ARUA. As Ugandans celebrate 56 years of independence, Edaku community primary school in Arua district marks 55 years of existence without a roof on the miserly classroom blocks.
The church of Uganda founded school is located about 45km from Arua town in the rough terrains of Illi hill village, Owai parish in Omugo Sub County.
Parents and pupils say Edaku primary school’s journey has been blighted by troubles since its inception in 1963.
It only came closer to having a semi-permanent four classroom block in early 2000 when parents raised the wall to window level. The works have stagnated since then.
Poor conditions for learning
Old as it may be, Edaku primary school has terrible conditions for learning. The pupils from P.2 to P.5 sit on bricks in the roofless wall during class hours and are only protected from the drenching sun by tarpaulins hung on the top of the walls.
The P.1 pupils are taught under a mango tree while those in P.7 sit in a church payot and the P.6 pupils occupy Ajulepi Church of Uganda as their classroom.
In a pitiful narration of what they go through in the quest for education, 11-year-old Peace Muzoyo, a pupil in the P.3 class says whenever it rains they abandon lesson and run into the church for shelter.
When the rains stop pounding, they still cannot resume classes immediately because the bricks they sit on will be wet.
“I can’t go to another school because they are all very far for me. I always pray that it doesn’t rain so that I can study without inconvenience,” Muzoyo says.
No latrines, high enrolment
The lamentable situation of Edaku primary school goes beyond lack of classrooms yet enrolment of children is high.
Mr Ronnie Acale, one of the school teachers says even latrines for both teachers and pupils is despicable.
The parents dug a pit covered by a two roomed wall but there is no roof and no doors. The pupils use one room while teachers go to the other but whoever goes inside there remains visible to anybody passing by.
With such difficulties, Mr Jude Candia, the school head teacher says enrolment levels have tended to fluctuate between the dry season and rain season.
He says at the beginning of the year, their enrolment stood at 700 pupils but that has gone down to 387 pupils.
This is because many of the pupils opted to stay home for fear of rains yet this is supposed to be a promotional term for the children to move to the next class.
“The nearest schools surrounding ours are about 4km away and this has made it hard for most of the children in this area to join them,” Mr Candia disclosed on Thursday.
He says Edaku Primary School has a total of 11 teachers of which only three are trained but none of the teaching staff is paid salary for the service rendered.
“All the teachers I have are volunteers from this area. They have devoted time to teach for free because of the suffering of their brothers and sisters,” Candia says.
To keep the school running, the administration takes the children to dig for people and when they are paid, that money is spent on purchasing chalk, text books and other necessities to support the children’s learning.
Ms Victoria Candiru, 45, one of the parents expressed unhappiness about the poor learning conditions of Edaku primary school.
“As parents we tried to lay bricks and raise the four classroom wall but we couldn’t do much due to lack of support,” she says.
No first grades
Because the conditions at Edaku primary school are very dire, no pupil has passed in first grade from the school in the last five and a-half decades of its existence.
Out of nine pupils who sat for Primary Leaving Examinations last year, seven passed in second grade and the remaining two in third grade.
The head teacher says efforts to convince the government to take over the school have been fruitless for years besides it is a rare event for officials from Arua district education department to pass by the school to assess its challenges.
So far, Mr Mario Obiga Kania, the State Minister for Internal Affairs who doubles as the area Member of Parliament is the highest profile visitor to Edaku primary school.
The minister paid a courtesy call to the school early this month and promised to lobby non-governmental organisations to support it.
Officials speak out
According to Ms Juliet Drijaru, the diocesan education coordinator for Madi and West Nile diocese, the incomplete structures at Edaku primary school point to a waning parental commitment to support the school.
But she assures that the diocese stands ready to join hands with the community to mobilise funds to roof the buildings.
She applauded Ajulepi church for offering the worship place for conducting classes for the pupils.
To uplift the performance levels, the diocese has included Edaku primary school into its programme of administering examinations in primary schools as a way of preparing pupils for the end-of-year exams.
“We intend to procure text books, chalk and blackboard and other items for the school,” she says.
Drijaru however appeals that the government should make deliberate effort to aid the community school owing to the big population of children in the area that is cut off from most of the surrounding primary schools by crisscrossing seasonal streams.
But Mr Marino Acia, the Arua district education officer maintains that their focus remains fixed on government aided schools and not the private ones.
“What normally happens is that we at the centre here concentrate on government aided schools because we are incapacitated by inadequate funds to support community schools,” Acia says.
He however indicated that Edaku primary was one of the 30 community schools recommended for government aiding way back in 2016 although the education ministry has not given any feedback on the matter.
Mr Acia says he will follow up the matter with the ministry, saying it offers the best possible route for Edaku primary school and its surrounding community out of their predicament.