31st August 2006
The flailing academic icon of Teso
By Benon Herbert Oluka

Teso College, Aloet in Soroti district may only have just gone past the 50-year mark but a summary list of its most prominent old boys reads more like a list of the ‘who is who’ of Teso and its neighbouring regions.
Founded on July 9, 1954 by the Teso local administration, the school has nurtured respected people in all circles of society.

The most remarkable thing about such personalities from this boys-only boarding school is that nearly all of them have excelled at more than just one profession or field where they have put their talents and skills to test.

For instance, Mr. Stephen Akabway, who has also served as acting commissioner general of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), started out as a secondary school teacher – and even rose through the ranks to become headmaster of his former school from 1976 to 1979 – before he ventured into other fields.

Justice Engwau, who was in Teso College between 1957 and 1960, also started out as a teacher in Iganga C.O.U. Primary School in 1963 before joining the Judiciary in 1964 as a Grade III Magistrate. It is only after serving for one year in Lira district that Engwau joined Nsamizi Law School where he obtained a first class law diploma.

Their examples serve to subconsciously affirm the school mission, which is: “To provide all round education to everyone that comes to it so that they leave when they are morally straight and ready for further education and training.” The discipline of the likes of Gen. Jeje Odong could also be attributed to the school motto: “Aijanakin ka arimarit (service and obedience)”.

But, as the school embarks on its second half-century, the feats of such distinguished former students of Teso College may prove a tough act to emulate for the current crop of students since the development of the school has been derailed by several factors.

The Teso College administration block

The headmaster, Mr James Akabway, says Teso College is currently facing a series of problems that largely stem from the lack of sufficient funds to plan, coordinate and complete development programmes at the school.
“The biggest challenge is that the cost of living is not coping up with the school fees paid by parents. It makes us get into so many different financial constraints because maintenance levels are very high,” Akabway told The Weekly Observer last week.

These costs stem from the fact that the school, which owns 1,000 acres of land (Teso elders recently decided that 500 acres be given to the proposed Teso University), runs two virtually independent wings – each with separate facilities for accommodation, meals, academics, recreation and extra-curricular activities.

The 500 students in senior one and two reside in the west wing, which was originally the premises for Soroti Technical School until it was phased out in 1962 and the premises given to Teso College, while the 800 in senior 3, 4, 5 and 6 reside in the east wing which also accommodates the administration block.

A student walks past Kenyatta house in the east wing. The school has 11 houses in the east
wing, nine for O’ level and two for A’ level students

The Soroti-Moroto road separates the two wings, meaning the school has to cater for the two as separate entities. Akabway said that they, for instance, had to buy two standby generators to overcome the current power problems given that students in the two wings have their preps separately.
Even in its administrative hierarchy, Teso College has a headmaster, two deputy headmasters, and another four deputy head teachers – two for either wing. The school employs 67 teachers, but 14 are paid for by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), which opted to help reduce the problem of shortage of teachers.

Even just keeping the vast school compound neat is no easy task. The east wing alone has five soccer pitches while the west has three. There are also pitches and courts in either wing for volleyball, basketball, lawn tennis, handball, rugby and badminton.

Akabway said: “Because we are running two wings, it is like we are running two schools with funds for one school so the maintenance costs are high.”
Each of the 1,300 students currently at Teso College pays uniform tuition fees of Shs 200,000 per term. It is almost entirely with this annual sum of Shs 520 million that the school runs all its activities.

Akabway says that because the funds sourced from the parents alone are not sufficient to fund all school projects, he hopes that the old boys can rejuvenate their organisation, TECOBA (Teso College Old Boys Association), to play a more proactive role in the affairs of the school.

“One of the biggest concerns of the school administration is that the old boys’ association is not active enough in assisting the school,” said the 57-year-old Akabway.

“OBs of other schools have opened avenues for their schools but the unfortunate thing is that ours have not.”

Where’s everybody?

Listening to one of the longest serving teachers at Teso College gives the impression that it is not just the old boys who have given the school the cold shoulder. Over the last 20 years teachers and students have deserted the school due to the on and off insurgencies in Teso.

The first started in 1986 with the emergence of the Uganda People’s Army (UPA) rebel group, which operated through out the Teso region. Mr. Leonard Ochom, who joined the school in 1985 and has since risen to be acting deputy head teacher II, said the effects of the rebel’s activities on the school were overwhelming.

“A good number of teachers ran and even the students ran away. Then enrolment came down,” said Ochom, who says less than 20 teachers remained – although many of them were based in Soroti, five kilometres from the school.
According to Ochom, even the few students who remained had to grapple for the few available services in the school with the many displaced persons who had sought refuge at its premises.

“We used to have very many displaced people staying here. Some even used to occupy the classrooms at night. They used to bring their things out and the students go in [to study], then at night they sleep in the classes,” said Ochom, a chemistry and mathematics teacher.

Ochom says although no teacher or student was killed through out the UPA rebellion, the rebels used to come to the school premises to loot whatever they could lay their hands on. Between 1987 and 1988, Ochom says the rebels twice went to his home and put him at gunpoint – but did not shoot.

Another teacher, John Elamu, was however not as lucky when a different rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), found their way into Teso in 2002. The rebels raided the school and shot Elamu, a biology teacher, dead.
Moses Ekadu, a senior six student who was in senior two at the time, said the loss of their teacher had a devastating effect on everybody in the school.

“It made some of our teachers to leave the school and some of the subjects were not taught,” he said. “Besides, there was restriction from Prep attendance. We were required to keep within the boundaries of the dormitory. Everybody was required to be in the dormitory by 8pm and to be quiet.”

Despite the uncertainty, which led to the departure of about 200 students, Ekadu was one of the 700 students who stuck it out at the school because, he says, “at least we have teachers who are self-driven to help us.” One of those teachers, Ochom, says he remained at the school throughout the difficult period because he had “the will to serve the school.”

Teso College traditions

Teso College does not have a school anthem. They use the national anthem and the national schools’ anthem (We Young Women and Men of Uganda…).
Mr. John Fred Okello, the deputy headmaster I, said they do not have one because the school is “very nationalistic in nature”.

“Most of those schools that have their own anthems are very individualistic in nature but for us we follow the national programme. The separatists’ nature has not yet reached here,” he said.

Teso College headmaster, James Akabwai

Teso College students used to come from all corners of Uganda and Wafula Oguttu, an old boy from Busia, says they were proud to study in Teso College.

“It was a school you went to and found everybody responsible. There was a lot of freedom but the students used it responsibly. [For instance], there was no fence but the students policed themselves; they were not going out anyhow,” said Wafula, who was in Teso College from 1971-1972.
Wafula remembers two incidents in his time that helped shape the activist and, eventually, the politician he turned out to be.

First, while he was debating club vice chairman, they travelled to Nabumali High School in Mbale for a debate on how military coups were detrimental to the development of African countries only to find that army men had cordoned off Nabumali and ordered that the debate should not take place. One of the students, who was a state spy, had alerted the army of the topic of their debate.

“I have never forgotten that incident because if we had gone ahead and debated, we would have been arrested and probably killed,” he said.
The second was when the late Adonia Tiberondwa was replaced as headmaster and the school meals immediately deteriorated. Wafula says he led a strike after they discovered that the prefects were having better meals while other students were being given bad food.

Following their strike, Wafula says their headmaster removed the head prefect, and improved their meals. Wafula was offered the post of head prefect, but he declined it since the changes they wanted had been effected.
“It was memorable because by just organising the students [to protest] we removed a very corrupt head prefect. It showed me that if you organise well, you can cause a change,” said Wafula, who is now the spokesman of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

The students of Wafula’s time were however not always attending to political issues. In 1972, Teso College’s west wing (S. 1 & 2) hosted Tororo Girls School students to a football match, which the boys predictably won.
Leading the girls that day was headmistress Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire, now the minister of education and sports.

Also in Teso College in 1972 was former minister, Capt. Mike Mukula, who is remembered for his love of music. Mukula, who was three classes behind Wafula, was a member of the school band called the Black Stars.

Picking up the pieces

With the tough times seemingly behind them, the school is looking to restoring its glory. Having doubled its Advanced Level intake this year, the headmaster says they will need to provide more accommodation and academic facilities. They also need to rehabilitate the majority of the existing ones.

“In case it starts raining when you are attending a lesson, it is stopped because most of the roofs are leaking,” said Ekadu, a PCB/Agric student.
The school has just 15 computers in its laboratory to serve all the students – and only five are connected to the Internet.

Other areas that need urgent attention, according to Akabway, include purchase of more scholastic materials, and fencing the school to improve security.

The situation at Teso College is however not all gloom. Despite the challenges that have slowed the development of the school, it has still registered academic achievements.

Since the 2001 students strike, which led to the expulsion of 34 senior four students, the school has registered consistent improvement in the performance of its UCE and UACE candidates.

This year Teso College sent 27 of the 165 students that sat last year’s UACE exams to the four national universities on government sponsorship. The table of results at the headmaster’s office showed that 135 of the 165 students passed with at least two, meaning the 135 were all eligible to go to University. Mr. Akabway said it was their best performance since 2001.

Also, last year, the school bought an Isuzu bus for its students.
Now, with the Teso region regaining peace after years of turmoil, Akabway feels now is the time for the college to regain its lost glory if only the old boys could give the administration a helping hand.

Head teachers since inception

Mr. J. E. Jones 1954 – 1968
Mr. Adonia K. Tiberondwa 1968 – 1971
Mr. G. Heddle 1971 – 1972
Mr. J. W. Meadows 1972 – 1973
Mr. F. B. Kasaragi 1973 – 1973
Mr. S. B. Kazungu 1973 – 1974
Mr J. Massa 1975 – 1976
Mr. Stephen B. Akabway 1976 – 1979
Mr. Titus William Epudu 1979 – 1980
Mr. A. Aderu 1981 – 1985
Mr. Juventine Ebamu 1985 – 1992
Mr. Kad Oliba 1992 – 2001
Mr. James Akabwai 2002 – To date


PUBLIC SERVICE: Stephen Besweri Akabway, Joseph Biribonwa, Ignatius Oluka Akileng.
ACADEMIA: Prof. Justin Opio Epelu, Prof. Apuda, and Fredrick Richard Okwangale.
LAW: Justice Steven George Engwau.
POLITICIANS: Musa Ecweru, Capt. Mike Mukula, Dr. Peter Esele (ex-MP, Bukedea), Samuel Anyolo (ex-MP, Soroti), Tom Odur Anang (ex-MP, Kwania).
MEDICINE: Dr. Robert Edweu, Dr. John Ecumu, Dr. Joseph Epodoi, Dr. Silas Oluka.
ARMY: Lt. Gen. Abubaker Jeje Odong, Col. (rtd) William Omaria, Col (rtd) Charles Okello Engola.
MEDIA: Philip Wafula Oguttu.
OTHERS: Ojiamboh-Ochieng (ENHAS)

Next week we visit Nabumali High School