Higher Education and Rural Development in northern Uganda

Exploring avenues of collaboration between the Faculties of Agriculture and Science of the University of Naples Federico II and Gulu, and FAO
25 November 2011
FAO Headquarters, Rome

On 25th November, a seminar on “Education and Rural Development in Northern Uganda” was held at FAO Headquarters to:

- Illustrate the cooperation between the Faculties of Agriculture and Science of the University of Naples “Federico II” (Italy) and the University of Gulu (Uganda) within the “GULUNAP” Project , presented as a good practice of north-south collaboration for capacity development.

- Explore the possible synergies and cooperation between the GULUNAP project and FAO - within the context of the Education for Rural People (ERP) partnership program and the FAO Corporate Strategy on Capacity Development - and the work of the members of the Interdepartmental Task Group on Training for Technicians for Capacity Development, other FAO officers and the public at large.

The Faculties of Agriculture and Science of the University of Naples Federico II and Gulu cooperate since 2007 with the primary aim of addressing development issues in education, agriculture, natural resources and environmental management for improved household income.

The seminar benefitted from the presence of distinguished speakers from the Naples University of “Federico II” and Gulu University. The aim of the event was to present the GULUNAP (Gulu-Naples) Project, which is the product of collaboration between the two universities started since 2003.

The background to the event is that the long-term effects of civil war are still undermining the development and social progress in Northern Uganda and that there are marked regional disparities between this region and the rest of the country. Needs analysis has shown that the population falls disproportionately short of achieving multiple MDG’s (Millennium Development Goals), thus making them vulnerable to health problems and renewed conflicts. The District of Gulu has benefited during recent years of a strong and successful Italian presence, which has initially supported the health sector, in the Regional and Lacor Hospital and the Health District. In 2005, the University of Naples “Federico II” has significantly contributed to the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine at Gulu University, with joint teaching programs, building facilities and finally graduating the first 40 MDs in January 2010.

Following this positive experience, the “GULUNAP” project has been extended to the Agriculture and Science Education sectors. The speakers were: Prof. Guido D’Urso, Department of Agricultural Engineering and Agronomy at University of Naples “Federico II”, Prof. Elena Sassi and Prof. Luigi A. Smaldone, Department of Physical Sciences at University of Naples “Federico II” and Dr. Collins Okello from Gulu University, Uganda. The meeting goal was also to start collaboration between GULUNAP and FAO and verifying the possibility of involving FAO officers as visiting professors at the Uganda and “Federico II” Universities. Dr. Lavinia Gasperini, Agricultural Education Officer at FAO, introduced the theme and asked all the speakers and the public to introduce him/her self. The floor was opened by Prof. Guido D’Urso who gave a presentation of the GULUNAP Project. He presented the geographical rural position of Gulu, and Uganda in general, and the climate conditions of this area (rich land and water resources, high potentiality for agriculture and risk of drought). In this framework, he also underlined the problems to be faced in that area which are especially related to food insecurity, malnutrition, poor infrastructures, technologies and knowledge transfer systems, low productivity, poor post-harvest handling and technology and lack of entrepreneurship skills.

Differently from the urban University of Makerere, to the rural Gulu University less funds and financial support are provided. Prof. D’Urso presented the GULUNAP Project history informing that the Gulu University was established in 2002 with the aim to develop agriculture, natural resources and the environment management to improve household income. A second step was taken in 2003, with the support of the University of Naples “Federico II”, introducing programmes of post-conflict health problems and high infant and maternal mortality.

The speaker also cited as a very important step of the project: the foundation of the Gulu University Faculty of Medicine in 2004 that led to the graduation of the first 40 students in 2010. In this year also a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), renewed for 2011, was signed and a collaboration on Science and Agriculture was started. Prof. D’Urso added that people involved in this project would like to do much more in the future. He presented photos of many blocks of the Gulu University (the administration, library, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, some of the classrooms, the laboratories and the experimental plots). The last part of the Professor presentation was focused on technical aspects such as the terms of the MoU 2011- 2013 between the Faculties of Science and Agriculture University of Gulu, the two universities common planned activities and the details of a European Union call (EUropeAID) GULUNAP has applied to. Prof. D’Urso ended by saying that the FAO Education for Rural People (ERP) initiative is very well linked to the Project.

The floor was then given to Prof. Elena Sassi who presented the Science Education activities in Gulu rural University, also on behalf of her colleague Prof. Luigi Smaldone. Also for the second speaker, the very first introduction to this presentation focused on the geographical position of Uganda and Gulu in particular. Talking about this rural area, the speaker stated that it is next to Sudan and this means lack of security for rebels threatening that area, human resources and knowledge but also migration and brain drain. After this, Prof. Sassi cited the two levels of collaboration between the Naples and Gulu Universities: one was for “teachers-to-be” (training of trainers) involved in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. The other aspect on which the teams concentrated their efforts was on the “in-service teachers” involved in physics and secondary school in general especially in rural areas. After this, the presenter briefly talked about the history of education in Uganda mentioning that until 1962 this Country was a British colony and that its educational system has very formal educational roots. The education sector in the Northern Uganda still suffers from unreliable electricity supplies, lack of public transportation, use of old textbooks, scarce ICTs, inadequate or absent laboratories, (the lack of capacity of students to formulate questions and address and solve problems) and the mnemonic learning.

Furthermore, it was underlined that some other problems are the lack of women in the school, which represents a huge problem according to the speaker and the costly university fees (the Professor explained that for 10 thousands fellowships, some 60 thousand people applied). Prof. Elena Sassi stated that the Naples University of “Federico II” reserves some fellowship posts for the GULUNAP Project adding that the Italian university has as a policy to invite a student for a PhD every 3 years provided that he commits to work in Gulu University for at least 5 years. The Professor, then, illustrated the evolution of the GULUNAP teaching method from 2006 to now in Physics and added that the Biology courses started in 2006, the Chemistry’s in 2008 and the Mathematics in 2009. After this, the presenter talked about the workshop “Every Day Physics Practicals with every Day Materials” they organized in Uganda in 2006 illustrating how poor material can integrate especially in rural areas, and in this case substitute, technical equipment for experiments (ex. telemeters). The second workshop organized was “Lights in Northern Uganda”, held in Gulu in 2010, and focused on optics knowledge and low or no cost experiments (ex. interference, polarization). The participants to the event came from primary and secondary rural schools, from universities (bachelor’s degree and postgraduate students) and students from 5 Northern Uganda districts. After illustrating some cheap experiments, Prof. Elena Sassi talked about the next steps forward which are: a new workshop and a greater attention to Basic Science for Agriculture and Post-harvest Technology of Fruits.

The speaker thanked the public and FAO adding that this Project gave her the possibility to experience something unexpected and new and that it gave the possibility to both the universities to enrich their wealth of experience. The last presenter was Dr. Collins Okello from Gulu University. He first explained that from 1986 the economic activities were blocked and famine, poverty for rural people and no access to land impeded people from improving their lives. In this way, people also lost most of their skills and experiences to produce food. In 2005 the situation changed. The presenter illustrated how the education system in Uganda works, adding that pre-school is not compulsory and that schools are government aided or private (in this case these are very expensive). Dr. Okello also stated that after attended the secondary school, people can choose the academic path (2 years at university) or to attend an institute. In the education system, the government plays a regulatory role. In 1996 things started to change as education became something for all and compulsory for 7 years. Despite the scarcity of infrastructures, the school enrolment increased from 2.9 million in 1996 to 7.35 million people.

The speaker underlined that students for each class are about 80 and it is difficult to learn especially because of lack of funds. Agriculture is the main economic resource in Northern Uganda and sometimes the education in agriculture tends to respond to foreign priorities instead of locals. For this reason, Gulu education can open a problem solving-ownership approach and develop the capacity to lead the national development. The challenges related to the Northern Uganda, which is the region where the education is lagging the most, are related to regional disparity, lack of qualified and motivated teaching staff (moving to richer regions) and of didactic requirements and inadequate infrastructures.

Dr. Collins Okello, then, presented a table showing that in Gulu region, the rate of pupils attending the PLE (Primary Leaving Examination) and getting the highest score is very low (1.1%). The pupil-teacher’s ratio is high, especially if compared with national scores. Moreover just 1.1% of pupils attending the PLE (Primary Leaving Examination) reach the last primary school grade compared with national level. The conclusion of his presentation is that increased support to the education sector in rural Northern Uganda is needed and that training of professionals should be conducted from within the region. After the presentations, public from FAO and universities posed questions and suggestions with the aim to co-operate in the future underlining the important role of livestock food chain that should be approached. The public also congratulated the speakers for their impressive interventions. The group then discussed possible concrete steps of collaboration between the ERP/FAO and the GUNLAP project