Weigh the pros and cons of boarding school

A parent picks her daughter from school

What you need to know:

So you are thinking of sending your child to a boarding school as school begins next week. Abdulaziizi.K. Tumusiime takes you through what to consider before making this decision for your child

Some parents make the choice purely for the sake of convenience. Others feel it is the best way to give their children an all round education at an early age so as to prepare them for the rigours of the life ahead of them.

Some other parents simply can’t imagine sending their children to a boarding school while still in their diapers, yet for others, it is a dilemma over which much time is spent agonising on whether to send their children to boarding school early on or to keep them at home as day scholars.

This is a debate that has been on for years, yet parents, teachers and academic experts maintain divergent opinions over the subject. Perhaps the lack of consensus on the issue could be the very reason more parents still prefer taking their children to the mushrooming primary boarding schools in the country.

The endless job demands
Susan Nakanjjako, a mother of two says that she decided to take her children to boarding school at an early age due to the endless demands of her job, which would not allow her to give proper attention to them.

“Being a single mother, I really have to work hard to sustain my family. My job involves a lot of travelling and when I’m in the country, I’m sometimes caught up in meetings which go late in the night,” testifies Nakanjjako. She adds that she wanted to avoid getting inconvenienced by dropping them early in the morning and picking them very late. “Unfortunately, I could not also trust the housemaid with my children whenever I was not around.”

Molly Nakamatte, a mother, has her two boys aged six and eight in boarding school. She said, “The boarding school is well equipped to help my children grow into disciplined, responsible, independent minded, socially sensitive, spiritual and creative individuals.”

Worries of commuting to and from school
When a child commutes to and from school every weekday, they become a victim of sporadic city riots, which sometimes result into deaths or severe injuries. So parents feel that their children are safe in boarding schools, which keeps them away from the chaos they would have otherwise encountered between home and school.

What psychologists think
However, psychologists don’t believe in placing children into boarding schools at an early age. Beatrice Kakembo, a counsellor at Inspirations Centre says while children are able to learn a number of skills and values while in boarding school, the biggest impact comes from the method used in teaching these skills. She says that such skills should be taught with a direct affection from parents, not to be fully handed over to a third party. “Children can still learn how to make their beds, how to peel and how to be responsible but with affection from their parents. Children don’t have to learn such skills because there is a matron holding a stick at the door,” she argues.

Kakembo adds that what children learn with affection from their parents has a positive and long lasting impact on them compared to their counterparts who learn out of fear for a stick on their behind. “Such children become self driven in life, learn negotiation and interpersonal skills all due to affection in teaching them.” She stresses that it is unfortunate that parents simply mind about their children having such skills and not how they are inculcated in them.

Explain to your child when taking them to a boarding school
Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University, acknowledges that sometimes circumstances leave parents with no alternative but to take their children to boarding schools at an early age. He advises parents in such situations to explain to their children why they are taken to boarding school at an early age. “This should be done so that the children don’t feel that they are being sent to away because their parents don’t love them,” he says.

Nyende cautions parents to make the best use of the time they get to interact with their children especially during visitation and holidays. “Some parents make a mistake by using the time to only blame them for the poor grades in class and misbehaviour,” he says.

Use the time effectively
Parents should instead use such time to talk to their children about what’s happening in their lives and reassure them that they are loved.

Rukia Nsubuga, a staff with National Drug Authority, attributes her traits of responsibility and ability to manage the resources at her disposal to early life in boarding school. “We had to eat our grub and spend our pocket money sparingly so that they would last till visitation day. In order not to be late for class, I had to wake up early before the bathrooms were mobbed. Such experiences taught me how to be responsible and economical, values which have positively shaped
my personality.”

However, Nsubuga states that she would never take her child to boarding school at an early age despite having gone through it. “I believe such an age is the best to create a bond with my child and if I don’t create one, it will be created between my child and a stranger in boarding school. I also believe that at such an age, I’m the right person from whom my child should learn how to lead her life and not the school matron or her peers in boarding school.”

Does age matter?
Pyschologists argue that the age between zero and eight years is the attachment period, when the child needs the support of their parents. At that age, a strong bond is created between the child and the person who responds to her when she coughs, cries and is emotionally down. If a parent passes on this responsibility to any other person, the bond will instead be created between the stranger and the child. “The impact of passing on parental responsibility to someone else will be manifested in the children when they grow up in terms of being withdrawn from their parents and not sharing with them what is happening in their lives,” psychologists say.

This is evident in Esther Murungi’s son who never opens up to her. She says that her son had learnt most of the values she wanted him to learn when he returned from boarding school. “However, he developed a habit of not opening up to me on what was happening in his life. I would only know what was happening from his friends. I tried a number of measures to help her get rid of this but it yielded little. I have since learnt to live with my son’s habit though it really hurts me as a parent,” confesses Murungi.

Kakembo argues that when one decides to be a parent, one should be ready for the challenges that come with it. “Most of the parents today have “oops babies,” babies they give birth to when they are not ready to take parental responsibility. Chances are high that such a parent will pass on her responsibility to a matron. This is because the “oops parent” prioritises her life over that of her child.” In a bid to blend parental affection with real boarding school life, some primary boarding schools in the country have adopted a mixed approach that allows children to reside at school during weekdays and return home to their parents during weekends. Taibah Junior School is one of the schools where this system is in place.

According to Judith Musisi, the school’s headteacher, the need to involve parents in their children’s upbringing is top of the reasons the system was adopted. “However much we properly take care of the children, we can not replace their parents. The parents need to be with their children to monitor the latter’s behaviour as well as teach them their culture,” says Musisi.
At secondary school level, most schools only offer boarding facilities. This leaves most parents who want to enroll their children in such schools with no alternative. Psychologists say that although it would be better for children to stay with their parents, at the time of joining secondary school, children have learnt most of the skills and ideas that the parents ought to teach them.