By Eve Masawi
At exactly 10:00am on Thursday, I arrived at Ssanyu Nursery School in Gayaza, Wakiso District, located about 14 Kilometers from the capital, Kampala.
At the school I was welcome by Robinah Mutawe, the school head teacher who took me around the school interacting with facilities and pupils, before we could settle for our interview with 92-year-old, Gladys May Bazira, the school’s proprietor who also happens to be a teacher at the same school.
There is a general informal saying that teachers never grow old, it is backed up by another that teachers get better with age; such is the same with Bazira, a mathematician during her ‘morning’ days, who attests to the adage that indeed- age is just a number.
At 92-years, with half a century of teaching experience, Bazira commonly referred to as Jajja Sanyu by her litany of students has neither plans for slowing down, nor retirement, her passionate for teaching has nothing to do with her age.
Jajja Sanyu clad in red skirt and cream top sauntered towards us, beaming with hospitality and signaling interest in recruiting us to her class, at least for a few minutes.
After exchanging pleasantries, she walked me to her class, where on entry she rallied the pupils into the old folk song; ‘Kagwa yalayila’. They sing as they gather around her; the sight is breathtaking, it is a scene of friendship and camaraderie; a yawning difference from the known Ugandan teacher- child relationship most of us experienced.
Jajja Sanyu would then take me through a quick lecture about handling children while teaching. According to her, children should be handled with care whether weak or not and advices teachers to love the children they teach, because it is through love that one is able to inculcate knowledge.
“Instead of shouting at the child, bring them closer to understand their weakness.”
Indeed this explains her behavior with pupils in class, because as she speaks, one pupil walks across her, she embraces the pupil and they murmur a few things only them understand, while the rest stand at close range anxiously persuading her to notice their presence.
Jajja Ssanyu’s passion for teaching has delayed her retirement. Formerly at Kadongo Boys Primary School, Gayaza Jajja Ssanyu believes that children should be taught in their mother tongue something that inspired her to start up her school (Ssanyu nursery school, Gayaza) in 1977.
She notes that the foundation given while in lower classes in some schools, is not good enough and this has created a gap that has to be bridged.
When asked about her method of teaching, Jajja Ssanyu says she used to teach in English because her certificate said so. She later changed the approach to teaching in Luganda to ensure her students children understand and interpret well, however english at her school is taught as a language.
She blames some teachers for using a complicated language which makes it difficult for pupils to understand.
Melisa Auma, a pupil at Ssanyu Nursery says she likes Jajja Sanyu because she teaches in Luganda and her work is easy to understand. She adds that when she fails Jajja’s work, she does not shout at her but rather asks her to go for help.
Jajja Sanyu has taught thousands of children, many of them now adults with children and grandchildren of their own.
Mutawe, the head teacher of Ssanyu Nursery and former student of Jajja Ssanyu say she can’t quit teaching because of the great experience she had with Jajja Ssanyu as a teacher, mother and grandmother.
When asked why she cannot retire, she proudly said her regular work makes her feel better, she loves children so much and she has a mission to fulfill.
“I am a born teacher” Jajja Ssanyu however admits that she is weak and would love to rest but because of her passion for teaching, she just can’t.
“I wake up really early to be in school and I would love rest but I just love being around my children.”
Florence Mulindwa a parent at the school confesses that Jajja is not only a teacher but a mother who is understanding.
“She will let your child sit for exams without finishing full tuition, If your explain your problem to her.”
However, Jajja Sanyu despite her principle of befriending those she teaches, is not willing to spare the rod, for she claims that children of today are poorly brought up and once in a while need other methods to straighten them up.
She however decries the general attitude of parents, whom she blames of being responsible for their children’s poor upbringing yet they do not want them disciplined.
“A child of this era cannot be corrected, not parent wants their child to beaten by a teacher and this has led them astray.”
According to the pensions Act, an officer shall retire on attaining age of sixty years. However, retirement depends on very many factors; Most importantly if the person ia under public or private sector.
Many experts have recommended elderly women for kindergarten teaching due to their compassionate character and general understanding of the children. For Jajja Sanyu, compassion for the tender children she teaches is a belief, a trait running through blood and no doubt she has helped groom many and turned around thousands because she insists on starting early just like her school’s motto; Akaliba Akendo.