None put it better than the Great African Statesman & World Leader; Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela when he posited, “Education is the greatest equalizer, the only bridge between poverty & privilege.” Indeed, he was not far off the mark. The notion of Boarding Schools in the ideal sense was supposed to enable the creation of centres where young men and women are enabled the freedom to learn unencumbered by external influences hence provide them with a conducive environment for the endeavor. In the period prior to the advent of colonialism, missionaries first came to soften the ground as the forerunners. When Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann landed on our shores they found a people already with an inquisitive attitude and a proactive appetite for learning. Though apprehensive of their new Caucasian guests, they still welcomed them with great warmth. Unbeknownst to most, the two unearthed the reality that the indigenes of Kenya had some primordial access to Western education as far back as before 1730, evidenced by a Swahili manuscript of ‘Utendi wa Tambuka’ a translation of Book of Heraclius – a treatise to the strife-riddled reign of medieval Byzantine Emperor; Heraclius, a contemporary of Prophet Muhammad. Stats for nerds aside, the two Church Missionary Service (CMS) charges interacted favourably with the people of Mombasa & were granted land by the local community to build the earliest mission school in the jurisdiction at Rabai in 1846. Consequent to a buoyant critique from explorers and missionaries, the Imperial British East African Company built a railway from the Coast to Western Kenya that facilitated travel greatly. This was a precursor to the influx of more missionaries, who set up a school in Kaimosi come 1902. In the same year the Prince of Wales school (modern-day Nairobi School) was established. This was the first of many that catered to the interests of the progeny of the burgeoning settler community that took hold of the lands of the British East Africa Protectorate. In due course, such schools mushroomed all over the landscape evidenced by European Girls High School (Kenya High) – founded 1908, Maseno school – 1906, Duke of Gloucester (Jamhuri High) – 1906, Mang’u High School – 1925, Alliance High School – 1926 among others. These in due course started attracting students both black and white from all around the country and that necessitated the construction of boarding facilities. Brand recognition took root as the alumni of these institutions went on to make a name for their alma maters in academia, their respective professions and politics. That is the short and unabridged origin story of boarding schools in Kenya.
Come 2020 – 21, the bureaucrats at Jogoo House that domiciles the Ministry Education in Kenya find themselves at a cul-de-sac. Kenya is gradually making a transition from the 8-4-4 to the Competency-Based-Curriculum (CBC). At the same time, everybody is alarmed by the frequent and utterly egregious incidents of school fires gutting down dormitories and leaving students destitute and shaken. This raises the conundrum as to whether to eradicate boarding schools wholesale with all schools being converted to day schools. Of course, this suggestion is already garnering support from various quarters, the spearhead being the newly-appointed Principal Secretary for Basic Education, Dr. Julius Jwan. To quote the early arriving shots from the newbie apparatchik verbatim, “Being away from home at an early age means being unable to imbibe a myriad of cultural values, beliefs, lore, practices and traditions that children need to function effectively in society. Besides, the institutions foment a sense of alienation. Children in Boarding Schools feel unloved, unappreciated, unwanted or uncared for.” This is a view corroborated by the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association Chairman; Kahi Indimuli who reiterates, “In such a case you find a child grappling with things like homesickness when they are unable to acclimatize to the environment leading to a dip in the learners’ academic performance. They just are not able to reconcile themselves to the idea of being far from home.” Running the gamut of most utterances paints a picture of a dichotomous schism. A few think it is a novel and worthy idea to be trialed while others, not restrained to but inclusive of the author of this piece relegates such presumptions to the backwaters of shallow thinking albeit ignorance. Most certainly, I will indulge you and hopefully at the end of this piece many will have been brought on board to my particular school of thought.
At the World Conference on Education For All (EFA) that culminated in the Jomtien Declaration on EFA held between March 5th – 9th 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand; developing countries reaffirmed their commitment to furnish their children of scholarly-age with universal access to foundational education. This was to be a new basis to surmounting inequality and generating new opportunities for poverty alleviation. Emphasis heavily slanted towards access, quality of education and actual learning outcomes. However, many delegates who attended the conference bemoaned the expansion of enrolment leading to a strain on resources to run the respective schools. Since the epoch of the Philosophers of yore like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates; Education has always been a sacrosanct and fundamental human right and a catalyst for development adjunct to economic empowerment. Today in Kenya, this scruple is constitutionally-enshrined. As stated in other previous posts, Education with regards to future generations should be safeguarded from all turmoil and conjecture pertaining to its shape and morphology. So join me in the odyssey to make a case for the continual existence of Boarding Schools that have served us well for an eon.
Here henceforth, I will itemize while expounding on the benefits of Boarding Schools that far outweigh any drawbacks witnessed.
Pulling the plug on boarding schools will deny learners the benefits of the Best Education. It goes without saying that each year a role of honour is released from the Ministry of Education after the National Examinations where the best students are often feted for their exemplary performance. A cursory look will lay bare the incontrovertible fact that among the best performing schools, a sizable tranche are Boarding Schools. Instructive to note is that in Kenya, Academic performance is inextricably tidally-locked to job acquisition & prosperity. And on this track record alone, students from all over the country travel far and wide to be able to gain access to ostensibly the best tutors and facilities. So it boggles the mind that a Professor of Surgery, Technocrat, Administrator par-excellence and man of the intellectual sophistry of our current Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George A. Omore Magoha who never spares the opportunity to wax lyrical ad nauseam about his time at Starehe Boys Centre, still has the effrontery to cast a pall over schools that offer full-board accommodation to their students. For some context, before Prof. Magoha was the burly man-mountain he is today adorned in a heavily-feathered professional & academic cap, he was merely an ebullient yet studious lad from rural Gem in Siaya County. The distance from Gem, Siaya to Starehe Boys Centre, Nairobi is nearly 410 Kilometres. Starehe Boys Centre was started in 1959 and during the time it was shepherded by the Late Geoffrey Griffin, it styled itself as not just a home for needy yet bright students but also a premiere Kenyan academic Centre of Excellence. And I feel this consideration weighed heavily on the family of the colossus when they decided to take him there for his studies. Plenty of water may have gone under the bridge and road networks enhanced, but a poignant question is if Prof. Magoha would have been able to make the 410km commute to Gem daily were Starehe not a boarding school? Such an edict to abolish all boarding schools smirks of aloofness, high-handedness, ivory-towerism and arrogance of the variety absolutely discordant with intellectualism. Were Queen Marie Antoinette of the pre-revolutionary France still alive, even she would have baulked at such misanthropy!
Closely linked to the former, Boarding Schools Provide a stable & conducive learning environment. You need no specialized learning in child psychology to make such a deduction. Only a tenuous grasp on logic. Affording students fewer distractions is surely an invaluable shot in the arm tantamount to their scholastic pursuits. The reality of this world is that nobody chooses where they are born. Economic situations are at a variance while family stability may be in conjecture for some units. There are families that suffer such eternal bickering that you are left to wonder what attracted the couple that are now parents together in the first place. Beyond a shadow of doubt, this is unlikely to be the best situation for any student. Moreover, we have the pressures of suburban life where both parents and their children are forced to wake up even before the crack of dawn to beat the traffic jams that are an unfortunate fixture of city life. Added to the existential tussle of the day that culminates in the children more often than not getting home before their parents and then immerse themselves into chores adjunct to the mountain of assignments they are expected to finish before showing up at school the next day to continue the interminable cycle. Woe on you if you do not have a house help to organize the small things like washing and ironing uniforms! Don’t even get me started on the conflict-prone areas of this Republic where primitive men still wreak wanton destruction and dereliction of peace while trying to steal each other’s livestock. The insecurity is oft so bad that whole villages are put into full flight into havens of tranquility until conflict subsides when they make a catabasis back to the status quo. With livestock also comes the burden of Nomadic Pastoralism in Arid and Semi-arid Lands where families have to move to where the resources are after depleting the current regions’ quota of water and pasture. More often than not, this means uprooting the entire family, inclusive of school-going children and wandering all over the landscape like the children of Israel during their sojourn in the desert led by Moses. This is no environment for scholarly undertakings that often require stability for effective learning. Perhaps, more Prep time is available to the students in Boarding schools which is irrefutably the difference between excellent academic outcomes and merely passing through the school system.
Vagaries of unpredictable & adverse weather conditions are an impediment to day schools. Needless to say, this situation is exacerbated by Climate change that makes weather conditions touch & go. I recently encountered a post somewhere of a guy who was shipwrecked 3 times. He spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. His life was imperiled by both rivers & robbers. He suffered the precariousness of a life with dishonest & mendacious brethren both Jews and Gentiles. His life was one of ceaseless hazards in cities, deserts, seas and violent storms. The keen Biblical analysts here immediately recognise this passage of text from Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. However, a similar fate is the day-to-day life of many students across our nation. Even the scenic and enthralling beauty of the Great Rift Valley is now turning against our people as the breathtaking Lakes of the halcyon days are now expanding beyond their realm submerging all and sundry. This includes infrastructure and social amenities like schools making a bad situation absolutely ghastly. The description of the same as an ecological catastrophe does not merely pay homage to the impact of the same on water pH levels, ambient flora and fauna but also the students that are now cut-off from their schools. Hitherto paths to schools now end up in a pool of bracken water as regions formerly easily accessible by road on foot are now only reachable using the make-shift rafts, the only conveyance that parents can afford to bequeath to their education-thirsty children. This leads to daily existential duels between these tots and ferocious wild animals like hippos and crocodiles in places like Baringo! Even the sage who envisioned the roots of education being bitter while the fruits are sweeter surely did not presage such difficulty. Then there are parts of Kenya with an all-round rainy season like Kericho and Kakamega. I offer my sincerest of commiserations to those who make daily voyages from home to school under such conditions, braving the muddy terrain with the need to keep their uniforms and shoes clean for an audacious new day tomorrow. Granted life will be one of toil, struggles, ups and downs but I posture that lads and lasses needn’t be subjected to such hardship while still being expected to overcome our rigorous Kenyan Education system.
Boarding schools are an excellent springboard to inculcate independence and autonomy from parents. A much-touted critique of day schools is that they makes children too dependent on their parents, resting on their laurels and denying them the tactical nous to independently face their own life challenges without a rock to lean on. Many parents, more so the responsible ones are often quite doting and protective of their young always viewing them as that little fruit of their loins that once upon a time lay in the crèche vulnerable and entitled yet still a bundle of joy. Pertinent to such parents, every bruised knee and calloused elbow was treated as a medical emergency for the day scholars. In boarding schools there is neither daddy nor mummy in sight to tide you up when you are down. This gives the individual the chance to stand up on their own merits and test their resolve and ability to live and work free from parental influence. There comes a time when even academic responsibility is vested on the capable shoulders of the student. This is excellent preparation for their future endeavours where as a leader, sharp and spontaneous decision-making is a much-vaunted skill in both employment and enterprise. Important too is the fact that self-discipline is honed by having a daily routine which is a common feature in institutions with boarding facilities. Time-keeping is a skill that is whetted by the boarding school system as the consequences of tardiness may include missed meals and risking adrenaline-fueled extreme sporting escapades against a draconian and indisputably garrulous discipline/boarding master or Teacher on duty. Athletics prowess notwithstanding, as per the stipulates of Biblical Proverbs 22:15, sparing the rod is also rather low on the agenda.
The chance to engage in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is among the lures of boarding schools. With the new-found sense of identity and solidarity with your mates, also arises the need to protect certain inalienable bragging rights against aggressors. The superfluous activities additional to the academic calendar are especially vital as they offer the opportunity for social, cultural and personal development. These activities may include sports, drama, music festivals, debating, science contest and career-specific clubs. Also because the children are growing, they will eventually hit puberty and start experiencing physical changes. As most human development experts pontificate, teenage is a tumultuous period of great physical, emotional, psychological and moral growth & development. And these activities serve the budding young men & women well as they are inundated with bursts of energy they previously never possessed beforehand. Activities performed together are essential in building fraternity among people. Additionally, they are indispensable in teaching young people how to deal with failure, inculcates fortitude of heart, resilience, fosters team spirit, conflict resolution, fairness, magnanimity in victory and also the solidarity to stand up for your teammates. I remember an incident in high school where we were watching a UEFA Champions League match when the buzz-kill discipline master showed up with the express intention to switch off the Television citing noise-making for the rest of the school as his principal grouse. After some remonstrations from a thoroughly aggrieved member of the audience, which mostly fell on the deaf ears of the concerned. The Entertainment Prefect begrudgingly took charge of the situation and switched off the TV for the night and the Television Cabinet was locked. All appeared to be going according to script but subliminally the murmurs of discontent were turning into a nefarious stratagem. Two of my colleagues decided not to take this slight on their fandom to their esteemed football team lying down. In the twinkle of an eye, somebody switched off the lights and there was helter-skelter scampering in all directions. By the time the Discipline Master found the switch to take stock of the situation, it was clear to all what had just happened. He had taken ounces of ‘Ugali’ to the head and his tidy, clothes were now sordid! As they say, boys will be boys. The guy decided to be a good sport about the shenanigans and let it go but it speaks to a brotherhood, the fact that to this day none has snitched on the perpetrator of the incident. You start off as disparate men and women of distinct geneses and character types but time and shared experiences anneal the bond of familiarity between y’all.
Boarding schools build character. New people and new experiences have the reaction of evoking unforeseen emotions in people. For the new-comers in boarding schools, there is the age-old tradition of bullying. This practice varies greatly depending on the type of school and breed of fellows found there. However, in most institutions this norm is merely a light-hearted practice where the Senior Students try to assert some modicum of dominance of the younger folk. For instance, my own situation as a freshman entailed being woken up at 2 a.m. by Form 2’s (Grade 10 for my IGCSE crowd) to mount a guard of honour for them. We stood in two straight files where a lanky, wiry fellow lectured us on some rather naughty, popularly used words & phrases by the indigenes of the institutions which I don’t feel the predilection to share here due to their graphic nature. In the foregoing, the leader of the miscreant gang of torturous sophomores suddenly turned to me and asked for my name. I replied.
Gang Leader: Did you pass your exams to get into this institution?
Me: (With a near whisper) Yes.
Gang Leader: Then would you care to give us a slight demo of how you passed the exam?
Me: For sure.
Not aware this was a trick question and taking the bait, I proceeded to strut my stuff in the presence of all. I did not anticipate to be the subject of some light mirth so much so that the quasi-parade was soon dismissed. The point of this story is that such incidences of slight bullying are a character-building experience. A few end up having all their confidence and self-esteem shattered and falling through the cracks but most will be held in good stead by the experience. Boarding schools also offer an opportunity for Mentorship. Sooner rather than later everyone’s talents and academic capabilities come to the fore. You will ultimately bear witness to some schoolmates receiving awards for being in the top 3 of their class. Others for scoring the title-winning basket, yet another gains acclaim for their flawless theatrical portrayal of the lady in ‘Juliet & Romeo’ despite being a pubescent boy. Here is now a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get insight from that classmate who beats everyone hands-down in both the mathematical examination and the regional contest. And there is nothing better than being mentored by your own peer. Iron sharpens iron.
Culture of Collaboration. Boarding schools induct their students into the pristine way of life where you learn to work in articulation with other minds to solve all sorts of problems. Cleaning your living space is your responsibility. In the nick of time, the House Prefect will come up with a duty-rota such that each day perhaps a team of two will clean a particular cubicle. This is a chance to work in synergy to enable you to finish the task in good time and effectively lest you be forced to do the repeat task. Collaboration goes further than that. Nothing earns a geek more stripes than dabbling in and fruitful participation in the Science contest. For most presentations, two or more characters will be required to develop a concept, brainstorm about it, research, build a prototype and ultimately present it before the multitudes taking cognizance of yourselves as ambassadors for your institution. This is an excellent chance for learning how to make best use of the shared pool of skills, talents, competencies and even idiosyncrasies among yourselves to build a viable product. It is also a chance for peer-to-peer learning.
Effective care for Learners with Special Needs. An often-overlooked sector of the population are the people with disabilities. As able-bodied men and women, we take for granted the fact that some of the hypothetically simple tasks may be extremely difficult nay impossible to others, by no fault of their own. None has a say on the arrangement of their genetic makeup and how they are born. None possesses the prescience to predict calamity or an accident that could maim them leading to loss of their anatomical faculties. Caring for differently-abled people is quite challenging and the run-of-the-mill parent with many other competing responsibilities is vulnerable to getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. To mitigate this eventuality, we have special schools that cater to the needs of this cadre of learners. In appreciation of the challenges involved, very few of these schools accept day scholars. Assuming you have no personal vehicle, it is a painfully-arduous task to share public transport with people not accountable for their actions. All these adjunct to the impolite stare of a cold, indifferent public bereft of concern, understanding or even a scintilla of empathy for your situation. Others haven’t an inkling on how to mind their own business albeit etiquette. So to avoid all these sideshows, it becomes a more convenient bet to drop off your child in a special school and only visit periodically while the experts deal with them.
Imbuing Social Maturity, Leadership & appreciation of cultural diversity. When a group of people live together, sooner rather than later, their true character filters through. Indeed a wise man once uttered that the true test of a man’s character is how he tackles adversity. It is at this juncture that true leaders and stewards are forged and step forth. Also social maturity is attained by the process of separating a child from their family and having them learn to have a new fraternity or sorority away from home. Those with leadership acumen eventually come to the fore and exercise jurisdiction over their fellow students. The House Prefect takes responsibility over the living quarters and general welfare of all the dormitory residents. The Sports Prefect ensures that all sporting equipment, appliances and infrastructure is maintained all the while liaising with school administration to ensure nothing falls into disrepair. The Dining Hall Prefect is the Principal’s eye in the School’s Cafeteria ensuring quality control of the victuals, sufficient quantities, crowd control, preserving a quota for the late-arriving sporting teams & the requisite nutritional value for the rapidly growing teenagers with an appetite that is expanding proportionately. The School Captain and his Deputy are the overall Leaders of the School Governing Council additional to creating a liaison level between the students and school administration. All these are portfolios that are non-existent in day schools which yields a situation where we have entitled intellectuals but who lack the backbone to take responsibility and be effective stewards of industry in years to come. Kenyans from all walks of life countrywide most assuredly have a kaleidoscopic range of cultural traditions and norms whose appreciation is taught by encountering a multiplicity of humanity. This is seldom possible in day schools as these commonly admit students from the vicinity of the institution with a similar culture. This limitation may create closed-minds devoid of appreciation for other cultures which is abominable.
Enforcing Equality. This particular point is a substantiation of the aforementioned one on conducive learning environments. Students hail from families that enjoy differing strata of financial stability. In paying homage to the human palm, fingers are of variegated shapes, sizes and lengths. Equality is brought on board by having all students have the same uniform, learn in the same classes, eat the same food in the Dining Hall and ultimately sleep in the same dormitories. A rule that varies from school to school sometimes forbids students from arriving with cooked food or having it brought on visiting days. The spirit behind such a rule is to curtail a smidge of resentment, envy and even self-loathing that the students from the not so well-endowed families are wont to have towards their housemates that came from money. Equality is pivotal in entrenching respect for each other’s humanity irrespective of all else.
Change of Scenery. Scientific studies by psychologists have brought to the fore empirical wisdom that a change in scenery could improve academic outcomes. A change from normal routine is as good as a rest. Such a variance may result in a change of perspectives, coaxing the fire for new ideas and in some cases even unlocking of new sectors of the brain that were previously untapped. “It is an interesting psychological phenomenon” is all I can surmise from this.
In closing submissions, I feel the benefit to be acquiesced from boarding schools far supersedes the drawbacks. Acts of arson notwithstanding, I call for placid heads in dealing with this situation. I may not be too conversant with the strictures of the newly-minted CBC curriculum but feel its full value will be tapped by keeping existing structures in place while gradually building on them as you phase out the outmoded components of the old system. We should not trifle with the education of the succeeding generations and make it subject to the whims of egotistical blackguards.