The Reach Uganda team distributing teaching material in Wakiso district in central Uganda. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Central Uganda are set to benefit from an education programme launched by students from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) with the initiative providing students and teachers with much-needed textbooks and training resources.

The project, Reach Uganda, got on its feet early last year after receiving $15,000 (Dh55,000) from NYU’s annual D-Prize competition and is targeting 32 schools in Wakiso district. The project’s main focus is on providing school students with mathematics textbooks to increase student interest in the subject. Sixteen schools were reached by the initiative with the other 16 schools to be provided with the textbooks by the end of 2016.

Clara Bicalho, one of the co-founders of Reach Uganda, said, “Our group decided to start this project when we visited two schools in Uganda, where we met with teachers, students, and local leaders who work in the public education sector. From our meetings, we learnt about the very high student-to-teacher ratio in the classrooms; in the 32 schools that we are targeting, the ratio is 72 students to 1 teacher in each classroom, and so there aren’t enough resources. And in many cases, there are not enough finances for these schools, so many of the students don’t get the textbooks they need.

“Through our project, we have offered both maths textbook supplies and training for the teachers on how they can employ creative tools in the classroom when they are teaching the students about the subject,” Bicalho added.

The main aim of the project, she explained, was to not only provide the students with the necessary math textbooks, but also to raise the interest levels in the subject, which in turn would help with student attendance and performance.

“Our main goal is to increase the classroom attendance and to have students more interested and positive towards maths. One of the common things we heard from the teachers was the negative attitude students had towards the subject which hindered the teachers’ ability to educate the students,” she said.

She pointed to the importance of engagement with students in a way that arouses and sustains interest in a subject. “Research has shown that engaging students in creative ways within the classroom can really go a long way in how they feel and behave towards a subject and how they eventually perform. That is why we have also trained teachers by holding workshops that developed creative tools for them to use in the classrooms. The workshops also developed a manual that they could use in the future as a reference guide,” Bicalho said.

The project has been a major success so far, with half of the 32 schools being reached, she said.

“More than 1,300 books to 16 schools have been distributed and more were to by the end of December 2016. More than 55,000 school students are being reached by the programme.”

Post-distribution of books, the programme’s success and impact will be evaluated. “Hopefully with the positive results, we will be able to gather support to expand this project. That’s the next step,” she added.

Eduardo Campillo, one of the co-founders behind the project, said that a direct success of the project was down to listening and partnering with the local community.

“There are many development initiatives that often fail because they use a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach which does not take into account a lot of the realities being faced by the community. That is why we put an emphasis on getting feedback from the teachers, to understand what they needed, and to encourage them to give us negative or positive feedback so that we could make the project better,” he said.

Campillo added that he was happy to make a positive impact for young schoolchildren.

“It is important to get involved as young people. In university, we learn about theories but at the end of the day, we need to get out and see how these theories can be applied. Theories by themselves don’t help anyone until they can be used in a positive way,” he said.