Three months at school, one at home, then three more months at school. And the cycle continues year-in-year-out. This is the routine of every boarding school learner. In short, these learners spend 9 out of the 12 months at school, and only 3 of the 12 with their parents and siblings at home.
However, that is set to change following a cabinet directive that gave primary boarding schools three years to phase out that section.
The directive that was announced by the Minister of State in Charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Olivier Rwamukwaya, last Friday is expected to affect about 34 schools in the country. Rwamukwaya explained that the decision was meant to ensure that parents develop a culture of fostering their children closely until they are old enough to stand on their own.
“We want children to grow up in families and with their parents. We want to emphasise the principle of a child being raised by parents. Boarding schools will only start at secondary school level. Parents should know that it’s their primary responsibility to raise their children,” Rwamukwaya said.
Role of parental guidance in early childhood development
Education experts and counsellors say the role of schools and teachers is at times overrated with the role of parents suffering. With the increasingly busy schedules and ‘fast life’, parents are spending limited time with their children which in turn impacts on aspects of their development such as character, the experts say.
Martine Kagabo, the principal of Wellsprings Academy and a counsellor, says parental touch is a key component in child upbringing.
“It (parental touch) instills in the family values, a sense of belonging and creates an unbreakable bond between parents and children,” she says, adding that if it is not built at a tender age, it might be hard to achieve in later years.
The government’s move can also be justified by research. A 2010 research published by an American University, Southern Methodist University, found a link between a child’s way of doing things and the amount of time spent together with their parents. The research published by George Holden, a psychologist, observed that parental guidance had often been omitted among the key influences of how children turn out.
“Parental guidance is key. Child development researchers largely have ignored the importance of parental guidance,” the research observed.
Response to directive
Some parents argue that they opt for boarding schools in order to save their children from walking long distances to and from school every day. But Charles Mutazihana, the principal of Kigali Parents School in Gasabo District and also a parent, won’t take any of that.
“That is an excuse often made by parents. There is always a way out without necessarily having a child going to boarding school. It is very important for students to spend time with their parents,” Mutazihana says, adding that not all guidance and values can be acquired from school.
“The role of parents cannot be reduced to only paying school fees or providing material needs for their sons and daughters. We need to find ways to be around our children,” Mutazihana notes.
But Louise Umutesi, a single mother who sent her son to boarding school for four years, is all praises for boarding school.
She says the school helped her concentrate on her upcountry job without having to worry much about her child.
“Choosing a boarding school is not necessarily dumping your child to be brought up by teachers. At times it is the only way children can settle down and study without having to relocate every time their parents are transferred or take on new jobs in distant places,” Umutesi says.
Jane Karemera, a parent at Hillside Boarding School in Matimba, hopes the three year time frame will be used for further deliberations between schools and the education ministry to ensure that the policy is in the pupils’ best interest. She notes that like almost everything else, there was an advantage and disadvantage to boarding schools.
“We take our children to boarding schools because we want them to excel academically, but at times we lose the connection we had with them in the process,” Karemera says.
She says for as long as the pupils’ performance will not be affected, she welcomes the policy.
But Mutazihana advises parents who think like Karemera to remain calm and he has good reason to because contrary to the belief that a child can only perform well in a boarding school, Kigali Parents, renowned for being among the top performers in the country, is a day school.
“The time pupils spend in school from morning to evening is enough for them to perform well,” Mutazihana explains.
Good Foundation Centre for Education, a privately owned primary boarding school based in the Eastern Province, also vows to abide by the directive but calls for more consultations between the government and schools. The school’s headmaster, Theophile Munyampuhwe, says the discussions will enable them look into the policy’s practicability and its effect on schools.
Speaking to Education Times on condition of anonymity, a Kigali based Christian boarding primary school headteacher told the Education Times that though they would abide by the ministerial order, there was need to look into it further.
The head teacher of the school said that parents opt for boarding schools as they provide an environment where students can interact with teachers and access to learning materials.
“Much as we are saying that we would like parents to spend time with their children, there is a large percentage of them who have busy schedules and having the children at home with them won’t change much,” the head teacher notes.
He says instead of scrapping the whole primary boarding section, the Ministry of Education should limit it to certain classes and age groups.
“We agree that it is not in the pupils’ best interest to send them to boarding school while they are in P2 or P3, but there is nothing wrong with a P6 student going to boarding school,” the teacher argues.
Boarding school experience
Patrice Nshimiyimana, currently in his Senior Six vacation, spent three years in a boarding school and used to see his parents only twice a year, but he says the experience was rewarding.
“Although my parents were living in Rwanda, I went to Bwanga Progressive Primary School in Uganda because they thought it was one of the best. I saw my parents once in three months and at times spent the holiday at my relatives’ home in Uganda but I turned out fine,” Nshimiyimana says of his school days.
“It did not affect the relationship with my parents; if anything I learnt how to take care of my belongings and developed a sense of independence,” he says.
He credits boarding school for its role in enabling one to be responsible early enough.
Parents share their views
I support the policy because it helps strengthen the bond between parents and their children since they have more time to interact. It is also hard for young children to take homework and personal hygiene seriously if they are in boarding school.
When your child is ill mannered, society will blame the parents, not the school. Therefore this policy reminds parents that it is their duty to raise their children in a responsible way. Dumping them at school denies a parent the opportunity to instil in them certain important values.
Children who spend more time with their families tend to have more respect for other people than those in boarding school. Furthermore, children need comfort during trying times in their life, and that can best be provided by the parent.
I’m in support of the policy because charity begins at home. There’s no way you can raise a morally upright child if you don’t show them care and love consistently. Children also learn by seeing. It is only at home that they will learn how to cook, wash and receive visitors.
Boarding schools normally have one visitation day in a term. That is so little time for a parent and child to share anything meaningful. Probably that is why some parents don’t bother going there. Boarding schools also lack the capacity to handle pupils with delicate conditions like epilepsy.
As a parent, I have never believed in young children being separated from their families. The school has too many children to worry about that it cannot give your child the required attention. This means the parent must take up his role of nurturing the child.