Uganda Managing Director, Promoting Equality in African Schools (PEAS)
Susan Opok directs the Ugandan operations of PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools), an NGO that works to give all African children access to affordable, high-quality secondary education.
Now that many African countries try to provide universal primary education, secondary schooling has become the biggest bottleneck in the educational pipeline. Uganda, for example, now gives primary schooling to more than 90% of its children, but few of those can afford to go on to secondary schools. PEAS addresses this problem by building and staffing new private secondary schools in underserved areas and making sure they have the income—from government grants, student fees, and school-based farms and other initiatives—to keep tuition costs low. It’s working: PEAS schools welcome students from disadvantaged families, yet their students often perform better than the national average on government tests.
Susan’s goal is not just to provide school facilities, but also to improve the quality of learning. To this end, she and her team have explored changes to curriculum, including things such as education about renewable energy sources like solar or geothermal, and how teaching methods can help students take a more active role in class—especially girls, who often tend to be passive observers in conventional classrooms. She also works hard to engage parents and the wider community in appreciating the value of secondary education for boys and girls equally.
By 2030, Susan hopes to see a bigger change in the educational system. In Uganda today, education focuses closely on the information students need to pass exams. “Getting information takes children away from getting knowledge,” she says. Schools of the future, she hopes, would put more emphasis on critical thinking and skills development, so that students would be better prepared to use what they learn, using their knowledge and education to help increase the standard of living in their countries with things like green energy resources such as solar or hydroelectric power.
When she’s not at work, Susan likes to swim, read novels, and spend time with family and friends. “Enjoy life,” she says. “Life is short.”