Jesuits in Uganda Give Refugee Girls’ Schools Facelift to Boost Uptake of Sciences

Students at Mungula Secondary School, Uganda, feel that the new infrastructure has strengthened their resolve to continue with education. Credit: Jesuits Refugee Service (JRS)

Jesuits Refugee Service (JRS), an international refugee entity of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), is constructing laboratories in girls’ schools for refugees in Uganda to boost their performance in science subjects.

In a Friday, February 11 report, JRS leadership says that refugee girls in Uganda face barriers in their effort to pursue learning opportunities especially in science subjects because of inadequate infrastructure in their schools and other challenges relating to their status in the East African nation. 

“Due to the peculiar conditions of displacement, refugee girls face compounding barriers when trying to access learning opportunities, including scientific ones. Among these, lack of safe educational spaces and inadequate school infrastructure further exacerbate refugee girls’ vulnerability to poverty, early and forced marriage, and pregnancy, as well as damaging socio-cultural attitudes and norms,” JRS leadership says.

Officials of the Jesuit entity in Uganda report that in their initiative to improve quality education among refugee girls, they are boosting secondary school infrastructure in Uganda’s Pagirinya refugee settlement in the Catholic Diocese of Arua.

“To advance girls’ inclusion and the overall quality of education in the region, JRS has been increasing and improving secondary school infrastructure in the Adjumani district, Uganda. As part of this effort, a science laboratory was built last year at the secondary school in the Pagirinya refugee settlement,” JRS officials explain.


They further report, “Starting from secondary school, girls are less likely than boys to pursue scientific subjects, leading to women being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations all over the world.”

JRS leadership says that the new lab built at the Pagirinya refugee settlement is equipped with water tanks, gas, chemical and other necessary equipment to carry out experiments. The facility also has two rooms and can accommodate up to 80 students.

In the February 11 report, the Head of Science Department at the school, Icha Augustine, explains that the science laboratory built by JRS will enhance the learning of sciences in the school because practicals will be carried out to boost understanding.

“The laboratory will enhance the teaching of science subjects in the school. When you teach theoretically, it is hard for the students to grasp the lessons. Now we use the real apparatus and not just drawings,” Mr. Icha explains.

The laboratory, which will be used for Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Agriculture classes will give access to more than 250 girls with an aim of aligning them with STEM subjects so as to compete favorably with their male counterparts.

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JRS leadership reports that before the building of the laboratory, students could only have science practical lessons on weekends and had to travel over 18 kilometers to a neighboring school, which JRS leadership says was an extra cost both to the school and families.

The head teacher of Pagirinya refugee settlement, Okot Mathew Thomas, says that the laboratory is an answer to their prayers and expresses optimism that it will boost the standards of the school.

“The laboratory is bringing us more blessings. We are excited because the school is finally going to get an examination center number. Having a laboratory is one of the conditions,” Mr. Okot says.

JRS leadership further explains in reference to Mr. Okot’s statement, “Once the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) gives its approval, students will be able to take final exams in Pagirinya. Furthermore, the school will be able to offer advanced science classes (A level) to students who complete the ordinary class (O level).”

Besides the building of the laboratory, JRS also built girl’s dormitories and latrines at Pagirinya and Mungula secondary school located in another refugee settlement in the district but within the Catholic Diocese of Arua.


Making reference to the facilities built in the two schools, JRS leadership says, “These facilities will increase privacy and security, particularly for girls, and provide all students with safer spaces to learn.”

The project, which is part of JRS commitment to gender-responsiveness in education (GRE) is supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint Charities, Loyola Foundation, and the Irish Jesuits International.

Also supported by Fidel Götz Foundation among other private partners, the initiative in the Ugandan schools seeks to increase access and completion of secondary education among refugee girls.

“A gender-responsive approach to education means that JRS considers gender norms, roles, relationships, and differences in opportunities, and targets gender-based barriers to achieve more equitable and just education outcomes between girls and boys,” JRS officials say.

They add, “Ultimately, by increasing girls’ access to quality education, gender-responsive approaches benefit all.”

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JRS leadership explains that completion of secondary education by girls develops their leadership skills thereby enabling them to become income generators, and build self-reliance.

“When girls are given the opportunity to fulfill their potential, they contribute to the well-being of their families and communities,” JRS leadership says in the February 11 report.