The call to ban boarding or residential schools is gaining momentum at the Amanya Mushega-led education policy review commission, as an increasing number of individuals and educationists advocate for it to become a prominent reform in the education sector.
Since the commission’s inception, various voices have suggested banning certain groups of learners like those at nursery school or primary level, from going to boarding schools.
While appearing before the commission on Tuesday, Professor Lawrence Muganga, the Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University noted that residential or boarding schools for both primary and secondary schools should be completely be banned.
Muganga contends that it is crucial for Uganda to embrace the ban on residential schools, emphasizing that these institutions bring more harm than good to the education system. He argues that parents are abdicating their responsibilities by entrusting their children to these schools, which, in turn, do not contribute positively to the students’ development.
According to Muganga, the restrictive environment of boarding schools limits students’ thought processes and enforces a particular way of functioning, which does not align with the diverse and dynamic nature of the post-school world. In his view, these schools resemble prisons that parents are essentially paying for to have their children confined.
Muganga argues that boarding schools fail to provide learners with what the ideal world demands, such as interaction, socialization with diverse communities and age groups. Moreover, he claims that these schools contribute to the development of negative behaviors, a topic that the public is reluctant to address.
Other participants supported Muganga, asserting that boarding schools initially served as a tool for missionary schools. These institutions aimed to confine students in one space to influence their thinking and utilized boarding schools as a means of evangelization.
Muganga asserts that the banning of boarding schools would promote a decentralized model where parents actively participate by enrolling their children in nearby schools within their communities. This approach, according to Muganga, aims to restore and enhance the involvement of both the community and parents in the learners’ education.
Last year, Professor Nyeko Pen-Mogi, a distinguished veterinarian and academic administrator, shared his deep concern before the education policy review commission regarding the practice of sending three-year-old toddlers to boarding schools.
During his appearance, he went as far as expressing his emotions, nearly shedding tears as he characterized this practice as “madness”. Professor Nyeko urgently called for the immediate cessation of this troubling trend. Notably, his remarks coincided with a tragic incident where lower primary pupils lost their lives in a school dormitory fire at Kasaana Junior School in Masaka City.
The commission, during its deliberations, has consistently raised the question of the relevance of boarding schools, seeking input from various experts. Many of these experts, like Professor Nyeko, have voiced the opinion that boarding schools are not essential and have questioned their importance in the education system.
During hearing, Chairperson Amanya Mushega shared his personal connection to the issue of banning boarding school, recounting how several people including members of parliament trashed it back in 1986 when it came out as one of the recommendation of the famed Kajubi commission.
Mushega narrated that although he was presented the findings in his capacity as the then minister of education some people took it personal to an extent of speculating that his advocacy for day schools might have stemmed from negative experiences he had encountered in boarding schools.
The Kajubi Commission 1989 report emphasized the crucial need for children between the ages of 4 to 6 years to receive care, love, and attention from their parents. Consequently, the commission recommended against encouraging boarding schools for children in this age group, except in cases where children were orphans or faced unusual circumstances that prevented them from living with their parents.
Kajubi further recommended that existing boarding schools in both primary and secondary should continue to operate, but the entire cost of boarding should be borne by the parents. Additionally, the said commission advised that all new government schools established in the future should be completely day schools.
The trend of banning boarding facilities is gaining traction, following the footsteps of neighboring countries Tanzania and Kenya. In Kenya, the Ministry of Education made a noteworthy policy adjustment in 2022, declaring the abolition of boarding schools for students up to grade nine, aged 14-15 years.
Authorities noted that the decision was made to allow children at that age to be under the care of their parents or guardians. Children from nomadic pastoralist communities will however be exempt from the new ban.
Uganda has expressed an inclination towards moving in the direction of discouraging boarding schools. The Ministry of Education has made public pronouncements on this matter on several occasions. However, as of now, there has been no concrete implementation or formalization of these intentions.
Some voices from the public have raised concerns acknowledging that, at times, parents face the challenge of demanding work schedules, leaving them with limited options other than sending their children to boarding schools. This perspective underscores the practical considerations some families face when making educational choices for their children.
With the responsibility now resting in the hands of the Mushega-led commission overseeing the education policy review, it is their task to carefully assess all relevant factors, including the concerns raised by the public. The commission will play a pivotal role in formulating decisions and recommendations that take into account the diverse needs and challenges faced by parents.
Following the commission’s deliberations and recommendations, the government will assume the responsibility of adapting and implementing any proposed changes. The process will involve collaboration between the commission, policymakers, and other stakeholders to ensure that the final decisions align with the best interests of students, parents, and the broader community.
For many years, Uganda did not have boarding sections at the basic education level. Historical records indicate that the first boarding schools were primarily traditional secondary schools established by missionaries. When President Obote’s (first) government set up national secondary schools, they also adopted the boarding school model, necessitating the relocation of learners from their regions of origin to study in schools located in different parts of the country.
In the early 2000s, with the growing popularity of private schools across the nation, the concept of boarding schools experienced a resurgence. Initially, private schools introduced boarding sections for learners in candidate classes, citing the need for additional focused study time.
Over time, these boarding sections expanded to include students in various classes, and currently, even pre-primary students are admitted to boarding sections in some private schools. This shift in the education landscape reflects the evolving dynamics and preferences within the educational ecosystem of Uganda.