School Is in Session

Saturday, December 13, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
Global Playground's school in Uganda has officially opened and welcomed its first class. Forty kindergarten students are now regularly attending class, with students in P1 through P5 expected to matriculate by early 2009. Ultimately, the school will serve nearly three hundred students from six villages, including the village of Buwasa in which the school is located.

The school is a joint undertaking of Global Playground and Building Tomorrow, a nonprofit that operates in Uganda. Global Playground has provided $33,500, the
lion's share of the cost to build the school,
while Building Tomorrow has overseen the school's construction. The school is constructed of high-quality brick on a foundation of clay and contains eight rooms fronted by a portico. Seven of the rooms will be used as classrooms and the eighth will double as a library and the principal's office. "The school will give students the opportunity to advance as high as P7," said Edward Branagan, Global Playground's executive director.

Global Playground faced many challenges in bringing its first project to fruition. Construction began in September 2007, one month after the land for the school was acquired. During the next nine months, however, a series of delays ensued, resulting from difficulties in acquiring construction materials and increases in material, construction, and transportation costs. Unrest from the 2007 presidential election in neighboring Kenya drove transportation costs higher by causing fuel prices in Uganda to soar. Additionally, Uganda suffered from poor weather conditions during its rainy season, further delaying construction.

Uganda's Ministry of Education was supposed to provide seven teachers and a headmaster for the school by May 2008. But the ministry "just didn't allocate enough teachers [in time]," said Branagan. So far, the ministry has only provided two teachers and the headmaster but has committed to providing the remaining five teachers in time for the new academic term beginning in January 2009. The difficulties in getting teachers, noted Branagan, are representative of "something that occurs in the developing world. Government [agencies] aren't as reliable as they are [in the United States]."

Global Playground has high but realistic hopes for the school. With sixty percent of Uganda's population under age eighteen, "there's a huge market and demand for school[ing]," said Branagan. If too many children are in a class though, "it can detract from the educational experience of others. The idea is to have reasonable class sizes of around forty," said Branagan, who noted that in May 2009, Global Playground intends to send representatives to Uganda to check on the school again and to see it in full swing.

Once fully operational, the school will not operate in a vacuum but rather as part of Global Playground's network of schools. "The key is definitely for this [school] to be part of a network of cross-cultural exchange," said Doug Bunch, Global Playground's chairman. The seeds of this exchange were planted last January when Becca Sacra, a teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn, New York, traveled to Buwasa and brought video footage of her students to show to the Ugandan children. In the future, Global Playground hopes to link the school with the students at Global Playground's other project sites in Cambodia and Thailand.

"Our vision, down the line, is to create a small network of schools" where a "child from Cambodia or Uganda can engage in some sort of cross-cultural communication," Branagan said. "The idea is to allow students the opportunity to engage in an exchange with someone who is different than themselves." Through this exchange, Global Playground hopes that children will obtain a greater understanding of themselves and others.

-Jon Heifetz