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At 63, Mpanga won’t let go of teaching

By Vision Reporter

Added 20th November 2007 03:00 AM

SHE started practising one of the oldest professions at 19.

She was among the few pioneer African teachers at Kitante - a model primary school at the time.

SHE started practising one of the oldest professions at 19.

She was among the few pioneer African teachers at Kitante - a model primary school at the time.

But at the peak of her career, disaster struck.

One of the pioneer primary school teachers lost her husband.

Still a young woman, the passing of Margaret Mpanga’s husband left her with six children to tend.

With meagre earnings as a primary school teacher, she had little means to pay fees for the children.

David Mpanga, the last born, was in Primary Six at the time of his father’s death. Today he is a graduate
engineer. Flavia Mpanga was a young girl just joining secondary school when she buried her father, but today she is a graduate of Medicine working with the United Nations, an achievement she attributes to her mother.

“She is our mother and father. She single-handedly struggled to see us through school. Some mothers abandon their children and marry in other homes after losing a husband,” Dr. Flavia Mpanga Kaggwa says of
her mother.

A celebrated teacher named Kampala’s mother of primary school education with 42 years of service, Mpanga is humble.

Twenty-one years after her husband’s death, Mpanga is the proud mother of six university graduates and is still a reference point in the education world. In offices, on the streets and wherever she travels, someone reminds her of her great services - her former students.

I visited her at her home in Bukoto, a Kampala suburb.

A dark-skinned woman emerged from one of the rooms walking with some difficulty. Later, her daughter tells me that she underwent an operation recently. But this has not stopped her from holding chalk in one hand and a walking stick in the other.

Although I expected her to sit and narrate her story, she preferred taking a stroll to a school in the neighbourhood.

A few homes off Bukoto Road, a large sign-post with an inscription of Berries Kindergarten welcomed us. “This is where I am practising my 50 years experience in education,” she says before leading me into a small office. As she limps through the compound, children shouting ‘teacher!’ besiege her.

She talks passionately of the good old days.

“Teachers were a gem during our times. We were loved and respected. Today you only hear of rampant cases of children being abused by teachers,” Mpanga says.

She used to earn only sh270, but she remembers managing to buy all she wanted. “I would buy so many things and still save bread,” she says.

Mpanga cuts a figure of the simple woman. At 63, she is aware the clock is ticking fast. Two visitors’ books are still in her possession - many have inscriptions of former students who passed through her hands. “Your hands shaped me and I believe my little one will benefit from your gifted hands,” Fred, a parent and one of
the former students, wrote in one of the books. After retiring from active service, she founded Berries Kindergarten to revive what she calls a ‘lost generation of real education’.

“Most children are taught to buy toys from shops, but here I insist that children make the toys themselves. Creativity has died, you go to a school and you find kids with expensive toys purchased from shops. This does not only kill creativity but it also makes education expensive for needy parents,” she says, before taking a seat in her office.

At 19 years of age, Mpanga conducted her first lesson at Nalinya Lwantale Primary School in Ndejje. She had just qualified as a teacher from Our Lady Irene Teachers Training College. In a pioneer class of only 30, she was lucky to emerge among the best. She was posted to teach Top Class; the equivalent of P.7 today.

After two years, she secured a scholarship at Moray House College in Edinburgh, Scotland. After two years, he graduated with a certificate in Infants Education. Shortly after, she enrolled at London University’s Institute of Education, for a diploma in English teaching. She graduated in 1968.

In 1968, she secured a job at Kitante PS. The school was used as a model school for training teachers from other parts of the country.

After a two-year stint there, she joined Nakasero PS. She recalls that there were only four Africans teaching in the school.

“Few Africans had qualifications to teach in such a school which was dominated by children of the elite and whites,” she recalls.

After eight years of teaching at Nakasero, Mpanga joined Makerere University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education in 1981.

After over two decades of teaching at primary level, she joined secondary. She taught at Nakasero Senior Secondary School for seven years, between 1981 and 1988.

In 1989, she was appointed Acting Principal of Lady Irene Teachers Training College, which later became Ndejje University.

But she remembers one thing during her stay in this school. “I acted for 11 years,” she says. Later she
took a break and joined Makerere University for a Masters degree in Education.

In 2003, Mpanga joined Jinja Primary Teachers College in Wanyange, as a Deputy Principal. In 2004, she retired from active teaching at the age 60.
Mpanga is the sixth born in a family of 12.

Problems of Primary education in Uganda
- Keeping children longer at school under the pretext of giving them more knowledge to out-compete other schools
- Little remuneration for teachers
- Limited time for children to play and engage in sports
- A culture of rote learning brought about by cut-throat competition among schools
- Parents having less and less time with their children
- Extending teaching to homes through a heavy work load of home work given to children

Mpanga’s solutions
- Emphasise learning by doing rather than cramming to pass exams
- Reduce on the heavy work load of home work given in primary schools
- Teach the community a culture of respecting teachers regardless of their financial standing
- Primary schools should follow the term time table issued by the education ministry
- Teachers pay should be modest enough to meet the basic needs of a 21st century primary school teacher

TO HEADTEACHERS
Secondary schools that received New Vision questionnaires through Straight Talk Foundation are requested to post them as soon as possible. The postage is prepaid

At 63, Mpanga won’t let go of teaching

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