Uganda Schools in the Early Days of Independence 1960 – 1970

John Otim

Evening time. A huge ball descends the sky. It looked incredibly huge. But it was not the sun. A man in white jersey stood in the middle of the ground. Before him a group of youths. All eyes were on the ball.

We were at a football pitch on the school grounds at the school where my father taught. It was his daily session with the boys, doing coaching. Inter school competition was a big thing. I had accompanied him. I was 3 years old. 

After the games the boys ran for a wash. Water gathered from a borehole nearby. Then it was time for supper. Then it was time for prep. The school was organized as a series of activities with no let up. Clockwork! If you were a kid from the village the world of the school was totally new. But you soon got used and adapted.

In those days teachers were teachers. Today a teacher could also be a trader or a hawker selling petty things. Or he could be a boda-boda rider, ferrying passengers to the market on overloaded motor bikes. Teachers lived on school grounds. By the standard of the day they lived well. Teachers were valued members of the community. In the village everybody knew them.

Although they lived apart, teachers were part of the local community. People consulted them on many things including health matters. They interacted with the local community. The school was a center of learning. In some ways school was also a center of entertainment. Villagers turned up to attend school games, school concerts, things like that. The school was a fun place to be. Not just for the kids, for everyone. The school chapel and the lovely grounds around it, was a favorite place for staging weddings. No hiring charges.

Teachers were not rich people. But teachers were not poor people. Teachers were different. Their world, was different from the world of the country chief. The country chief was a ‘prince’ who rode in a fine car and lived in a palace with his many wives and a large number of children who attended the local school. The chiefs were envious of teachers. Teachers were young and were in fine shape. Teachers rode bicycles. They travelled by bus if they needed to get to faraway places. These were comfortable commuter vehicles. You could reach most places by bus because the roads were good and passible all year round. Buses were regular. Passenger luggage were stored on the rooftop and covered by canvass. Speeding buses were a sight on village roads. Sometimes they provided opportunity for petty trade for communities along the route.

Teachers were different from office workers. Office workers always dressed smartly, many of them in a suit and tie. Teachers dressed nicely too but in a simpler way. White shirts, khaki shorts, that kind of thing. On the average office workers were richer. Some office workers rode their own cars. But it was the teachers who lived a richer life. On Christmas and New Year day teachers and all their families got together. The school became a carnival of festivities. In the days of the gramophone and record player this was fun.

Teachers were different from farmers. Farmers were rich people. But farmers did not know it. Many farmers had large herds of cows but they hardly sold them. Later there was a violent change in government in the late 1980s. Armed men in uniform invaded the countryside and took away all their cows and goats and chicken. That was when farmers really became poor and desperate people. Everyone became poor, including the teachers. Even the traders became poor.

Teachers were different from traders. Traders were colorful people. They wore exotic dress. Many traders were people from outside the locality. Some were Arabs. In the bigger centers there were Indian traders who were extravagantly rich. Traders lived in the trading center. Whenever teachers went to buy from them the traders loved to talk with teachers. And teachers loved to talked with traders. They discussed many things. Including the politics of the newly independent government and the many changes that were taking place in the country. This was the period of the 1960s and the 70s. Teachers were knowledgeable people because they were well educated. They read books, they listened to the radio, they attended refresher courses. They read newspapers and magazines.

Teachers and church people were almost the same people. They all lived on the school ground. Both were concerned with education. Both had to live by the strict missionary code of conduct. No liquor, no loose morals.  The Church (Catholic and Protestant) owned the schools. They did a great job of building formal education system in Uganda. Mission schools were in reality private schools. There were very few government schools.  Later the government took over mission schools. Later the schools returned again to their original owners. Later, other private schools emerged, owned by rich individuals. Today there are many private schools. John Fisher Teachers College is a private school. There are many private universities in Uganda today.

In those early days when Catholic and Protestant missions ran education, teachers lived and breathed the life of the man of learning. The system was organized to work that way. Teachers were paid adequately, regularly, and on time. They were well accommodated. Students were well provided for. Each student had free textbooks and free note books. Each classroom had a mini library (a cupboard of carefully selected books). Teachers cared for their students. Students loved their teachers. Students and teachers both loved the school. The school was a fun place to be. That was the way things were.