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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What we're up against

The national paper published cut-off points for students for admission
on merit scholarship to various courses of study. In a country where
over 50,000 students qualify for university, there are about 25,000
freshman places in all of the universities combined, and only 4,000
scholarships. Of those 4,000, 3/4 are merit-based and 1/4 (1000) are
distributed among the nearly 100 districts in Uganda (11 per
district). Those are the 11 spots we aim for at CSB . . but sadly
we're finding that families whose children attend wealthier Kampala
schools then trickle back to Bundibugyo at the last minute to take the
qualifying exam from here, snapping up the scholarships. And the
scholarships are supposed to be allotted 75% for sciences and only 25%
for arts . . yet we have difficulty getting anyone to pass sciences
highly enough to get in, and most of our students opt for arts
combinations. For medicine for instance, the total points required (a
complicated system that assigns numbers to various scores so that
higher is better) is about 50. We have yet to break 20 at CSB. Today
I sat with one of our boys, who will be lucky to break 5. In other
words, we have a LONG way to go. Beginning with marginal prenatal
care, poor nutrition in early childhood, lack of early stimulation,
absence of books or libraries or head start programs, crowded and
poorly run primary schools, and a constant battle with energy-sapping
infections, a struggle to get text books or to retain qualified
teachers, our students have an uphill battle from birth. This is not
a one-generation process. Perhaps the children of the boys who now
spend their vacation days poring over our books, eating lunch with our
kids, playing soccer and scouring for mangos, will be the ones to
reach university routinely. Or their grandchildren. We are up
against the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" as it
says in the Bible, the systems of injustice which perpetuate
inequality and despair. And the battle requires a very long view.

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