In early 2008, my friend Oskar Ssemweya-Musoke offered me the opportunity to teach at his Taibah College School. With a bachelors’ degree in the Arts (English language Studies, Literature and Drama), I had started hustling Kampala at the newly founded newspaper The Independent, a year earlier.
Newly founded and renowned for its radically critical editorial position, especially after its founding editors, Andrew Mwenda (then), Charles Odoobo Bichachi, and Joseph Were— and steady journalists such as Charles Etukuri, James Akena, and later Rosebell Kagumire and Agnes Asiimwe, among others—The Independent magazine was pure excitement as a newsroom.
The soundness and loudness of debate in this newsroom inspired me to write my first short story, The Naked Excellencies, which would be published by CCC Press in the UK in 2010. But this will be a story for another day.
Impatient with life—I really wanted to take a wife—this newly founded magazine was not financially rewarding for my immediate dreams. Thus, I was extremely unsettled in my job as sub-editor and book reviewer.
Thus, when I chanced to meet Ssemweya-Musoke moderating a literary function at the Uganda Museum in late 2007, I walked to him after the event and told him I wanted to teach in his school. Just like that. Ssemweya-Musoke would ask me to take him my CV, and a couple of months later, I was called for an interview, which ended successfully with me becoming one of the teachers of English Language and Literature.
Yes, the monies were better, but again, not enough for my immediate dream— marrying that girl I had been talking to for the last two years.
I only spent just a term at Taibah College before returning to The Independent (and later Fountain Publishers). Oh, boy, I was impatient. But I have to tell you, dear reader, that the four months I worked at Taibah College are some of the most (socially-intellectually) rewarding months in my final forming as a professional employee and social being.
Not once, not twice, did teaching at Taibah actually feel like finally receiving the education I had missed. (And I was a product of fairly good traditional schools, Bishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, and Namagabi Secondary School).
The first shocker for me was in teachers having their lunch meals from the same dishes and same dining hall with the students. Where in the Ugandan world was this happening!
Well, I know, Taibah Schools are comparatively very expensive and thus the menus are like Sunday home- dishes and are also carefully prepared.
But the idea that teachers sat with their students and ate together was unusual for me, especially with my traditional school background. There was a special closeness that teachers cultivated with their students from this interaction.
From my experience as a learner, teachers had been a special set of human beings, miles away from their learners. Then, I started taking lessons on keeping a diary. I had never kept one in my life. Taibah College School printed diaries for students where they had to plan their days and weeks throughout the term.
Students have to review their plans at the end of every day, and make notes for the teacher who will be reviewing these diaries at the end of every week.
On the basis of the students planning and owning reviews, the teacher could be prompted to invite the student for a follow-up conversation. Again, why had I not got exposed to diary-keeping throughout my school time?
Then came the arrangement every morning—the first hour of learning— where learners meet with their teachers in groups (not classes) to plan the day, and discuss life in general terms.
This discussion is organised thematically, with themes pre-written in the diaries. Things such as work, time-keeping, steadfastness, friendship, love, intercourse or school meals, would be discussed. Students are encouraged to be positive before focusing on the negative aspects of these subjects.
Educated in an all-exam routine, you would imagine my horror at a school spending an entire hour every morning discussing non-examinable things!
But I quickly understood that the idea was producing a fully-formed individual, that even if they missed university, their approach to life would depict some learning, order and organisation.
There was more coming: the holiday programme—I forget its name—where these high school students (mostly from senior three onwards) would be actually helped to see the world of work early enough. Taibah College— as an institution—would approach organisations, institutions or companies such as The Observer newspaper, Bank of Uganda, Uganda Telecom, or Nice House of Plastics, and ask them to host their learners for the entire holidays as “junior interns.”
The magic in this arrangement is that students get to feel the work space and get over the anxiety early enough. As long as the parent agreed to offer lunch, and transport to their children to the workplace, Taibah negotiated the arrangement with the offering institution.
Here, these high school juniors sat through meetings, observed workplace politics, and made friendships with mature folks, building their confidence and maturity.
There is much more to share from my months at Taibah College. Yes, you have not seen their students in the news, their UNEB grades are thereabouts. But students from these schools have a different, stellar relationship with life than those with wonderful UNEB grades from other schools.
As someone based at Makerere University, I have seen many students walk into these Mak gates (with superb grades), and leave with superb grades, but terribly lacking in confidence and with zero personal and professional skills.
Oftentimes they are unable to express themselves—in any language—or simply plan their days. The true definition of miseducation.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.