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Opinion6th November 2015

Ugandan Inspiration: An Ark Fellow’s experience in a PEAS school

Claire Hickling is a teacher from Ark Academy in Wembley. Recently she was selected as part of the Ark Global Teaching Fellowship Programme and spent two weeks in Uganda, sharing her expertise with one of Ark’s partners, PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools).

I initially heard about the Ark Global Teaching Fellowship through a colleague. I had worked in East Africa before, so I thought I knew what to expect. I knew that classes would be big – over 60 students in a lesson – and that classrooms would likely be spartan; with broken windows and dirt floors. I also assumed there would be undertrained teachers and passive students.

On those last points, I was very wrong. I had not taken account of the team at PEAS’ dedication to their mission – to provide ‘quality secondary education.’ The first impression I got when I entered a PEAS school was a sense of happy and engaged students. Many come from poor, rural backgrounds of extreme hardship. But with their bright orange and grey uniforms, and their smiling teachers and school leaders – I could see straight away that they were in a happy, safe learning environment.

As an Ark Fellow, I had been sent to Uganda to work with PEAS to create and run teacher training workshops. The education specialists at PEAS were determined to introduce an improved culture of sharing and learning in their schools. I hoped, from my own experiences at Ark Academy to bring a fresh set of eyes to this process. I know that personalised feedback for teachers can provide extremely valuable action steps for teachers to improve their craft.[[{“fid”:”75056″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_tags[und]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“style”:”height: 374px; width: 280px; margin: 6px; float: right;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]

Traditionally, teacher observations had been seen as an exercise in critiquing a teacher’s methods. In Uganda, we focussed our observations on training and improving, rather than just testing and monitoring teachers. This supportive approach had a huge impact in making the experience a positive one – providing motivation, rather than criticism, for teachers and school leaders.

We had extensive discussions with staff on their recommended improvement action steps. We even recorded the feedback so we could review and discuss it together later.

I saw an indication of the dedication of PEAS staff in a school director at Sarah Ntiiro High School named Abi. Although directors are usually too busy to teach classes, Abi makes a point of finding time to balance being in the classroom with running the school.

Abi has high expectations of his students. In one of the classes I saw him teach, he made sure that not a single one of his 75 students fell behind, even when they had missed a lesson. He used more modern teaching techniques than I use in my own classroom- student teaching, group work and more. I watched as he gave individual feedback to every one of his students and marked all 75 lesson books himself. It was an inspiration.

It became clear to me from watching Abi and other PEAS staff, that good teaching isn’t dependent on having technical equipment or the best resources. Some PEAS schools have only one or two computers, little or no electricity and not enough text books for every student. But using what they have, they can still manage to teach exceptional lessons.

The thing I found most impressive about the whole experience was the people I was working with. The team at PEAS is truly outstanding. They have such a strong vision for the Ugandan education system and a real dedication towards improving the quality of education in their schools and their country. It was a pleasure to work with such inspiring people.

‘PEAS is one of the largest and fastest growing school networks in Africa. PEAS believes in a world where all children can enjoy an education that unlocks their full potential. PEAS is addressing the critical need for secondary education in Africa by launching and running secondary schools. Over 12,000 girls and boys are getting an education they otherwise could not afford, but millions are still missing out. Help PEAS to give children an education and donate now:

To apply or find out more information: email: and use the subject line Ark Fellows