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Choosing a school for your child

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Students report to school at the beginning of term. 

By Sarah Tumwebaze and Patience Ahimbisibwe

Posted  Thursday, December 12   2013 at  17:31

In Summary

December is usually a month where parents start thinking of the schools their children should go to for nursery, primary and secondary, if they have not yet done so before. Many parents tend to think of only how much the fees is or if the school is well known, but there are other things they should consider.

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It is that time of the year, when many people are thinking about which schools their children, especially those moving from one level to another, should go to. So what are you looking at? The fees, your former school, if it features in the newspapers when results are out? Perhaps, one of the things you should think about is what Uganda National Examination Board (Uneb) Chairperson Fagil Mandy said during an interview with one of the local magazines on Uganda’s Education system: “What sort of citizen does Uganda want? That should be the beginning point so throughout the various levels we know what kind of product we want to end up with. The whole chain of learning should be tuned to the end-product.” Here therefore are some of the basics you should consider as you make that search.

DISTANCE FROM HOME
The Executive Secretary says in regards to distance, it is advisable that children in pre-primary and primary are enrolled in schools whose distance is manageable.
Matovu explains, “At most, one kilometre for primary and two to four kilometres for secondary students in day school because you would not want a child to leave home at 5am. This kills their interest and it undermines the issues of safety and security of the child.”
He adds, “But if you are going to put them in boarding school, the distance can even be more than 10 kilometres as long as they can be at school in less than six hours.”

SCHOOL FEES
You also need to consider the money you will have spent at the end of the term. While some schools give a clear justification for high school fees, others do not and at the end of the day, the parent begins to wonder if it is value for money.
Therefore, Mandy says, while there are no regulations on how much fees should be paid at every level, parents need to be “sharp”.

“If the school is demanding for things like reams, money for trips, and building fees among others, all the time, it is a sign of a bad school. They should include all these dues in the school fees so that parents pay a lump sum. As a parent, you also need to question how the money you are paying is going to be used after all you are the boss,” the Uneb Chairman advises.
Sam Nsubuga a businessman says it is also important that parents weigh their income before they take a child to a specific school. “There are some very good schools in town but if you cannot raise the fees for such a school without falling into debt, then settle for second bests.”
He adds, “This is because while you are trying to look like a rich parent, you might end up hurting your child in case you fail to maintain their stay in an expensive school.”

EDUCATION SYSTEM OF THE SCHOOL
Mr Isa Matovu an educationist and also the Executive Secretary of Uganda Muslim Teachers Association (UMEA) explains that these days, many things have come up in the education system such that parents are either overwhelmed or they are not paying as much attention to why the child is going to school as they ought to.

He says, “When some parents see adverts on television, the first focus is on the school bus. The next focus is the swimming pool then Dstv. But these are peripheral issues which should be additional values instead of the main reason for choosing a school.”
The educationist states that the main reason of zeroing in on a specific school should go back to the question of the essence of schooling.

“Why do we take children to school? There must be a benchmark or a checklist for that. This checklist should aid the parent in selecting the school,” Matovu says.
He explains that the most important issue when choosing a school is for the parent to be sure that the child is learning effectively.

“You want to be sure that at the end of the day, the child will attain the skills needed to survive in the classroom and out of the classroom through extra-curricular activities.
“But you also want to be sure that the learning environment is safe for the children in terms of facilities, safety and security and the people handling the child,” he states.

In an interview with this newspaper, Mandy adds that before taking your child to a specific school, you need to do your homework. “You need to find out if the school is registered and licensed, if the teachers and head teacher are qualified. You also need to look at their programme. It is important that it includes co-curricular activities and physical education.”
“These two develop and educate the learner. They equip them with potential and other skills which are not done by the other subjects taught in class.

“Physical education on the other hand develops the mind, body and emotions of the learner.” Mandy further explains that it is also important that the school has enough space out of the classrooms, a sign that your child will be able to play because sitting throughout the day makes school boring not just for the young ones but the older ones as well.

“The school is almost the first home to a child since they spend eight months at school. So you need to find out if the school offers services close to what they child will be getting at home especially if you are planning on putting the child in boarding school,” Mandy advises.
Meanwhile, Matovu emphasises that no matter where the school is, “the checklist is the same and should be taken seriously.”

INTERVIEWS FOR JOINING
Another thing to consider is when the child should do the interview for joining a new school. Matovu says normally, they should be done at the beginning of the year (January), when schools have re-opened from the Christmas break. He adds that by this time, parents know the performance of the child since they will have receive the third term reports from their previous school in December.

“I see many schools conducting interviews even in April and May. While they have reasons for doing this such as the competition among schools, the ideal should be after the third term reports are out for children who are schooling such as in nursery, primary and secondary.”

“For transitional classes like Primary Seven, it should be after the results are out. The same applies to Ordinary level and Advanced level.” Matovu says, “Parents need to pay a lot of attention to the meaning of education. I believe that education is what remains after you have forgotten what you studied at school.”

He adds, “At the end of the day, education is not about Primary Leaving Exams (PLE), Uganda Certificate Examination (UCE) or Uganda Advanced Certificate Examination (UACE). It is about what you bring to the world and how you use the skills you learnt at school. So in terms of distance and school fees, we need to rethink before taking a child to a faraway school in a bid of looking for a “better school.”

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