14 February 2013

Uganda: Catholic, Boarding Schools the Best


Your child stands a higher chance of passing in first division at Senior Four if they go to a Catholic-founded, boarding, single-sex school, a special investigation conducted by The Observer has revealed.

With the recently released O-level results, it is emerging that the best schools in the country are predominantly single-sex, with a boarding section, and a Catholic Church foundation.

When the list of last year's best-performing schools was aggregated, we established that at least half of the top 20 schools [in terms of percentage of first division candidates compared to total number] are Catholic Church-founded.

This compares with two Anglican Church founded schools and one Muslim-founded school. Eleven out of the 20 are single-sex schools, while all are boarding schools. Besides, four of the five private schools in the top 20 were started by Catholic owners, and whereas they are all mixed schools, they have very strict regulations on interaction between boys and girls.

The top Anglican Church-founded school, Ndejje Secondary School, comes in at number 12 on the list, followed by a Muslim founded school in Nabisunsa Girls School in 16th place. The best government school on this year's list is Ntare School in 5th place, although analysts point out this is their best O-level performance ever. The other government-founded school among the top performers is Tororo Girls School in the 29th place.

The finding that Catholic-founded schools performed best in imparting education at O-level last year is backed by Dr John Baptist Mpoza, head teacher of a Catholic founded school, St. Kizito SS in Kabowa. He explains that Catholic-founded schools like his are usually not-for-profit institutions and, therefore, able to enforce a high level of discipline which is conducive for academic excellence.

"Good performance and a very high sense of discipline are related," he says. "These schools have a teaching mission that is derived from the church's religious foundation, which can be traced from its evangelisation mission."

Patrick Kaboyo, executive director of the Coalition for Uganda Private Schools and Teachers Association, agrees.

"Those schools have the most active school management boards in the country," he says. "That is why you will find that the Catholic Church can never fully relinquish control of its schools to government - usually the board is run by the area bishop or his representative."

Kaboyo adds that the success of the school also depends on the harmony existing between the school board and the head teacher.

"A head teacher is a secretary to the school board; so, if his work plan is supported by the board, it is very hard for [the school] to fail. Riots come about because of disagreements at this level," Kaboyo explains.

However, he does not rule out the possibility that some private schools are copying this model to ensure academic success.

Boarding schools

In the past, it was felt that any kind of school could deliver success to your child, but our analysis of last year's O-level examination results shows that a candidate has relatively higher chances of passing in first division if they are in a boarding school.

The best 34 schools are all boarding institutions. Makerere College School, in 35th place, is the topmost day-school in our analysis. Further down the ranking is Luzira-based Bishop Cyprian Kihangire SS [which has both day and boarding sections] at 45th, followed by Central College Mityana in 54th place. But even here, we have learnt that candidate students are advised to stay in a hostel near the school for better concentration.

Of this, Kaboyo points out that "a school setting should be good enough to contain a student's body and mind." He argues that a good school should be able to help a student develop in many aspects, including building friendships, as well as concentrating on their studies. A boarding school, he says, makes it easier to achieve that.

Benjamin Raanga, a teacher at Kitante Hill Secondary School, a day school ranked in 164th place, agrees. He explains that day scholars lack the advantage of concentrating on their studies, unlike their boarding school counterparts.

"They arrive in class tired after walking several miles, and then have to walk the same distance home, which leaves them very little energy to read," he says.

Single-sex vs mixed

For a long time, educationalists have debated the merits and demerits of having single-sex or mixed schools. Psychologists have also studied the way students learn in both single-sex and mixed-sex environments - but consensus has never been achieved. Nevertheless, our analysis shows that single-sex schools continue to do relatively better in national exams, even if they are fewer today, as all new schools tend to be of the mixed breed.

Out of the top 100 schools in the land, according to last year's examination results, 46 are single-sex schools. However, when the sample reduces to the top 50 schools, 27 (more than half) are single-sex. According to Dr Mpoza, there is an explanation for this too.

"There is a higher level of concentration [by the students] even with the hormones raging," he says. Mpoza, who holds a PhD in Education Management, asserts that students study better in a single-sex environment.

"When discipline is not strong, it can derail students in a mixed school as their minds are taken up by things like marriage," Mpoza explains.

He adds that mixed schools, including the one he heads, require strong disciplinary and exemplary leadership.

"Students needed be trained on how to live together in a moral manner. They need to be trained in patience - time for school is time for school and other things have their own time," Mpoza says.

Mpoza's assertion perhaps explains why the most successful mixed schools, such as St Mary's SS Kitende and Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo, operate a robust disciplinary regime.

Additional reporting by Aidah Kembabazi and Hope Abonit.

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