.
Okiria requests Government to
reinstate the capital development fund to help the school survive the hard times.
The School is among 42 secondary schools in Uganda to be renovated by a loan from the African Development Bank.
To fully revive the school, the old students must come on board to help the school.
The old studentsâ€™ association is almost dead and it is several years since they last had a meeti
Ngora High School emerging from effects of turmoil