Growing up, Michael Kushemererwa enjoyed learning languages, especially foreign languages, partly because his uncles spoke several foreign languages and for every trip abroad they took pictures with white people. He admired them and wished to be like them.
Thus, apart from English, he was content with French. However, he was discouraged at O level at Kitante Hill School in Kampala.
“I joined a school that only taught French in one stream per class. Our classes were classified as, for example, Senior One had different streams: S1.1, S1.2, S1.3 and S1.4. I happened to be in S1.3 when French was only taught to S1.1 students,” Kushemererwa recalls.
However, he did not give up on his dream.
“When I was promoted to second high school, I went against school policy and changed my path to a course where French was taught (S2.1),” he says. .
With his uncle’s training, Kushemererwa didn’t lag behind but the class had a lot covered. Since the teacher didn’t seem bothered, Kushemererwa did his best.
“It was difficult, no matter the ‘home training’. I had to work twice as hard. My colleagues had covered a lot in the first year. I had bad grades”, says.
He lived for French and then began to master the subject. He ended up as the only A-level student at Kyambogo College in his year. Here he read it alongside history, economics and geography.
French earned him a scholarship to the Kyambogo Teacher Training Institute (ITEK) in 1999. He studied a double major French bachelor’s degree, which he completed in 2001.
“In 2000, however, I wasn’t sure what the French future had in store for me. I enrolled in a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Management at Makerere University, an evening program which I paid for,” Kushemererwa recalls.
He needed a backup plan in case the French didn’t turn out well. He later realized he was wrong.
“Jobs in the environmental sector were competitive and rare, unlike the French teaching internship that I easily obtained at Naalya Higher Secondary School in Namugongo,” he explains.
One opportunity brought another that even after French was dropped from the school curriculum he joined St Lawrence College Paris, Mpigi where he taught until he secured a placement at the Nabisunsa Girl’s School in 2010.
Kushemererwa says everything was fine until subject scrapping became rampant. School leaders said the subject was costly. He searched the Internet for growth opportunities.
The teacher felt his job was under threat and chose to venture into the international program.
“I surfed the Internet looking for different programs that could help me get my job. The more I searched, the more training opportunities I came across. I also learned about the certificates and the potential of these courses,” he says.
Kushemererwa has registered with Cambridge and the International Baccalaureate (IB) body, who have begun emailing him about opportunities and workshops taking place around the world. He made his first breakthrough in 2016.
“In 2016, I had my first training at Arundel International School in Zimbabwe, where I trained to teach the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum.”
A year later, he took another short course at an IB training in Hong Kong, China. There he earned an IB Teaching and Scoring Diploma from Sha Tin College. He also learned to manage the DELF, an internationally recognized French proficiency certificate issued by the Ministry of National Education which gave him knowledge of all the programs.
However, he was thirsty for more knowledge and wanted more from his IGCSE.
“I took another introductory French course at the Accadis International School in Frankfurt, Germany in 2018. It was there that my morale picked up and I was ready for the task”, remembers Kushemererwa.
The international program, he said, was totally different from Uganda’s.
“We’re used to writing on blackboards but, elsewhere, technology is the way to go. I wasn’t as tech-savvy, but learned in hopes of applying my skills back home,” he said.
He was ready for the change. After the training in Germany, Kushemererwa bought gadgets including a projector, laptop and speaker to use.
“I stopped using the blackboard and embraced the technology, even with the Uneb curriculum. My students seemed more lively and enthusiastic about the subject and performance improved,” he says , adding that “thanks to technology, we covered more topics and I enjoyed my profession more.
One day, her friend referred her for an internship home teaching a child studying IGCSE and with enough training, the girl passed, which impressed her parents. Since then, he has obtained oral references which reinforce his mastery.
Covid-19, a blessing in disguise
When Uganda announced the lockdown in March 2020, schools closed. Most teachers, especially in private schools, have lost their salaries.
“In June, our head teacher advised us to be creative. It was so scary that I couldn’t imagine my life without pay. I had some savings but I didn’t know how long it would last with President Museveni extending the lockdown,” he notes.
Kushemererwa then thought of using his knowledge to earn a living during the lockdown. With the help of a friend, using Zoom meetings, he created French Learning Made Easy, a web portal through which he could teach students. The portal is free after creating an account. Once logged in, you choose from (UNEB, IGCSE, DELF and IB).
“When you need more learning materials, there’s a form to fill out. This triggers a notification and I make a call and we negotiate the fee before we start learning. I’m still doing virtual classes and home schooling,” he says.
The website contains learning materials, including videos. There is also a private lessons option and where one can book the lessons they wish to study.
He had everything set up. But he had no students for over a week. To increase traffic, Kushemererwa paid Shs 50,000 per week for Facebook ads. It worked. His students signed up and most of them were interested in the DELF, which he had already introduced to school before confinement. They also brought in friends. By the second lockdown, it had up to 20 students.
At the end of the confinement, it had around 90 students. Among these, he introduced 65 students at the Alliance Française in Kampala who sat their exams shortly after the lockdown.
“When I took the names of students who wanted to register for the exam during the short deconfinement window, the deputy director, Magaly Losange, was surprised at how I acquired such a number, the schools being closed,” he recalls.
This innovation brought benefits to Kushemererwa. He notably crossed various countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Azerbaijan on several occasions to make stays in France where he “was treated like a king”.
Diversifying his training beyond the French curriculum for the UNEB exams has increased his income.
“Since I have given many lessons, I have earned more than before,” he says, continuing: “I was able to acquire land and build a house. Oh, I also bought a car.
It didn’t stop at material achievements, but the Alliance française de Kampala named him Best Secondary Delf Teacher 2021.
“I was also recognized by the director of the Alliance française de Kampala for promoting the junior DELF in secondary schools in Uganda,” he says with satisfaction.
In the world of work, whether you’re a doctor, a musician, a lawyer or an engineer, says Kushemererwa, it’s all about languages.
“One of my OBs who gave up French and was lucky enough to get a job as a doctor in one of the UN missions was telling me how his peers were chosen for savvy opportunities because of their knowledge of French .
He advises teachers to be more passionate and innovative in this rapidly changing work environment.
“Take an interest in what you teach. It will also help kids get motivated and immersed in the subject,” says Kushemererwa.