Yesterdays Superlative Northern Uganda Schools

David Ongom
David Ongom, a leading Ugandan Educationist, a graduate of the University of Nairobi, studied at Makerere University, taught at Lango College and Kyambogo University and was the Deputy Secretary of the East African Examination Council. Ongom has travelled widely abroad





By the end of second decade of the twentieth century missionary education in Northern Uganda was well under way. This was especially so in the Acholi Sub Region. Two missionary bodies were engaged in opening up educational space throughout Northern Uganda, one Roman Catholic, and the other Anglican Protestantism. The education system they set in motion was within the circumstances and the limitations of the time, a model any country would have been proud of.  

On the level of physical plant, things were rudimentary. Except in few cases, Classrooms were constructed with wattle and mud walls and grass thatched roofs, they were neat and good to look at. Walls were neatly pasted with whitish clay soil while floors were pasted with cow dung, which when dry gave a net green gray appearance. Every Friday of the week, the bigger girls would re-do the classrooms floors; younger boys would clean the school compounds while older boys worked on the school gardens. Everybody was kept busy. Schools were well kept. There were lawns, edges, flowers and orchards. Schools were lovely sites that attracted children and excited the local community.

Teachers were smart, well-fed, healthy and well motivated. They were dignified confident people, knowledgeable and of high moral standard. They loved teaching and were proud to be teachersTheir influence was felt well beyond the schoolyard. Whenever there were football matches between parishes, teachers were called upon to preside over the matches as referees. Teachers respected themselves and kept good families. The thought of a teacher going for sex with a school kid, a practice sadly so prevalent today, was unheard of.

Head-teachers were efficient and competent managers. Teachers throughout the primary school system were custodians of values and disseminators of knowledge and skills. They were consultants in many spheres. In the 1940s and 1950s, during the First World War and the Mau Mau war in Kenya, many citizens of Uganda were drafted in the colonial army and fought along side the British far from home. These soldiers sent letters and sometimes money to help their parents back home. Most parents could not read nor write. Teachers were called upon to read letters and help collect money that serving soldiers remitted. They gladly obliged and gave of their service freely.

School kids were smart in their school uniform. They were well fed, lively, cheerful and of good manners. They were the envy of those kids unable to go to school. They enjoyed school life, took their class-work seriously and excelled at games and sports and other extra curricula activities such as crafts. There were no malnourished or stunted children in whole of Lango and Acholi areas. The land was fertile, the people hard working. Food was good and plentiful.

The missionary and the colonial school systems were well run in every way. They were closely supervised by competent and dedicated school Supervisors who visited and inspected the schools regularly. Teachers took their work seriously and received their monthly salaries on time and in full.  Teachers were well motivated and were satisfied with the salary they earned. Education system functioned to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. The education sector was full of unsung heroes. Impossible to mention all by name but from the Acholi sub region these names come to mind:

  • Peter Abe, long time Headmaster of Gulu High School
  • Onyach, Schools Supervisor
  • Labeka Okwong, School Inspector
  • Erinayo Opiyo
  • Angelo Banya

From the Lango Sub Region the following among others played a crucial roll in the development of education and educational institutions in the fifties and sixties.

  • Okello Olong, Headmaster of Boroboro Secondary School
  • J.R Nyankori, long time Schools Supervisor
  • Benjamin Otengo, School Inspector
  • Nicholas Opio, Education Officer
  • Fr Tarantino of Lira, later Bishop of Arua

In 1962 Uganda became Independent under a Uganda People’s Congress lead government that maintained the standards that the missionaries and colonial authorities had put in place. If anything during this period education at all levels improved in both quality and quantity in terms of availability.  Government took over the running and funding of mission schools and integrated them into one single system but the schools still their original character. New schools were built while existing schools got new and more permanent structures. At a national level the product of the primary school systems in the Lango Sub Region and throughout Northern Uganda competed very well with the product of schools elsewhere in the country, including those in the Kampala area.

Teachers prepared their lessons and wrote lesson plans in lesson books provided by the school authorities. Teachers taught their lessons with vigor and utmost enthusiasm. The class was a lively arena during lessons. Teachers and students enjoyed themselves. During the 1950s to 1980s pupils from the remotest primary school in Northern Uganda were able to gain admissions to national schools like Gayaza High School, Kings College Budo, Mount Saint Mary’s  Namagunga, Ntare School, Busoga College Mwiri and Sir Samuel Baker School to mention but a few.

By the mid 1960s, there were three secondary schools in Lango District, namely: Lango College, Comboni College and Dr Obote College. More were soon to come. In terms of standards and performance the three schools were comparable to any secondary school in Uganda at that time. They provided education at the same level as Kings College Budo, St Mary’s College Kisubi, Ntare School, and Kigezi High School etc. They consistently performed very well in national examinations and were rated among the top 20 schools in Uganda. The question that must be asked now is, from whence comes this sudden backwardness of Northern schools that has now lasted for the last twenty years? Where is the current utter lack of performance in Northern Uganda Schools coming from? For answers to these questions watch this column.