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Late Rubahamya mentored, instilled love for biology

John Byaruhanga Rubahamya

John Byaruhanga Rubahamya

JOHN BYARUHANGA RUBAHAMYA, an icon in Biology education, passed away on May 28, 2024, at Mulago hospital, due to kidney failure he struggled with since December 2023.

In the world of science education, JB or John Biology, as he was affectionately known, was not just a teacher—but a luminary who left an indelible mark on his students and colleagues, writes Sheila Sharon Bogere. 

Rubahamya, born on October 7, 1962 in Mitooma, Mutara, Kyeibare, grew up in Kampala, attending Shimoni Demonstration School before embarking on a lifelong journey of learning and teaching.

After completing his education at Makerere University with a Bachelor of Science in Botany/Zoology and a Master of Education in Science Education, Rubahamya dedicated over three decades of his life to shaping young minds.

Drawn to the wonders of nature from a young age, Rubahamya’s childhood exploration in Rukungiri’s lush hills sparked a lifelong fascination with biology. It wasn’t just a subject; it was a key to unlocking the world’s mysteries.

He became a biology teacher, driven by a desire to share that same sense of wonder and answer the very questions that captivated him as a child.

“Why biology?” he would ask students. “Because it’s the language of life, the blueprint that shapes us all.” Rubahamya’s mission was clear: to ignite a love for science, inspire environmental sustainability, and reveal the world hidden within every cell.

Rubahamya revolutionised Biology teaching at numerous secondary schools, including Kitagata SS, Ruhinda SS, Bwongyera SS, Munyonya SS, Bugongi SS, Kyamuhunga SS, Kasaana Secondary School in Bushenyi district, Ryakasinga Centre for Higher Education, and Kyamuhunga SS.

Thereafter, he returned to Kampala, assuming duty at Kololo Secondary School and headed the biology department from 1990 to 2011. In 2012, he transferred to Makerere College School where he served until 2014 before heading to Mengo Senior School (2015-2022) from where he retired. Also, between 2007-2018, he was the head of Biology Education department at Ndejje University, and headteacher at The Nile College Kasangati (renamed Kinawa High School), 1992-2012.

A previously unknown streak of fearlessness emerged in 2015 when Rubahamya, then a teacher at Makerere College School, transferred to Mengo Senior School. This move came after Rubahamya and colleagues took a bold stand against what they perceived as maladministration.

Unafraid to challenge authority, they directly questioned the headmistress’s leadership, leading to a series of high-profile staff transfers, including the headmistress herself.

Rubahamya’s transfer to Mengo Senior School underscored his willingness to fight for what he believed in, even in the face of potential consequences.

Rubahamya’s passion for biology extended beyond the classroom. He authored several educational publications, including a Practical Guide for UCE Biology, the best-selling Revision Notes for UCE Biology, UACE Biology Revision Notes, UACE Practical Guide, and Fountain Biology Lower Secondary Curriculum.

As a founding member of the Association of Biology Educators (ABE), he was instrumental in mentoring teachers and students alike, sharing his knowledge and love for the subject. He chaired the biology panel at the National Curriculum Development Centre (2011-2013), hence playing a significant role in developing the current biology syllabus.

Rubahamya’s impact on his students and colleagues is evident in the heartfelt tributes paid to him.  Frederick Dongo Shema, president of the Association of Biology Educators (ABE), remembered him as a selfless individual who embraced unity in diversity.

He said: “Rubahamya was selfless, he embraced unity in diversity: he welcomed everyone based on common interests rather than age, ethnicity, religion or other social strata.”

“Rubahamya demystified the aura of being a Uneb examiner, who previously were inaccessible to colleagues, erroneously thinking they were restricted from writing books or facilitating at workshops. Rubahamya did all these and in no way did it compromise his duties as a senior biology examiner,” Dongo remarked.

Umar Lusonda of Kampala High School, fondly remembers Rubahamya. “He was a beacon of knowledge and inspiration for all who had the privilege of working alongside him.”

Sherina Kemigisha, a former student turned teacher, shared, “Rubahamya’s teachings went beyond textbooks. At Mengo SS, he instilled in us a love for biology and a passion for learning that continues to drive us forward.”

Kemigisha, now a biology and Physical Education teacher at Gayaza High School, fondly recalls, “I will never forget his animated explanations of cellular processes, ecology, and genetics.”

Several other biology teachers I interviewed such as Lawrence Arum (Iganga High School), Derick Twesiime (Keihangara Seed SS), Godfrey Kyagaba (Namilyango College), Rogers Wanyisi (St Joseph of Nazareth HS Mpigi), Arthur Kugonza (St Mary’s College, Kisubi) and Herbert Bwogi (Kibuli SS), echoed his dedication to excellence and his unwavering commitment to his students’ success.

Others include Catherine Arinaitwe (Mengo SS), Alex Magala (St Henry’s College Kitovu), Grace Kisembo (Retired), Sheline Niwandinda (Kiruhura), Dinnah (Kyamate SS), Alex Nakibinge (Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo).

In his retirement, Rubahamya remained active, participating in charity marathons organized by MTN, Airtel, and Buganda kingdom. His social life resonated well with his training as a physical education teacher.

He also fully got involved in mentoring teachers and students through the countrywide workshops and seminars organised by the Association of Biology Educators’ (ABE). On part-time basis, he guided A-level Biology students at Makerere College School and Namirembe Hillside High School.

Rubahamya’s legacy lives on through the countless lives he touched and the knowledge he imparted. Rubahamya’s impact will be felt for generations to come, ensuring that his teachings and spirit endure in the hearts of all who had the privilege of knowing him.

As the sun sets on the life of Rubahamya, his memory and contributions to biology education will forever shine brightly. In his honor, the Association of Biology Educators (ABE) where he has been a founder member plans to establish the JB Rubahamya Memorial Scholarship, supporting aspiring biology students. The scholarship aims to continue his legacy by nurturing young minds passionate about the natural world.

He was laid to rest on May 30 at Kyeibare, Mutara, Mitooma district. He is survived by the wife, Christine, several sons, daughters and two grandchildren.

May his soul rest in eternal peace!

The author teaches Biology at King’s College Budo

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