Updated: Jan 15, 2022
Most average Ugandans have been through boarding school. Even though much of the education system is filled with a lot of fluff that we don’t need to survive the world (Hello, Canadian Prairies), boarding school is a whole other ball game. So, let’s rant about the scam that is boarding schools i.e. the Ugandan education system.
Someone explain to me why these schools ask students to carry with them a rim of paper, a slasher, a hoe, and floor polish at least once a year (sometimes every term) because I still don’t understand. I’m convinced some of these schools are running mini-hardware and stationary shops somewhere and use “school requirements” as their capital.
Let’s do the math. If each class has an average of 100 students (which is a very low number considering how these schools be packing children in their classrooms and dormitories like sardines in a can), then a school has 600 students (S.1 to S.6). Tell me why a single school with very little green in its compound needs 600 slashers and 600 hoes delivered before a child can enter its classrooms every year. Some people’s excuse for this extortion is that the slasher gets blunt or their handles get broken. Well, how about the school teaching children how to maintain property by fixing those handles. While at it, the school can teach children a great lesson in the “simple ways to how to support small businesses” by getting Daudi who goes around the area sharpening butcher’s knives to sharpen the slashers. Better yet, teach kids about Daudi’s kind of work so that they appreciate all kinds of jobs.
Don’t get me started on the floor polish because I know students are asked (sorry, commanded because asking would mean that you have a choice) with polishing floors only twice a term.
And Lord knows that when it’s exam time, teachers ask kids to bring their own ruled paper to take the test. So where do all those rims of paper go?
Housework is whole scam
(and unpaid child labour, yes, I said it)
Explain to me why, with all the fees we used to pay to some of these “prestigious” schools, we still had to peel our own potatoes, scrub the walkways, sweep the compounds, all before rushing to class to gain the education we actually paid for.
Our parents paid their hard-earned money for us to go and scrub pavements? Make it make sense!
And no, the “We’re teaching you life skills.” excuses will not work here. If the point was to truly teach kids life skills, then more time and care would be allocated to such tasks. Maybe actually classes would be given on how to scrub bathrooms and mop floors. Maybe they’d create some type of “model houses” to teach kids how to take care of their environments. If they really cared about instilling “life skills”, students wouldn’t have to rush between morning prep, the compulsory morning exercise routines, showering, dressing up and getting breakfast to get this other load of tasks done.
Do you know which other residents have to do that much work? Prisoners.
Cutting hair short
It still doesn’t make sense to me that kids are made to keep their hair less than an inch. The fact that they insist that kids will be distracted if they keep their hair doesn’t make sense either. If having long hair was soooo distracting, then why don’t all surgeons have a rule that demands they keep their hair short. They literally have people’s lives in their hands every time patients go under their knives but alas, we don’t think they will be “distracted” by their large afros or braids or wigs. Let's not say it's different.
Raging hormones aside, kids have brains too. The only rule that I think needs to stand in regard to hair is, “Keep it clean. Keep it neat.”
My smol-smol lee-search (don’t ask for references for further reading) showed that the reason why most schools adopted cutting all the hair off students’ heads was to curb the spread of lice. When was the last time you heard about a lice epidemic?
Do you know which other groups of people have their hair often shaved off? Prisoners. (are we noticing a pattern here?)
Besides, if teachers and administrators really cared about hygiene and making sure kids didn’t get ringworm or lice, maybe they’d be more deliberate about teaching kids how to care for their kinky hair. They are going to grow it out once they get to university or later in life, right? So, what have these “teachers” taught the kids if they don’t have any knowledge over how to care for their whole bodies including their hair?
This odd tradition is detested so much by so many that there’s a running petition against cutting off kids’ hair which I only recently found out about.
And the strangest thing about this tradition (or rule) is that bi-racial kids are ALWAYS allowed to keep their hair even when their texture is closer to a tight coil or kinky texture. Why is that? Colourism? Self-hate? Racism?
You can’t use the loo without permission when nature calls
In some schools, it’s against the rules to be outside a classroom or rooms outside of designated times. This is basically like telling you that you can’t use the loo as and when the body says, “It’s time.” I’m not sure what lessons are being taught here. That you have no liberty over your own body?
Do you know who else is treated this way? Prisoners.
The limited sets of uniform
It’s never made sense why kids aren’t given more uniforms. They are charged for it on the school fees. But alas, you get one or two dresses (or one set of a shirt and skirt/trousers) and are likely to beg friends to help you out or beg fellow students who are leaving the school to “bless” you with theirs.
It never made sense to me that kids have to spare the already limited time they have every evening to wash their uniforms for the next day.
Do you know which other people aren’t given one uniform? Prisoners (if you don’t see the pattern by now, then you’re just choosing not to see it)
Do we have to discuss this?
Because entertainment was abysmal. There are of course tales of a couple of schools that held dankes serious club-level dankes...at night, with more than one speaker and actual deejays instead of one teacher's playlist.
No, not with blankets hung up at the windows of the halls to create a club-like ambiance. Yes, at night. We hear that sometimes the lights were turned off.
The rest had to rely on re-enacting and retelling movies they had watched during their holidays, reading Harlequin novels or hoping against all hope that MDD has something fun scheduled.
The greenery or large compound
Some schools use this as a selling point: “look at our lush green gardens, our beautiful pruned trees” but alas, are the kids actually allowed to spend time in these gardens? (laughs in “you don’t know Ugandans”)
The fixtures that we can’t use.
WHERE DOES OUR DEVELOPMENT FUND MONEY GO? Yes, I’m shouting!
There are skins and wash basins and flushable toilets and faucets everywhere but the kids can’t use any of them because there’s never running water. And if “development” is supposed to be happening then why do 100 kids have to rely on two sockets that they need to iron their uniforms. Why are there lights that have never worked?
We could go on and on. But let’s move on.
Water (just never enough water)
Tell me why (Queue: Backstreet Boys-Tell me why)
There’s never enough running water in boarding school. The same schools DEMAND that kids do more housework then don’t even make sure that there’s running water.
Some of us went through the hell of not having running water for close to a week and having to carefully ration water (yes ration water) so that we could get in a semi-decent shower in and hopefully brush our teeth. Rationing water meant that you had to use toilet paper to wipe down your plate after supper because you can’t spare water that you will need to wash the next morning. And oh yeah, the school admin still expects you to scrub the bathrooms, wash your uniforms and mop the floors during these disasters.
How was this life? How?
Breaktime lasts 5 seconds
Most Ugandan schools simply pump and force-feed us information. We’ve grown used to the process. But we need a break here and there from staring at blackboards, writing notes at breakneck speeds, while dealing with puberty, sleep deprivation, rude teachers and doing our best to absorb what we’re being taught. But GUESS WHAT? Breaks don’t last long enough for you to get to the canteen, order a snack, eat it and get back to class before that one rude teacher gets to class and locks you out. Yes, when you get locked out, you’re likely to get into trouble.
Is the sick bay really for the ill?
School nurses are a special kind of people (the ones I’ve heard stories about anyway) I was one of the lucky ones. Somehow, the nurses in the boarding schools I ended up in were never rude to me. My mother’s prayers were covering me in a special way. Also my big eyes must have scared them into thinking I could look into their souls. 🤔Maybe.
Lots of people weren’t so lucky. You could be foaming from the mouth, passed out or convulsing and the nurses will look at you like “Oop, it’s not serious enough yet.”
To everyone who went through the Ugandan education system, passed through the salty and unkind hands of boarding schools, WE MADE IT. How? We have no clue. We can survive most things.
Shout out to @brennanbaby and @kingdavid_j on Tiktok for sharing skits that remind us of all the nonsense we lived through and endured.