2 September 2012

Uganda: What Is in a Graduation Gown?


Some villages are yet to see one. Others waited for decades before they could see it for the first time. A son or daughter would make the village proud if they graduated from college or university.

This would also be an opportunity for the village to see what a graduation gown looks like. Those were the good old days. But things have since changed. While it took one years of study to put on a graduation gown, today a child moves from kindergarten or baby class to top class and a graduation ceremony is held to congratulate them.

Nursery school-going children can have three graduations in three years from baby to middle and finally upper classes. However, critics are up in arms against this trend.

In Uganda, a graduation is associated with wearing a gown. Conventionally, one is expected towear a gown and its accompanying hood and cap only upon completing university or tertiary education.

While officiating at the opening of Mt. Olive College in Kakiri, Wakiso, recently, former Vice-President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya criticised some nursery and kindergarten schools for dressing their children in graduation gowns.

This, he argued, discourages the pupils from striving for greater heights in their education path.

"From time immemorial, graduation gowns have been the preserve of university students as they celebrate their achievements. For what reason should a kindergarten pupil wear a gown? What have they achieved at that level?" Bukenya remarked.

Juliet Mukiibi, a first-class graduate of development studies shares similar a view. She argues that wearing a gown should crown years of toil, sacrifice and dedication.

"How can a nursery children wear a gown? That is a mockery and an insult to the gown," Moses Mukose, a banker says.

Graduations in the past

In the past, attaining university education was rare. One had to work extremely hard through primary and secondary before being admitted to university or a technical college. Indeed, it was such a rare accomplishment some villages or districts had no graduate.

"When I graduated in 1973, the whole village celebrated. There was a lot of pride in seeing someone dressed in a gown and hood on graduation. Unlike today, the gown was sacred at the time." recounts Sam

Mukasa, a retired civil servant.

Nursery schools and graduation

Graduating at nursery level is a new trend in Uganda's education system. While some schools hold the ceremony annually because it is trendy, others do it as a marketing gimmick to attract more pupils.

At St. Francis Pre-Centre, Ntinda, pupils never used to graduate because the primary school and nursery shared buildings.

"We are starting to graduate this year because it is the modern trend," Ivan Isingwire, the joint head teacher says.

He adds that he does not support the practice because the children are in transition and cannot graduate before they complete.

Muriel Baingana, the Happitots Pre-school and Day Care headteacher bought gowns that formally 'waves bye' to their former pupils.

While parents do not incur a fee for the gowns, they part with sh5,000 for certificates.

"It is not true that it de-motivates pupils. If anything, it motivates them. By holding graduations for pupils, we help them celebrate every achievement they make in life and of course the years they have been with us," Baingana argues.

On the contrary, graduating at Christ the King Nursery school was halted so that pupils could seek motivation from university graduates, Elizabeth Kasaijja, a teacher says.

"We discouraged it because we want them to admire university graduates and go as far as they did. If you have a brother graduating from Makerere University and you are also graduating from nursery school, will you work hard to go to university since you are all graduates?" Kasaijja asks.

However Deborah Nakanwagi, a parent thinks otherwise. "I enjoy the atmosphere and the smartness the children display on their graduation. It motivates them, knowing they have to work hard to graduate from each level."

Education ministry speaks out

Apparently, the education and sports ministry does not regulate graduation nor the use of gowns and hoods. It is not even published in the Education Act.

Instead, it is a preserve of the National Council for Higher education which, of course, supervises and prescribes conduct of graduation and standards of education in universities and other tertiary institutions.

Dr. Daniel Nkaada, the commissioner of basic education, reckons graduation at nursery school level waters down the value of gowns.

"We have no position on graduation. I have been against it. If the bride and groom put on a wedding gown or dress at kwanjula will people have the enthusiasm to attend the wedding?" he asks.

Nkaada suggests that nursery schools can hold parties where they award report cards, but not dress in gowns.

What educationists say

Moses Cyprian Otyek, an educationist, acknowledges that gowns are symbols of achievement.

He says there are specific awards like certificates for primary and secondary education as well as diplomas and degrees for higher education.

"How can a child get a degree and gown when they are just beginning? Why bother the kids with putting on gowns when it is not yet their time? "he wonders.

He adds that this belittles the diploma and degree awards if even nursery pupils are putting on gowns.

Otyek maintains that report cards, and not gowns, are what nursery schools should award for leaving pupils.

"But the schools use the gowns for purposes of advertisement and getting more enrollments. It is even expensive when a parent has to pay for the gown. Parents are misled by school heads."

Former education minister, Namirembe Bitamizire says: "I have no problem with the children putting on gowns. I do not think it is an abuse of the gown. In fact, it motivates them to work harder."

The origin of graduation gowns

IT HAS been an age-old tradition of graduates to wear graduation caps and gowns. In a way, the cap and gown symbolises how special the day is in that only those who have toiled and persevered are given the right to wear them.

However, do you know how the wearing of the symbolic cap and gown started? The gown, which is technically called an academic dress, was first worn for tertiary education and later on, secondary education.

The tradition of wearing an academic dress to graduation started rather as a necessity rather than as official wear to the rite of passage.

The custom started during the 12th century when early universities were set up in Europe. These universities were tasked to validate degrees as well as list the names of scholars, who were officially enrolled and they were to record the progress of students to the next degree.

At that time, no sufficient heating system was provided in such universities, and as such, students were forced to improvise to keep warm.

The scholars, who were usually aspiring clerics or already clerics, started the practice of wearing a long robe with a hood for heat. Later that century, gowns were made the official dress of academics to prevent excessive apparel.

On the other hand, the square academic cap also called a mortarboard because of its resemblance in shape to the device utilised by masons to hold mortar-was reputed to have originated from a biretta worn by scholarly clergies, which was used to signify their superiority and intelligence.

These hats became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries and were only worn by artists, humanists, students, and all those learned.

They usually came in the colour red signifying blood and life, hence, power more than life and death.

Regardless, if you live in America or in another country, graduation caps and gowns, along with tassels, hoods, stoles and diploma covers are common apparel whenever men and women graduate from school.

From a child graduating from pre-school or kindergarten, all the way up to doctoral graduates, you will find various colours, styles, and materials for your educational affiliation.

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