Every parent wants to take their children to the best school. To achieve that, they usually do a lot of research and consult a number of relatives and friends before making any decision. For a school to be called ‘good’, the head-teacher, teachers and facilities like the library and past academic record must be worth writing home about. Even when students have performed well in the national exams, it is normal to see all the praises and gifts going to the teaching staff for a job well done. One person, however, that is hardly talked about is a school matron and patron despite playing a crucial part in the students’ life.
According to the Rwanda Education Board director general, Janvier Ismael Gasana, much as priority is given to the teaching staff, non-teaching staff, such as matrons and patrons are needed within the schools. He says at the moment, recruitment of matrons, patrons and discipline masters is at the discretion of the district authorities.
“Just like teacher recruitment, there is no specific policy but districts are in charge of the placements. However, we are in advanced stages towards finalizing the special teacher statute. This will also guide appointment of other school staff such as patrons and matrons,” says Gasana.
“You cannot recruit only teachers, there are people who work with them and that’s why the whole recruitment is handled holistically,” he adds.
Who are matrons, patrons?
According to the dictionary, a matron is a woman who is usually middle-aged and married, or a female who acts as a supervisor or monitor in a public institution, such as a school. The female head of a boarding school dorm house is an example of a matron. On the other hand, a patron does the same work as a matron, except that he deals with male learners. In Rwanda, matrons and patrons work very closely with discipline masters.
Solomon Mukama Apuuli, a teacher at Kigali Christian School, a day and boarding school, says a good matron should be old enough to understand and manage students. “Being a matron requires someone with great interpersonal skills and anger management preferably aged between 30 and 45 years. One should also be trained in handling adolescents.”
Mukama adds that matrons and patrons in boarding schools should be able to perform the duties of a parent. “You realise that students in boarding school spend most of the time away from their parents. It is thus important to have someone who can make sure the students go to bed early and be in class in time for preps and lessoons,” he says.
Aloys Ntahobitagwa, the discipline master at Remera Martyrs, says matrons and patrons spend a lot of time solving disputes among students. “The cases keep coming up and are unavoidable. Sometimes a student may borrow a text book from a friend and then delay to return it resulting into a dispute. Many conflicts arise within the dormitories and only the matron is in position to resolve them.”
The other duty of a matron is to ensure that the students are healthy. According to Ntahobitagwa, a matron or patron alerts the school nurse and teachers whenever a student falls sick. “We normally take the sick learner to hospital or contact their parents depending on the seriousness of one’s condition,” he adds.
Rev Jackyline Iribagiza, a matron at Remera Martyrs, explains that one of her duties is to make sure learners have all their meals everyday and on time. “I have to look at the quality of food the girls eat, ensure that they eat on time and enough.”
She says since distraction among students is common, it is important to have someone (in many cases a matron) to monitor them in order not to lose focus. “Without proper guidance and supervision, students may escape from school or dodge preps.”
At ES Kianza in Rulindo, there is a matron and a patron. Marie Vianney Dunia, the discipline master of the school, says he works with both the matron and patron to monitor students’ behavior and agree on punishments.
In many day schools, however, senior teachers also serve as matrons and patrons. For instance at Kigali Secondary School, a senior woman teacher was appointed to handle adolescent female students. The school head teacher, Nelson Tabu, says: “Sometimes girls want to consult mature people on reproductive health issues. These are cases the senior woman teacher attends to during normal school days.”
He adds that just like the matron, the conduct of the senior woman should encourage students to approach her.
“She should be a mature person who can provide motherly attention to the students,” he adds.
What learners think
Most students agree that the matrons are very essential within a school environment.
Paul Ntsinzi, a student at Lycee de Kigali, explains that in case of any social challenge, approaching the school patron is always the first step. “Both the matron and the patron are at our disposal especially for the boarding students. They help bring harmony between students while at school.”
Lukemon Musengimana, a senior four student at Remera Protestant School, also acknowledges that their warden (patron) is key in enforcing discipline and order during meal times.
“He monitors lunch distribution at school. He is also in charge of time management especially in the morning. He ensures those who come late face disciplinary action,” Musengimana explains.
A good example is Eric Mutabazi, also a learner at Remera Protestant School. “One time the patron found me walking on the compound when other students were attending prep and I paid heavily for that. From that day, I learnt to always respect the school programme,” says Mutabazi.
What parents think of matrons
Many parents who spoke to the Education Times observed that matrons in most cases are closer to students than teachers.
Yves Sindabimenye, a parent in Kibagabaga, says: “If a child is in a boarding school, it means they spend more time with the matron or patron compared to the parents. As a result, students will find it easy to approach them for help.”
However, that closeness can be so challenging. Juliet Rugema, a parent residing in Remera, acknowledges that the job of a matron is very demanding since it involves providing parents with regular updates about their children.
Although matrons do a lot of work and could probably be hard to get, Ruth Kayitesi, a resident of Kacyiru, believes not every Tom and Dick should be given that responsibility. She says a matron should be someone with experience in childcare and behaviour.
“Someone may have all the requirements to take care of children but lack the most important aspect - taking care of children especially those in lower classes.
Much as teachers and administrators usually take the credit when students pass their exams, in the background are the unsung heroes – matrons and patrons – who spend the day and many hours in the night watching over the learners. They must ensure that they sleep, wake up, eat and go to class on time, besides taking care of the sick ones. Although they may not go to class to teach, they make sure the learners are psychologically, emotionally and physically fit to study well. And as learners do the end of year and national exams, they should add matrons and patrons on the list of people to thank if they pass well.
Are matrons necessary?
Alex Butare, news paper supplier in Kigali
It’s always good to have school matrons because they ensure that students live together in harmony and in class at the right time. Without them, it would be very hard for teachers to control hundreds of learners.
Aliyah Uwimana, a hotel attendant
If the school population is big, I think it is in order to have a matron since teachers cannot be everywhere all the time. Matrons are very helpful when it comes to resolving disputes in dormitories and maintaining the hygiene of students.
Benjamin Ngarambe, S3 student at IFAK
School matrons are good at dealing with naughty children that have been pampered by their parents at home. Once under the care of a matron, such students have no choice but to respect school rules and regulations.
Jarolel Ntwari, S3 student at IFAK
Every child needs someone to share their challenges and dreams with and matrons are the most suited persons since they spend a lot of informal time with them. Besides counselling learners, matrons play a key role in instilling discipline in them.
Laurent Nimuragire, an engineer
I was in a school that had a matron and I must admit that they play a big part in a student’s life. Matrons work hard to ensure that learners are well behaved since without discipline academic excellence becomes hard to realise.
Vanessa Ishimwe, a student at IFAK School
Matrons are necessary at school because they not only instill discipline in students but also provide counselling to those that need it. They also teach us how to respect others regardless of age or title.