LACK of funds, traditional musical instruments and costumes, a low opinion of an entertainment career by children and parents, and music, dance and drama not being an examinable subject are hindering the popularization of the annual National Primary School’s Music, Dance and Drama Festival in Uganda.
Some pupils are always eager to participate in the national festivals. “We are exposed to the different cultures of Uganda. We also have an opportunity to travel to and tour Kampala, the capital city,” the 15-year-old Grace Nakimera of St. Kizito Bbeta Primary School in Kalangala District said.
“We learn about what our grandparents did which helps us in our everyday life and to live together,” Edward Gombe, a 14-year-old pupil of St Joseph’s Magogo Primary School in Luwero District said.
“We encourage the pupils to develop their songs and drama based on the annual theme. This promotes creativity among our learners and sense of ownership,” said, Abdulbust Sebidde, a teacher at Kibuli Demonstration School in Kampala.
The National Primary School’s Music, Dance and Drama Festival 2014 was organized by the Ministry of Education and Sports at the National Theatre in Kampala from August 12 - 16. With support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) it was held under the theme “Free Uganda of Malaria and Child Abuse, To Enhance Sustainable Human Development.”
Kalongo Primary School from Agago District emerged as the overall winner after winning three awards out of the nine categories on offer.
Kalongo Primary School won the Original Composition African Style, Western Choral Singing and Sight Singing categories earning 785 marks out of the required 900 marks. The choir returned home with the converted shield, trophies and a set of new traditional music instruments.
Stella Maris Nsumbe Primary School from Mukono District was the first runner-up with 764 marks.
The second runner-up award went to Maria’s Care Primary School based in Kamuli District with 759 marks after winning the Poem and Creative Dance categories.
Stella Maris Nsumbe and Maria’s Care also went home with trophies and sets of new traditional music instruments.
“This year we have seen that the quality of the performance and skill has greatly improved and this was a challenge to the adjudicators to pick the best choir. In fact, most choirs are at the international standard of performance and credit goes to the teachers and school management committees because they devote slot of money and time,” the Assistant Commissioner for Primary Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Tony Mukasa-Lusambu observed.
This year’s festival attracted 26 choirs out of 38 that had qualified from across the country. The twelve choirs did not turn up for lack funds.
The Head Teacher of Busajabwankuba Primary School in Mbale District, David Mudhungu observes that some local governments are failing to facilitate school choirs to represent the districts at the regional or national music, dance and drama competitions for lack of funds. “They say they never cater for music, dance and drama activities in their budgets.”
“My appeal to the districts is that they should allocate funds in their local government budgets to carter for this annual event because schools cannot manage alone,” Mukasa-Lusambu said.
The Commissioner for Basic Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Dr. Dan Nkaada observed: “Some schools failed to participate in this year’s festival for lack of funds to buy musical instruments. The school management committees cannot afford to purchase the expensive instruments partly because this item is not catered for in the schools capitation grants. The ministry is proposing to locate funds for this item in the Instructional Materials Allocation.”
According to Mudhungu parents do not consider a talent in music, dance and drama as very useful for their children. “They refer to it as waste of time and only think of white collar jobs that they wish their children to take up in future. So they do not encourage their children to take up music, dance and drama.”
“The children themselves have seen role models of the white collar jobs like medical doctors, nurses, engineers and agriculture officers in their community and so they are focused on pursuing such careers in future. So when you talk of music the children will think you are condemning to failing their examinations, after all music, dance and drama is not examined at the primary level,” Mudhungu added.
According to Mudhungu teachers that are not music trainers always punish the pupils that do not attend the daily classes of mathematics, English or science but instead participate in choirs. “So this discourages the children from participating in music, dance and drama.”
“My view is that music, dance and drama should be examined by the national examinations board so that we encourage those that wish to take up a career in the entertainment industry in future early enough,” Sebidde contends.
“We have now managed to have the Creative Arts and Physical Education (CAPEs) subjects on the curriculum and what is remaining is to have them examined by the Uganda National Examinations Board,” Mukasa-Lusambu said
“This national festival,” Sebidde notes, “is an avenue to tap, develop and identify talent. It creates confidence among the learners. It builds friendships among the pupils from different districts. The talented ones may even get scholarships for their secondary school education.”
National music festivals were created as a way to preserve (and even revive) cultural forms in which Ugandans feel pride, Kristen E. Cheney acknowledges in her book “Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development.”
But the National Primary School Music, Dance and Drama Festival has also become a means for spreading development messages through schools and communities, so that children may become the stewards of national unity and development, Cheney adds.
“Despite their high quality as entertainment, the mission of Uganda’s national primary school music festivals is to engage children in mutual processes of socialization…Speaking with performers, organizers, choir trainers, and Ministry of Education officials, I found that the festival stage offered primary school students a place to participate in the development of a new national culture by interpreting a national development discourse with which…they were fast becoming familiar,” Cheney observed.
“But children also utilized the opportunity of the festival to highlight gaps between nationalist aspirations that co-opted children as symbols of the future and the daily realities they faced as powerless members of society, even within the structure of the festival itself,” she adds.
According to Cheney, the festival design allows children to utilize the stage as a forum for experimenting with their social realities and relating the ideal social structure laid down in the law to the current structures of daily life that prevent them, as children, from attaining full citizenship rights. Though festival activities can be highly structured by adult directors and festival organizers, children tend to negotiate the boundaries laid out for them quite skillfully and productively.
“Providing that space for children may facilitate their socialization into dominant discourses on the character of national identity, but we must not assume that children are simply indoctrinated without critically engaging the ideas imposed upon them. By seeing such events as sites where adults and children, government and populace engage in mutually constitutive imaginings of contemporary Uganda, we may start to understand how children actively shape the ideologies of the societies in which they live,” Cheney writes.
“The festivals become crucial sites where children can affect social change and create alternative discourses, cooperatively interpreting nationalism and citizenship from their own view points as well as fashioning their own places within them, thus transforming the very ideals of national belonging from which their identities derive,” she adds.
According to Cheney, cultural performance can therefore serve as a mechanism for the negotiation and improvisation of national identity by allowing children to locate themselves within and across public space that makes certain claims on children but from which their voices are regularly silenced. When the audience is listening, they are thus invited by child citizens to rethink their own ideas about citizenship, community, and national identity, and to redraw conceptual boundaries that limit children’s capacity for social action.
“Through critical engagement and improvisational play, children can do make important contributions to the process of building a culture of constitutionalism, but adults are still ultimately the gatekeepers of that process. Its effectiveness as an exploratory space for such negotiations will depend on positive and engaged participation by all involved…,” Cheney says.