KAMPALA –The ban on boarding sections for primary and lower secondary schools in Kenya has triggered a discussion over the same topic in Uganda.
Kenya’s Education Ministry, declared recently that boarding sections for learners of up to grade nine, about 14 -15 years, would be abolished, effective next year.
Authorities noted that the decision was made to allow children at that age bracket to stay under the care of their parents or guardians. Children from nomadic pastoralist communities would however be exempted from the new regulation.
The Kenyan policy shift has in turn caused a debated amongst some Ugandans as Edward Lubega –an elder from Nabweru in the Wakiso district, concluding that the country should follow suit, questioning why young children had to attend boarding schools.
“The world is changing,” says Lubega. “Parents no longer have time for their children. Children attend boarding schools for the majority of their formative years and schools (teachers) at times don’t nurture them as expected. To combat this, we need a similar policy reform in Uganda.”
“Parents are weird now, how can you send a primary one child to a residential school,” wonders Lubega, adding that this needs to end since schools cannot take the place of parents and their crucial role in raising children.
Rev Fr Ronald Okello, an educationist who doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Commission for Education of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, had similar concerns over the ever growing culture of taking young children to boarding schools.
Fr Okello says he finds it upsetting to see parents enrolling kids as young as four years old in boarding school, adding that while at school, a group of more than 100 children are entrusted to one or two wardens or matrons who might not be able to provide each child with the necessary nurturing.
It should however be noted that even before Kenya banned boarding sections in schools, there have been appeals from certain Ugandans calling for banning of the same, particularly for pre-primary and primary schools.
For instance, in 2015, Ugandan educationists under the leadership of Prof Abdu Kasozi, the former executive director of the National Council for Higher Education, recommended the outlawing primary-level boarding schools, insisting they were allegedly endangering children’s and family development.
Some parent, however, hold contrasting opinions on the subject. Boaz Magezi, a parent, says that the idea of outlawing boarding schools may not be feasible, considering the fact that many parents and guardians are forced to enrol their children in boarding sections due to their work or life style.
Several studies have concluded that children study through boarding sections of schools in Uganda due to different challenges –including the tradition of colonialism as well as economic pressure. Academic performance is another factor in a society that drives the boarding school system, according to Dr Mikaela Dufur’s 2013 study on boarding schools in Uganda.
A similar sentiment was expressed by a few of the parents as well as educationists, interviewed in a mini survey. Allen Mbabazi, reasoned that as a way of providing their children with quality education, parents are occasionally left with no choice than sending them to boarding sections.
“Do you know where the good schools are?” she asked. “They’re in the Wakiso and Kampala regions. Children cannot attend daytime classes in Kampala if you are living (say) in Nakasongola. The only alternative would to enrol them in boarding school,” she reasoned.
Some learners had differing opinions on the same issue. While those in upper primary supported attending boarding schools, their counterparts in lower classes opposed the idea.
Dr Elizabeth Opit – an educationist and researcher with a background in sociology, notes that before considering whether to outlaw boarding sections, it is important to consider the circumstances that lead to such situations.
She adds that boarding schools are becoming popular because of the changing society as parents are now all working and find that they don’t have a safe place to live their children thus opting for boarding schools.
Dr Opit stresses, however, that research must be conducted with the participation of all stakeholders to ascertain the effects of the boarding sections in schools.
For many years, there were no boarding sections at basic education level in Uganda. Available information shows the first boarding schools were traditional secondary schools mainly opened by the missionaries. When Dr Milton Obote’s government established national secondary schools they were also boarding as learners had to be moved from regions of origin to study in schools located far away.
It is said that, in the early 2000s, as private schools gained popularity across the nation, boarding schools also gained popularity. At first, private schools initially introduced boarding sections for learners in candidate classes, reasoning it was a requirement for extra time to focus.
As time went on, they continued to expand classes, and now even students in pre-primary are admitted in boarding sections. Chris Lwanga, a parent, notes that at first, in many schools, boarding sections were optional but many private school proprietors made it mandatory for learners to enrol in boarding sections
“It began as a choice but now – learners are required to enrol, right from lower primary. Most schools no longer offer day school services,” says Lwanga.
Away from private schools, public and government-funded schools now have residential sections, with heads of school insisting on having one even though they lack the necessary facilities. For instance, many head teachers convert classrooms into accommodation chambers.
Surprisingly, by policy, there is nothing like boarding school in Uganda. The Education Act is silent on the subject as well; it only mentions boarding arrangements in Section 15 but it also mandates that the school should run a day section. But many schools currently operate as boarding only.
Even though boarding schools are widely scattered throughout the nation, according to Frances Atima, the Acting Permanent Secretary at the education ministry, the ministry only registers day schools.
Atima who is also the director of education standards and quality assurance, says when schools appealed to have boarding sections, the ministry developed some guidelines to cater for them.
However, Atima adds that while there is no particular policy for boarding schools, it has been noticed that these institutions are beneficial thus just banning them might not be the best course of action. She further argues that before Ugandans relate what happened in Kenya to Uganda, one must first understand the context under which Kenya has made its resolution other than asking for copying and pasting.
Fr Okello wonders how the ministry can permit boarding schools to operate when they are not mentioned in the policy. He quickly responds to his own question, however, claiming that the education system is flawed since schools in question are owned by powerful individuals and institutions, making it difficult for those in charge of enforcing the law to speak the truth.
Dr Disan Kuteesa, the head of the education department at Kyambogo University, says the idea of boarding schools might be good but it has been abused by school operators.
“Boarding schools are having advantages but in Uganda the notion has been abused. Boarding schools in Uganda are more of coaching centres who are overloading the learners with content. They teach them from 4: 00a.m to 9:00p.m,” says Kuteesa.
According to Kuteesa, boarding schools in Uganda might implement a policy allowing students to visit their respective homes on weekends and public holidays in light of the fact that parents are now too busy to care for their children during working days.
However, he points out that this can only be achieved if such schools, considered to be good, are located within the communities.
With such an overwhelming number of children growing up in these schools, several educationists and policy makers say that future research is needed to identify their implications and understand their long-term implication on growth and development of children.
Additional reporting by URN