Study Tips

Muleefu & Friends: Jackie Mbaziira on Kindergarten Choices, Christian Education, and Uganda’s Curriculum.

In this series, I explore conversations with friends my generation about the things our shared Christian faith has inspired, affirmed, and challenged in our marriages, workplaces, church, etc. Jackie Mbaziira (Mrs), goes to Calvary Chapel Kampala and is a Christian educator running a homeschool in the Kyanja area. Having instructed under an international curriculum, her teaching experience has unveiled a new-found commitment towards shaping the whole person.

1. A little bit about yourself Jackie, what passions keep you awake, and get you up early?

I am passionate about education and I love the kind of education that’s free and inclusive, no matter how slow or paced children are, rather than the kind that bundles all kids together as if we all learn at the same pace.  Christian education is specifically a joy because I love teaching and watching children turn and grow, not only their dreams but their character into reality.  The education I love does not only equip with facts but builds character, that for me the kind I am passionate about, it keeps me up and takes me down late, daily.

2. Why should Christians be talking about education in the first place?

Although the term Christian Education does not occur in the Bible, the Bible speaks of the moral and spiritual instruction of believers in general and of children in particular. The purpose of Christian Education is the directing of the process of human development toward God’s objective for man: namely, godliness of character and action. It bends its effort to the end “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:17

The Mbaziiras: Jackie, Jordan, Geoffrey.

Christians should be talking about education so as to cultivate a Christian paideia (education or learning) which influences who we are in a deep way that is almost imperceptible to us – it’s woven into us from childhood. We are to disciple students to love great books, great art, and ultimately appreciate the Greatness of God!

We talk about education so we can imprint a biblical framework to understand everything. This is more than adding a Bible verse to the curriculum. When every facet of history, science, Maths, philosophy, art and other subjects is integrated around the truth of the Christian worldview, students gain a unique and important perspective. “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep.” Shakespeare once said.

As parents, we should not only talk about education but endeavor to implement it as it begins at home.

Gen. 18:19 reminds us “so that he will direct his children…to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.”

The Bible instructs parents to train their child and I believe education is the best way a parent can do that. It makes parents responsible for their children and charges them with an educational task.

 2. As schools have closed in numbers due to mandatory COVID guidelines, what have your reflections as a Christian educationist been, specifically which opportunities do Christian parents find themselves with?

I’ve thought about Education escaping classroom settings, as the said teachers can only do so much, especially with the overwhelming numbers in Ugandan schools, we Parents are the first teachers of our children, it’s a God-given role, now we have realized it more than ever, teachers can do their job inside the walls, and here we have been, doing ours too outside their walls, quite regularly actually.  

Two, I hope we have learned that education shapes character knowingly or unknowingly, and school choices going forward ought to prioritize values and discipline. It doesn’t matter if you have the best child academically without character, I mean, if it’s required across sports, how dare we exempt it from education?  

So I hope we will always go with schools that show intention about character building. Christian parents especially have a mandate to make friends out of their children, with the aim to influence, rather than let them befriend the world and its values. I hope we have tried balancing these friendship aims with the discipline Proverbs calls us to execute, these things I hope are the kind we have aspired for, things that  Paul would say,  are “true, lovely, noble, pure”.

5. Criticisms against the Ugandan school curriculum are largely academic, what else would you consider changed in the Uganda curriculum, and why? 

I would like to begin by defining education, it’s a lifestyle, the training of a mind to think, students become lifelong learners, and it doesn’t stop in school, it remains a part of us.

Charlotte Mason, a British educator who dedicated her life to education in England in the early 1900s believed children should be taught in a real environment and I quote, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”  I agree with her, it’s not about acquiring facts, which is what national system does, we are told to retain information, and required to replicate it on a piece of paper later, that just shouldn’t be!

The Greeks, for example, were good at thinking, sports, and music, because their education was based on certain key models, even after centuries, their buildings are still standing, even without technology, the Greco-Roman built marvels basing their education on these three pillars.

First was the grammar stage for pre-schoolers, (4 – 8 years) they believed children learned better through memorization, recitation, chanting, rhyming, writing, reading and lots of hands-on activities, learning is through involvement, rather than being told. children take in the core knowledge of each subject by memorizing its basic facts.

Logic was the second stage, (9-13 years) children here would investigate cause and effect because they have been grounded in grammar, they could now ask why things happen the way they do, thinking analytically, critically, they became independent learners and they could see how facts fit together.  

Third was the rhetoric stage, (14-17 years) where children applied the tools of acquired knowledge to express themselves and communicate ideas eloquently, learning to articulate, persuade, and write creatively, communicate orally. That’s the rationale for not generalizing our children’s education.

Then, the teacher to child ratio is imbalanced, making teacher attention  scanty and scattered, the slow children are usually left behind, and deemed dull, yet we are all wired differently, instead of learning at our own pace, as a Christian educationist privileged to teach under an international curriculum, you appreciate the beauty of a child learning at their own pace, rather than get “thrown in”.  So if a national curriculum can improve teacher to student ratio, and develop a national teacher-student ratio standard, it would be a good start. If we can limit numbers, 15 students per teacher, for example, would be workable.

Our national system has also barely laid a foundation of literature; it has therefore not exposed children to vocabulary development, polishing spelling and storytelling.  This literature stage helps children’s’ creativity critical thinking and curiosity, yet we have little in library here. Reading we must appreciate, enhances listening skills and attention spans.

Third, I resonate with Charlotte Mason, about education in real ideas, children should be educated through real ideas, when I am teaching Math I use manipulative to stimulate creative thinking, I don’t just say two plus two is four, I stack four objects and I demonstrate,  so hands-on activity always helps.

I am reminded of a Greek proverb here, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”  Our national system often deprives us of that, if only we could get inclusive by touching, feeling. Instead, (forgettable) theories, rather than (memorable) experiment abound in our Ugandan education and consequently, children instead of regularly experiencing, are only told.

Then learner then remains totally dependent on a teacher, until senior six, we depend on a teacher walking in, yet in the logic stage, learners are independent with limited reliance on the teacher, they’ve already had their grammar tick, and concepts like phonics have been introduced.

Then about passing exams, in the schools I have taught, we give assessment tests aimed not at percentages but assessing each child’s progress with a goal of helping, so it’s not mere beginning of term, midterm, and end of term exams, which are sadly more renown for generating anxiety, a problem we can help our kids understand by demonstrating that the highest score is not the highest standard.

Then, mandatory co-curricular activities, when kids are not doing well academically, more options ought to be availed; they could excel at what you never anticipated, but only when you spread out the options.  It’s only then that you’ll agree that life is not about academics but helping a child’s weaknesses and cultivating strength with pace.

7. In what ways does Boarding school undermine (or not?) our parental God-given responsibilities? 

My response to that is really brief, they deprive kids of the opportunity to be nurtured, both parties are far apart, chipping in on rare occasions, yet I believe Parents should be friends with their children, solid bonds should be cultivated there, but in boarding school, 90 percent of the time is spent elsewhere so growing the relationship becomes an uphill task, if at all.

And so, kids often look elsewhere for mentors, who could be peers, the matron, or teachers who are already short on time to (meaningfully) invest, as a parent, you want to have a sound relationship with your child before they are teenagers, you have an opportunity to focus on that relationship, Things have a tendency of going off when they hit adolescence, so boarding school doesn’t help that at all.

8. What resources out there would you like to point parents to in such a season when kids are out and about?  

I had an opportunity to share on Facebook the other day, there are lots of free printables on Google, all you need is a printer, has been helpful when you use the search terms ’free printable math work”  all quality of valuable and systematic work will come up.

But the other way is to be creative at home, for example, a Maths concept could be taught using the clock in the house, or a stack of books in a pile, to mimic Math problems. You may use shoes for this teaching endeavor too. Friends tell me they use spoons, that’s how best children learn, its passive learning but it sticks and concepts are understood to the core.

Science projects at home like planting and recording the growth progress in a book can be stimulating to their minds to, without a teacher necessarily “in front of  class. “

8: What do reading routines in your home with Jordan look like, how do you regularly keep them from going stale?

Jordan is my 2-year-old son, he’s  grown up in a school setting, meaning I always went with him to school as I went to teach ever since he was a  months old. My former principal, a kindergarten teacher, used to regularly read to him so he’s grown to love storybooks, as I read to him too.  He’s now often reminding me and his dad to read for him.

His Dad and I eventually bought him age-appropriate books that he’s come to enjoy, in reading sessions a couple of times a day,  we basically  sit in a way that he’s able to see what we are reading, we identify numbers, animal names , learn picture names, identify letters, songs,  listening skills are trained here as we read, our tone trains his emotion,  voices changes accordingly.

 I usually do counting with him too, I don’t show him any numbers, we just count off head, now he can count from one to 10, we throw in  silly songs to  keep the book reading alive, we print and cut out letters, we color, there is so much to be done with simple things.

I also have him read by himself at a different time of the day, sometimes he will come and pick a book  long after we have read to him, he comes back to look at the  pictures, he often mumbles something while looking in, not that he understands anything, but well. Then sometimes he’s quiet through it all, thumbing, that’s all training. That’s how I have kept it interesting. We also do painting once in a while.

11. Early childhood and kindergartens, how would you advise parents navigating decisions in this area? 

Enroll them in schools which offer early childhood education, they follow the three stages we talked about earlier because children this age easily get bored, their attention spans are low, as parents, look for this education model so your child is not just replicating notes into a book, we already noted that kids do best by getting involved, yet today the norm is to watch them bundled into school vans as early as 7 am, as sleep and their playtime – key ingredients to their learning and growth –are compromised.

So as a parent, pay attention to these things, be engaged, know what the school offers, in the schools I’ve taught, we’d schedule parents to come in once a week maybe.  A parent would work through a concept developed by teachers and both witness how it is executed and received, so basically children need to be children, instruction should be fun at 4 years, and playtime can be educative, keep that in mind, as a Parent of those at this stage.

Mrs. Jackie Mbaziira

All Photography by Mukiibi Mu Studio.