THE road to Busoga College Mwiri is as dusty as it probably was on May 12, 1932 when the school was shifted from Kamuli district where it was founded on September 25, 1911.
The only change is perhaps the cutting down of the forest that surrounded the school and the agricultural activity on the hill that is causing soil erosion.
However, the school still stands on the highest hill in Jinja, overlooking Lake Victoria and Kakira Sugar Works, about 17km from Jinja town.
At the school, a few dormitories, dining and main halls have their walls painted on the outside. However, most of the inside is dilapidated with broken windows, congested dormitories and years of lack of maintenance.
One of the few developments that is giving Mwiri a new look is the upgrading of the dusty tennis court into a tarmacked one. This is a welcome scene that reminds one of the good old days. But a few metres away, the gloomy picture re-emerges. Teachersâ€™ houses are dilapidated, with broken, rotting doors and algae taking over asbestos roofs. The computer centre with its Internet facilities has a fresh coat of paint. But the roofing sheets are rotting and turning brown, making this centre unattractive.
Seated inside his spacious office, surrounded by piles of files and sports trophies depicting the schoolâ€™s past glory, the headmaster, John Mukubira, does not look a very happy man.
â€œBusoga College Mwiri is celebrating 100 years in September. However, we are not prepared due to lack of resources. It seems the economic crisis has affected everyone,â€ he explains.
Mwiri was first called Balangira High School in Kamuli district. As the name suggests, it was meant for chiefsâ€™ sons. Originally, Busoga did not have a Kyabazinga, but had chiefdoms headed by chiefs. The intention was to have educated chiefs but this later changed to include the sons of all Ugandans.
It is an Anglican church-founded school and its first 12 headmasters were reverends. With the expanded population, the Kamuli district location was no longer viable since it was a small village.
Rev. H.A Brewer, Mwiriâ€™s headmaster then, surveyed Mwiri Hill in 1932 and moved the school there.
â€œHowever, before they could move, the students were briefly accommodated at Kings College Budo while they built their own structures. Gradually, Mwiri attracted students from every corner of Uganda. The school has greatly contributed to the building of the nation. With its motto of â€œFor God and our Country,â€ Mwiri educated the first Executive Prime Minister and President of Uganda, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote between 1942 and 1948. In fact Uganda borrows its national motto of For God and My Country from the school.
The rise and fall
Mwiri has descended into an academic oblivion. This year, the school sent only seven students to university on government-sponsorship out of over 100 who sat.
It also got less than 66 first grades at Oâ€™level out of 145 students who sat national exams in 2010. This is a far cry from what Mwiri used to be and what it has done for Uganda.
The chairman, Busoga College Mwiri Old Boys Association, Dr. Daudi Muduuli, says: â€œI am very proud of this school but also very disappointed of what it has become. It is struggling academically and the academic infrastructure is worn out,â€ he says.
Dr. Muduuli says when he was at Mwiri between 1965 and 1971, the school was the best in Uganda. In 1971, over 65 students out of 70 who sat Aâ€™ level joined Makerere. Moses Mugulire, an OB of the school and the examinationsâ€™ master, says when he was a student in the school in the 1980s, over 80 out of 85 students who sat examinations in his year joined university.
Between 1990 and 2000, the schoolâ€™s performance was so excellent that in 2000, over 14 students out of 15 scored straight As in mathematics and 88.7% passed at Oâ€™level.
Throughout the turbulent Amin era the school continued to perform well. â€œBut there was rot in academic infrastructure. Laboratories, libraries and dormitories were neglected. Teachers were paid peanuts and there was decline in discipline and no supervision,â€ says Muduuli.
After the Amin era, the location of Mwiri worked against the teachers, so they could not make extra income by having a business or teaching in many institutions. So good teachers left for towns. The recycled leadership of the school was the worst blow.
In 2000, there was a strike as students protested the delayed delivery of a bus they had paid for.
â€œAfter the strike, many students were expelled and those who stayed and passed well never came back. This greatly contributed to the decline,â€ Mukubira says.
In 2001, the school performance took a nose-dive.
Having officially admitted students with only Aggregate 7 at Senior One, they lowered the cut-off points to Aggregate 12. While it officially admitted students with Aggregate 17 for the best eight subjects at Senior Five, students with as high as Aggregate 30 in eight were being admitted through â€œback doorâ€. Between 2001 and 2004, the school took fewer than 10 students to university on government-sponsorship. The pass rate at Oâ€™Level declined from 88.7% in 2000 to less than 60%. By 2005, the school had a debt of over sh500m.
John Mukubira, the deputy head teacher at the school and an old boy, became a headmaster in 2005. He inherited a demoralised staff and made some efforts to recruit more teachers, improve discipline and academics.
â€œWe have created more hours for lessons, bought more textbooks and discipline is improving,â€ he says.
The performance improved a little from seven students who passed to university on government-sponsorship in 2005 to 19 in 2006, then 21 in 2007 and then it fluctuated to 13 in 2008, eight in 2009 and seven in 2010.
Mukubira explains that the fluctuations reflect the kind of students they admit. He says Mwiri is no longer attractive to brilliant students, so they admit students from poor rural schools who struggle to come out at the top.
The school cut-off point at Oâ€™ Level is Aggregate 8 at P.7. However, most times, they do not get this quality, so they relax it to 10. The cut-off point at Aâ€™ level is 25 points in best eight subjects but they are also not attracting the best students, so they often take 27 to attract students.
Mukubira says the administration has strengthened discipline among teachers and students. The teachers voluntarily spend more hours teaching the students and supervising progress.
The OBs also visit the school to encourage and motivate students to work harder. Dr. Muduuli also says the OBs have renovated the school, especially the dormitories. They have also promised to construct a multi-purpose centennial building to accommodate offices and labs.
Help Mwiri recover
At the moment, Mwiri does not have enough space for learning. They use the junior laboratories to conduct lessons.
The school is part of the 42 secondary schools to be rehabilitated with a loan from the African Development Bank. Work is supposed to have begun but they continue to wait as life becomes harder.
Mukubira says as the school celebrates its centenary, they need a lot of support from OBs. He says in 2005, the school needed sh6b for renovation and this has doubled to over sh13b.
He requests the OBs, the Government, well-wishers and donors to support Mwiri. The celebrations began with a cricket match between Mwiri OBs against Budonian OBs on June 25.
There will also be a centenary walk in Jinja on July 23, leading to a church service on September 18, 2011. This will be followed by the centenary celebrations on September 24, at the Mwiri Hill.
Education ministryâ€™s view
The Assistant Commissioner for Secondary Education, Francis Agula, says the Government stopped giving secondary schools capital development fund because they are only prioritising universal education.
â€œOur target is to increase access of children to universal education. We are only giving capital development fund to schools that are running universal education. If the traditional schools want the capitation grant, they should also join the universal secondary school programme,â€ explains Agula.
He adds that unlike in the past where they had to give the traditional schools the capital development fund, they are now prioritising universal secondary education by giving them capital development fund. The capital development fund used to help the schools to carry out routine maintenance and long-term development projects like construction of a new library, laboratory or buying textbooks or lab equipment.
He, however, adds that the Government through the African Development Bank phase 4 loan is rehabilitating all the traditional secondary schools, including equipping laboratories, libraries and recruiting of teachers.
The schools so far rehabilitated include Sir Samuel Baker School in Gulu, Layibi College and Masaba SSS. He promised that by the end of the financial year 2011/2012, the student to text- book ratio will be 1:1. He adds that currently it is about one book to three students. But most rural schools have one book to 20. Agula adds that by the end of the financial year, almost all schools will be having ideal equipment.
Agula, however, accuses secondary school administrators of mismanaging and misdirecting resources. â€œAcademic activities are supposed to carry 30% of the school budget. But you find some schools having only less than 3% and using all the money on luxuries like buying buses or swimming pools,â€ he says.
Agula also regrets that education in Uganda is exam-based and this is affecting the quality of graduates. He questions why some schools have big farms, but they have nothing to show practically: â€œDo they want the Government to make them farms or geography field tours and give them practicals? The schools must be self-reliant. The Government can do some bit but they handle some some,â€ he says.
There have been concerns that the quality of inspection by the education ministry has gone down, to which Agula says some schools do not implement what they are told to do during routine inspections. He also blames parents for frustrating government programmes by not contributing to the success of a student. Some have failed to buy uniforms, scholastic materials and food for the children. He says the ministry will carry out sensitisation to educate the parents on their cardinal role.
How can the administration, OBs and well-wishers help Mwiri deal with issues of academic decline?
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Busoga College Mwiri: The school that was