The Government recently issued a directive banning boarding in nursery and primary schools in a bid to ensure parents care for their own children closely until such a time they are old enough to be away from daily parental watch.
The Cabinet approved the decision back in 2015 and all the schools with boarding sections were given three years as grace period to phase out the boarding section.
The Ministry of Education maintains that nursery and primary schools should offer day programmes. The directive affected the 34 boarding primary schools in the country.
“We have been given up to this year as deadline to phase out boarding sections at primary level. At this age children are too young and still need affection and parental care. Parents were abandoning their responsibility of giving parental care to their kids,” Isaac Munyakazi, the minister of state for primary and secondary education, told Education Times in an exclusive interview early this month.
How ready are schools?
Some affected schools say the decision was not well-communicated but they are ready to comply.
Jean de Dieu Hakiza, the head of Gahini Shinning in Kayonza District, said the directive was not effectively communicated and was a contradiction to the previous guidelines.
He said that four years ago, officials from the education ministry visited the school and ordered them to renovate dormitories and the kitchen so that children get better boarding facilities.
“We acquired a loan of Rwf12 million, renovated dormitory and built a kitchen but we were later informed that the boarding system was banned. This will automatically cause losses to our school as we have not finished servicing the loan. Besides, some of our employees will lose jobs,” said Hakiza.
“We have not yet received an official letter but we are aware we are closing the boarding section this year. We have discussed with parents whose kids study here that effective next year, we will not be receiving boarding pupils,” he added.
According to Hakiza, much as the main reason to phase out the boarding section in primary schools was to help children grow up within their families, there is need to ensure that the situation does not worsen.
“Much as we cannot offer enough care as real parents do, we try our best to ensure that children are catered for professionally. Besides, most of parents who bring kids here are business people who are too busy to be with their kids and I suspect that the kids we had will be raised by housemaids who can hardly do better than we do,” he observed.
Hakiza also urged officials to ensure that parents take care of their children and they do not instead send them to neighbouring countries to study in their boarding schools.
Elie Nduwayesu, the proprietor of Wisdom School in Musanze District, says the ban will affect parents and children most.
“Parents prefer sending their children to boarding schools because they need quality education and good morals, values they would not get from housemaids who are not educated. Parents bring their children to us because they see that the services given in their homes are not sufficient for their children in terms of education, culture and feeding,” he says.
Asked if schools will not incur losses, Nduwayesu replied: “We are not working for money but for our country. In any business if you want money you will get it but in education it is a calling. If boarding facilities are stopped, children will lose, the country will lose and I will lose as well but not in terms of money because what I am giving to children is for my country.”
According to Minister Munyakazi, schools were given enough time to get ready and help children who were already in the boarding section to finish their studies.
“We realised that at some point boarding schools were targeting profits and not caring about the education of children. Boarding schools require more materials and it is hard to get all the requirements to cater for boarding students, especially those in nursery and primary,” he says.
Munyakazi says they are encouraging parents to take their children to day schools to ensure they are raised in their families.
“We cannot encourage boarding school for primary school children; at secondary school level children are able to do some things for themselves and that is when we should start supporting them to be independent,” he says.
“The decision was taken and all concerned parties including head teachers, teachers and parents are informed, it is something we worked on deeply before we decided,” he adds.
Leonard Tugume, a teacher at Gahini Shinning School in Kayonza District, warned that banning boarding primary schools could cause more problems than answers.
“If you look at performance over the past years, schools with boarding sections perform better than day schools. This is partly because children spend more time with teachers, matrons and patrons,” he says.
Raphael Mugabonejo from Kimironko Sector in Kigali whose 9–year daughter studies at Wisdom School, says he prefers boarding for her.
“I did so because I was facing a challenge of finding time to dedicate to her socialisation activities. I know very well that I am obliged to give her everything to grow holistically - psychologically, physically and intellectually. I felt a boarding school would do a better job at this,” he says.
“What made me take this decision was because I noticed that the child was learning bad habits from the maids. I brought the child here because I was not able to give her all she needs to grow holistically. We want children who grow with values that will help to build our country in future,” he says.
Civil society lauds directive
For Edouard Munyamariza, the chairman of civil society organisations in Rwanda, the directive was long overdue.
He argues that with the boarding system children are affected by not being in close contact with their parents hence learning bad habits from their peers.
“Boarding schools have many problems including the system itself. Children lose affection and parental care and we cannot say they are fully taken care of. It is really important that children are in good contact with their parents. Formal education without informal education would be useless,” adds Munyamariza
However, Munyamariza urges the government to play a big role in raising awareness about the negative impact of sending children to boarding primary schools.
“We can’t ban boarding primary schools in Rwanda and we let children be sent abroad where the culture is different. It is very important that parents are first educated and warned about the danger of boarding schools so that they take responsible decisions for their children,” says Munymariza.
The directive banning boarding in nursery and primary schools was taken after consultation with the National Children’s Council, the ministries of gender and family promotion, and local government and social affairs, according to the officials from the Ministry of Education.
Dr Beatrice Yanzigiye, director of Confucius Institute
I support the ministry as this will help save our children. Children are supposed to learn how to take care of themselves by learning to wash their clothes and other responsibilities while at home. They should be in day schools so that they are closely monitored by parents.
Hezekiel Bizimana, parent
I think parents are missing the point. Taking children to a boarding school so that they become independent is denying them the right to be loved by their own parents. I think this should be stopped. Parents must face their responsibilities. Besides, I think spending more time with parents help children grow up with good morals.
Yvonne Uwamahoro, mother of two
To some parents the idea is okay, but for a few like me it’s not a good step. I have a busy schedule that doesn’t give me time to spend with my child. Although I took her to a boarding school while she was 9, I believe there she can be attended to well by the matrons than at home by a house help. However, for stay-home mothers their children should be in day schools no matter the age.
Alphonse Uworwabayeho, parent
It’s irresponsible for parents to run away from their responsibilities and try to overload the teachers. Children in primary schools still need support and care from parents. In cases where some of them are too busy, finding a conducive place where their children spend the day so that they pick them in evening is ideal.