Ministry of Education and Sports has dispatched a five-man team to Bushenyi to investigate circumstances that led to caning of nursing students by authorities at Ishaka Adventist School of Nursing and Midwifery.
The team set off on Thursday last week and has two weeks to conclude its work. It comprises of officials from the directorate of education standards, Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) department, Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) and the commissioner nursing office.
The ministry's directive follows three separate video clips - taken stealthily and leaked on social media by students - showing their colleagues being caned by their tutors.
In one of the videos, a male staff dressed in white shirt and black pair of trousers is seen caning a nursing student dressed in a blue dress uniform as he counts the strokes, while the other exposes a female staff clad in a blue blouse and black skirt.
Addressing journalists this afternoon, the commissioner BTVET, Hajjat Safina Kisu Musene, described the act as "unethical".
"We highly condemn and regret this unethical behavior exhibited by staff at Ishaka. We want quality nurses but this should not come at a cost of caning out student nurses," Musene said at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala.
"What a professional is supposed to do is; mentoring, counseling, grooming and turn students into professionals."
She explained that in two of the ministry's circulars number 15/2006 and 2/2015, corporal punishments that include caning, bullying, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse were prohibited in education institutions.
The five-man team is expected to compile a detailed report that will lead to constitution of another committee in collaboration with the ministry of Health to study its findings.
"If we find that there are issues which need professionalism, we shall refer the culprits to UNMC for handling while those that need legal assistance will be forwarded to police," she said.
Musene said she learnt about the incident through a nursing and midwifery Whatsapp group before other senior nurses and the ministry's permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, asked her to investigate the matter.
Already, the nursing school has suspended two of its teaching staff, but the ministry is unmoved by the decision. The school explained that the two female nursing students shown in the videos being caned, were being punished at the request of their parents while the male students were being caned for trespassing in the school compound.
"We don't want to rely on the suspension made by the school; maybe they are hiding some information. You may suspend the two appearing in the video but when other staffs are [still] beating students," Musene said.
"We want to speak to each and everyone involved in this incident. We want to get facts before we prescribe the punishments that range from verbal warning, suspension, withdrawal of the professional certificate, or handover the matter to police to manage the legal implications."
According to the acting registrar of UNMC, Angella Ilakut, it is unprofessional for tutors to subject students to corporal punishments under the guise of disciplining them.
"I was very hurt to see students being canned moreover in their nursing uniform! I have been a nurse for 30 years but have never seen any training school where nurses are canned," Ilakut said.
"You can suspend, write statements to tease students but not cane them because it's unwanted and dehumanizing."
Normally, the council summons tutors and staff to its disciplinary committee and this will be the first case it will handle since inception of nursing in Uganda. Ilakut said nurses have to be compassionate, empathetic and provide unconditional love and affection to their patients.
"So, if you cane them during training, they will displace the same thing to their patients once they qualify. When students are beaten, they get traumatized and get post-traumatic stress disorder and this makes one have low self-esteem while on duty," she said urging tutors to follow their ethical code of conduct because besides being tutors, they are mentors, surrogate to students and should use the ethical procedures to help students to learn.
According to the institution's website, Ishaka Adventist School of Nursing and Midwifery located along Mbarara-Kasese highway was established in 2000. From 2001 to May 2004, it was running both general enrollment and comprehensive nursing before it upgraded to enrolled comprehensive nursing.
The school aims at "development of individual nurses in acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable them deliver effectively the high quality comprehensive services... "