African Rural University for Women Opens
Mwalimu Musheshe shows ARU complex when complete.

African Rural University for Women Opens

African Rural University (ARU) - A university has been started to offer a new experience...

By Ultimate Media Consult
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First published: March 11, 2009

Many things have been said about Uganda's education system and how it needs to be improved. From those concerned about the relevance of the curriculum in relation to Uganda's needs, overcrowding at major high institutions of learning, to those concerned about the teaching environment that does not favour females; many issues have been voiced about Uganda's education system.

A university has been started to offer a new experience in education. The African Rural University, located in Kagadi, Kibaale district admits only women, offering only one course in rural development to the 30 students who will be admitted every year.

The university aims at training community/ rural development specialists through a lone Bachelors of Science degree in Technologies for Rural Transformation. According to the official document of ARU, students will study Principles and Applications of the Creative Process; Principles and Applications of Systems Thinking; Visionary Leadership and Entrepreneurship, Theory and Application of Gender and Innovative Technologies; Theory and Application of Rural Development as the major course units.

"It is designed as an integrated, applied, inquiry-based learning with the proper balance between science and humanities resulting in professional competence across the range of development skills that meet the challenges of today's rural communities," says Agnes Birabwa, the Ag. Vice Chancellor and Dean of ARU.

She says ARU, as the first all-women institution of higher learning in Uganda, "will graduate women in strategic community leadership and entrepreneurship for beneficial social, economic and political change in Africa".

"Our philosophy is to provide education for self reliance and self employment based on home grown thought processes in the African context. Our graduates will inject a new thinking in decision making and leadership in local governments," Birabwa says.

The head of the Uganda Rural Development Training Programme, which has started the university, Mwalimu Musheshe says ARU is presenting an innovative approach to higher education. "Right from 1997 when we begun our education work, we noted that the education system as not producing change agents. People especially in rural areas were being left behind," Musheshe says.

"There are professionals in other fields, but none in rural development. No wonder after years of experimentation with a lot of money spent by donors and government, rural areas are still poor," he adds. Yet, according to Musheshe, there are no poor people but poorly organized people, and education is supposed to help people get better organized.

Apart from being development oriented, the university will only admit females. Why only women? Birabwa says that many studies in Africa have shown that rural economies and livelihoods are in the hands of women. In Uganda, women contribute more than 70 percent of the labour force in agriculture, the leading economic activity in the country.

"Children's health and education are also in the hands of women. Yet, in most of Africa, many women drop out in primary. At this level, the schools' curricula little prepare girls and future women to meet the exigencies of rural life, especially good health and income generating activities," Birabwa notes.

ARU says it is scientifically proven that educating a girl up to Primary seven reduces the characteristics of absolute poverty by 25%. "If girls are educated up to secondary level, poverty reduces by 50%, at advanced level by 75%, and very certainly at university level by 100%," ARU says in the application to the National Council for Higher Education. ARU has managed to secure a letter of interim Authority from NCHE.

Musheshe says ARU will produce female extension and community workers who will relate better with women, girls and men in encouraging positive change in communities. "This is based on informed research. We need more women working and making decisions in communities if we are to develop. It has even been proved at corporate level where women work better in people fields like human resource and extension," he says.

"Even in the case of Uganda, women have been proved to be more dependable managers. A look at our corruption statistics shows that for every 100 corrupt people, 95 are men. Women have for long been trapped in other fields. It is now time for them to engineer rural transformation," Musheshe adds.

At the time of these interviews in May 2008, ARU was expecting to get a Provisional license in order to start running as a fully fledged university beginning 2009.

Harriet Nabukenya who studies carpentry and joinery URDT Institute
Harriet Nabukenya who studies carpentry and joinery URDT Institute.

"We have already established the necessary organs of the university, and recruited lecturers. As I speak to you now, there are six lecturers permanent on the campus," Musheshe says. He says ARU will admit students based on their performance at O and A levels or their diploma and degree from recognized universities. He says priority will however be given to students from the URDT Girls' school, whose pioneer S6 candidates will sit for Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education exams at the end of 2008.

"Since we are looking at building on wisdom rather than intelligence emphasized by the national education system, we might also give credits to applicants based on other attributes that make a total productive person. We shall look at things like experiential life, reasoning, creativity, and what one has done in the community," Musheshe says.

He says that ARU will build on URDT's indigenous methods for mobilizing the community for self-reliance based on the principles of the creative process. "Our major principle is to teach people to think and achieve what they want in life. Since 1992, we introduced a major shift in development thinking. Instead of asking people what problems they have (to solve them), we asked them about their aspirations, plus their vision for themselves and their community. This was a new way of mobilizing the people by looking at what they want rather than focusing on their current bad reality," Musheshe says.

He says this makes people appreciate their desired state of being and where they are, and to plan how to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

ARU will build on URDT's insistence on using the visionary and holistic approach to development. "Development can not take place by focusing on one thing. The government and other development institutions have tried to develop sector by sector, only to realize there is no change if other sectors are left behind. Our graduates should be all-round people. If they know microfinance, they should also know that credit won't help the farmer who doesn't know how to organize his/her farm, do cost benefit analysis of their agricultural activities, or understand why their children are not performing well. They should know about proper nutrition, prevention and treatment of diseases, as well as promoting human rights and stopping domestic violence since it undermines any possible development in the family. A community worker should know this," Musheshe says.

Birabwa says their curriculum has been developed using the villages and community settings as laboratories for learning. "You will be surprised at how knowledgeable people in the villages are in African medicine, wisdom, ways of social organization, food security, only that academicians do not consult them," she says.

"We identified young women and trained them as research scholars. They interviewed people in mid western Uganda about ARU's plans and proposed methodology of teaching. These consultations helped develop a relevant curriculum for ARU," she adds.

Handy works by URDT primary pupils teaching self reliance
Handy works by URDT primary pupils teaching self reliance.

Since girls from the URDT Girls School were selected from poor households, they will not pay to join ARU. But others women wishing to join ARU will pay. Because ARU is fully owned by URDT, it will benefit from part funding of other URDT projects in meeting overhead costs. URDT runs a primary and secondary girl's school, a community radio, an Institute for Vocational, Media and Business Studies, model farms, in addition to facilities and consultancy works for different national and international bodies.

Even without such beneficial infrastructure, Musheshe says ARU has committed funding of 180, 000$ (about 288million shillings) from the African Food and Peace Foundation for the fist three years. Another organization, Het Bosje has committed 150,000 Euros (360million shillings) to the on-going construction of the ARU complex. It will house the library, computer centers, offices, lecture theatres and a student hall.

The university will have only one institute and admit only 30 female students per year, making the management and proper teaching of students at the university achievable.

"We believe we are bringing a new approach to education by linking the high institute of learning to community transformation," Mushese says.

By Ultimate Media Consult
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First published: March 11, 2009
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