By Doreen Bazio.

In 2021, the residents of Maaji II Refugee Settlement welcomed Maaji Secondary School in 2021 under the Uganda Secondary Education Expansion Project with reservation. While they knew it would improve access to education, the project had only achieved that basic right; a lot still needed to be done to improve learning outcomes for especially girls.

Today, the construction of dormitories with beds, sanitary facilities, planting of trees and provision of solar under the Development Response to Displacement Impact (DRDIP) in 2022 has improved the quality of education service provided. This has led to increase in enrollment of girls from 200 to 320 with 240 in the boarding section, reduced number of school dropouts, reduced absenteeism, reduced teenage pregnancies, and improved performance in UCE mock exams.

According to Evuma, Norbert, the Head Teacher, reveals that there was no girl among the students who attained Division I in the mock results for 2022 while this year in 2023, there was one girl in Division I in the just concluded mock exams against 4 boys. In the overall performance in UCE, they managed to be in the 4th position out of 22 schools in the district with only two first grades. With this improvement, they are optimistic that the school will excel in the 2023 UCE national exams with more than 4 first grades.

Norbert, observes that this is mainly because students have more time to read while in the boarding section and effortlessly attends extra lessons conducted during night (evening preps) and weekends. 

“In the last Parents and Teachers Association meeting, we agreed to install electricity in all the classes. During the night, they use the lights for conducting extra lessons known as preps.” Norbert observes.

Norbert also adds that the intervention of DRDIP has reduced teenage pregnancies and helped girls concentrate at school.

“Most of our students come from far. Some of them even cross River Nile and some streams. On their way to the school every day, they would come across many challenges including being lured into early marriage.” Norbert adds. 

Duluga Patrick, 35, one of the parents at the school also observes that keeping the students at the school premises provides an opportunity for more interaction between the students and teachers because lessons used to stop at 4pm and only resume the next day.

“The hours of contact between the teachers and their learners has increased because previously classes used to stop at 4:30pm. But now lessons have been pushed to 5pm.” Patrick explains.

Patrick also says students have more time to revise while in the boarding section opposed to being a day scholar. This he notes has also reduced absenteeism because most of the students stay within the school premises.

Usually, when our children return home, we assign them a lot of work. At the end of the work, many children are too tired to open a book and read and this continues for the most part of the week.” Patrick observes.

Aisha Jaguru, one of the girls at the school who excelled in the mock exams, says that staying in the dormitory gives her and her peers an opportunity to read and revise adequately for exams because of availability of both the solar system and a generator, something that is unlikely to happen at home because of the unstable and lack of power supply/electricity in Adjumani and the larger West Nile.

She is saddened by the prevailing situation that impedes 80 other girls from attending the boarding section. Although, this is partly because some parents can’t afford; the major reason for them staying away is inadequate beds. According to the Head Teacher, students have to share the available 120 decker beds but due the overwhelming number, there are some who sleep on the floor.

“When the deckers are combined, we have to sleep five people. Some people are uncomfortable with this arrangement, and so they sleep down. This however means that you have to wake up earlier than others.” Aisha reveals.  

Akuku Phillip Kaya, the Principal Education Officer, acknowledges that the district has many unfunded priorities which has been worsened by the refugees’ burden due to limited resources. He adds that the education department has always called upon partners to support but notes the unique contribution of DRDIP which uses a community led approach to recommend and initiate projects in refugee hosting areas.

Maaji Seed Secondary school has 663 refugees out of the total enrollment of 1,124 students. Maaji Refugee Settlement divided into I, II and III is home to about 40,000 refugees.