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A course is born..

The Margaret Babirye Lwebuga Mathematical Thinking course – Makerere University, January 2019.

Address by Marj Batchelor to the teachers on the first night of the course, January 2nd 2019.

I want to tell you how this workshop came about. It is important that you know about how it developed and about all the people whose help has been essential to making it happen and the contributions that they have made. It is a collaboration I am very proud of. I want all involved on the course, teachers, staff, and any with an interest in the course to understand how it came to be.

How it came to be.

Margaret Babirye Lwebuga looked after my mother during the last three years of her life, a time when my mother was bedridden. She looked after my mother as the best of daughters might, something that meant a lot to me, particularly as I lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and only managed to visit three or four times a year.  

Margaret did not just look after my mother, she looked after all of us.  I have memories of that time, Margaret introducing us to Ugandan food, piles of samosas, corn on the cob, beans, beef, chicken, and pots of ginger tea as Margaret and three, four, five, six, seven eight or more of us ate dinner crammed round my mother’s hospital bed, and then we would sing, all the best from the episcopal hymnal. In spite of my mother’s decline those were happy times.

Who so serves my mother as a daughter, must surely be sister to me. It is a kinship that would not end when my mother died. We both, Margaret and I, were determined to do something to celebrate this merger of families.  But how?  I had the idea: I am a mathematician, I can give mathematics, I could give scholarships to Ugandan mathematics teachers to go on a professional development course.

I had some experience here.  I knew Toni Beardon, OBE, founder of NRICh, Millennium Mathematics Project, AIMSSEC. When I led a team of graduate students to run a summer school in China, I asked Toni to spend an hour advising us on how to communicate mathematical ideas across a severe language and mathematical-cultural barrier. One hour, and it worked. If one hour could work wonders with young mathematicians trying to teach in China, what might ten days plus three months distance learning achieve for their Ugandan counterparts?

Toni joined in the project with great enthusiasm. We announced the Margaret Babirye Lwebuga bursaries, studied the applications, and then learned that due to a change in school holiday dates in South Africa, the AIMSSEC Mathematical Thinking course in South Africa would be run at a time when Ugandan schools would be in session, and Ugandan teachers would be unable to come.

It was the genius that makes Toni the great woman that she is,  that responded with the counter proposal, “We will run the first course in Uganda, and it will be the first of three in East Africa, others to be run in Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania, when we get funding.” For me, this was an intimidating proposal; a much bigger liability but also the potential for a vastly greater impact. I wanted the first course in Kampala to run at the planned time, but how?  We needed a viable plan.

The plan coalesces.

At this point we needed local knowledge, and Margaret, with the help of her family in Kampala provided.  Her son-in-law, Professor Noble Banadda of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Makerere University was the champion who made this happen. His impressive career and commitment to his country and his university has won universal respect. He obtained the use of facilities at Makerere University free of charge –

Thank-you Makerere University!

Noble and others in his family scouted round for a local hotel which could accommodate all of us, and would reduce its rates to a level which would come in on budget.

Thank-you Sheron Hotel! Thank-you Tuyambaze Andrew!

Noble and others in the family scouted round and located a catering firm that would feed us at tea breaks, lunch and dinner, again at knock-down prices. 

Thank-you Mukisa Catering Services!

While Noble and his team in Uganda were working to organise accommodation and food, Toni and her team were working overtime to adapt the course designed to complement the South African schools’ curriculum so that it would fit with the Ugandan curriculum, a huge task. It should also be recorded that no educator working on the course has been paid anything for this work of revising the curriculum, will be paid anything for teaching on the course, or will be paid anything for the work they will do in assessing the distance learning modules. They have given hugely of their time to make the course happen.  Let me mention too, that some of these teachers who are already giving their time have also given cash to support the course.

Thank-you Toni and her team of educators!

Such donations in kind are every bit as valuable as cash.  With these commitments, we had a plan with a feasible budget.  We were good for go.

[There followed five months of feverish activity.]

We have lift-off!

This brings us to tonight, the room full of teachers who until a few hours ago were names on a list. This is the first time the Mathematical Thinking course has been run outside South Africa. We know we haven’t experience in Uganda, with Ugandan customs,  in Ugandan schools, with Ugandan curriculum. We will meet the challenge of working together to see what we can achieve.

It is a gamble, and as with all gambles, the gain can be variable.   If we sit passively this week, and return to our communities to teach in our accustomed ways, not much will come of the hard work and contributions which have created this course.  On the other hand, if each returns to her or his community with a commitment to try and to share the ideas and resources from this week, to ask the question, “what might be a better way?”, and to talk and work with others to find that better way, if each teacher does this, the potential for change for the good is beyond anyone’s ability to calculate.

Over to you, Have fun!

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