In 2008, former Makerere University Vice Chancellor Prof Venansius Baryamureeba declared he would emphasise a new way of teaching – problem-based learning.
Makerere would train its students by focusing on how their studies would affect the public, rather than on the theory.
As Baryamureeba said this, Ronald Ddungu’s mind was already focused in this particular area.
The then 37-year-old Gayaza High School mathematics teacher was fresh from an e-learning Africa Conference in Kenya, where he learned from other teachers about how computers could revolutionalise the education sector.
A year earlier, he had also enrolled for a master’s degree in Education for Sustainability at the London South Bank University, thanks to a Commonwealth scholarship.
“The course [undertaken online] threw at us a challenge on how to tilt education to improve the sustainability of the community. The lecturers wanted us to develop ideas on how to develop our communities,” Ddungu recalls.
Since then it has been his driving mantra – to get students to appreciate the effect of their learning others. He developed the idea into a project that is improving the life of the community around the school, including the little known Gayaza Church of Uganda Primary School.
Under this project, all the school’s Senior One students are required to teach Mathematics to pupils at the school for one hour every Wednesday.
“Through this project, the students of Gayaza High School have had the opportunity to share life experiences and the pupils have benefited through learning and acquiring life skills such as baking, cookery and farming,” he said.
The project proposal earned him a chance to represent Uganda at the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Programme in Ghana in 2008, where it was voted the best for integrating community support with the student involvement.
With the win, he would later to represent Africa at the Microsoft World Teachers Event in Hong Kong that year, where the project was a runner up in the collaboration category.
“I got a lot of exposure from this even from other teachers and how they were incorporating technology in teaching and community development. Between 2008 and 2010, we continued to develop our community linkages and many clubs blossomed,” he adds.
The calm but engaging 43-year-old teacher is passionate about teacher development towards changing classrooms to include community service and project based teaching, combining this with available technologies.
It is this passion that has led Gayaza to win the Microsoft Challenge in Barcelona, early this month. The award, ($15,000 – or Shs 38m) will lead to an e-market library; an online library page with links to videos showing the processes of production among small scale local enterprises in Uganda.
The online library is expected to serve the purpose of marketing local businesses while giving youth an opportunity to learn from the successes of other businesses.
The father of four, (three girls and one boy) says he draws his keenness for technology from his classroom experience and international exposure. Ddungu spent most of his youth with his mother, a nurse and thought he would become a doctor.
But this dream was cut short when his senior three biology teacher at St Mary’s College, Kisubi confiscated a file of revision notes he had borrowed from his elder brother. This is because the file had the word, A-Team which was associated with a notorious group of senior fours.
“He confiscated [the file] and said I would retrieve it at the end of the term. This did not go down well with me because the file had all my revision papers ... it killed off my passion for Biology,” he recalls. Ddungu, who studied at Kisubi between 1985 and 1991, settled for Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics for his A-Levels.
Of the experience, Ddungu said he always tries to build rapport with students, since a disagreement between the two can affect a learner’s interest in a particular subject.
Ddungu would join Makerere, later graduating with a bachelor of science in Physics and Mathematics in 1994. After this he was posted to Katikamu Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) School as a mathematics teacher, where he taught between 1994 and 1996.
“My experience of teaching in this school modelled many of the innovative education projects I have developed because of the challenges I encountered teaching in it, given its rural setting,” he explains.
Despite getting a job, Ddungu spent his spare time away from teaching studying for a post graduate diploma in Education from Makerere. The completion of this course saw him return to his alma mater – Kisubi for teaching practise between June and October 1996.
After this he joined Gayaza High School where he has risen through the ranks, first as a teacher, then head of the Mathematics department, dean of Middle School (Senior 3 and 4), assistant deputy head teacher and finally deputy head teacher.
He would also study for a Master of Arts degree in Education Management, producing a thesis ‘How can we motivate teachers to use technology in their teaching’ using Wakiso district as a case study.
“Some of the recommendations were that teachers needed training, mentorship, organization, teamwork and availability of infrastructure. I encouraged schools to make ICT infrastructure available to teachers,” said Ddungu.
Since then he has undertaken several courses on how to enhance the use of ICT in schools.
Looking to the future
Despite the rave reviews the project has received, Ddungu is not resting on his laurels and believes project that does not attract a lot of interest from people. However, he remains optimistic about the impact of engaging the students and community members in innovative creative work.
“In five years, we want to have trained five cohorts of students so that we build a team of entrepreneurial and knowledgeable primary school leavers who can [help others through] community service,” he said.
Currently Ddungu spends most of his time involving students and colleagues into networking projects.