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Old Students, let us restore the glory of historical schools

The issue of schools is on most people’s lips following the release of exam results by the Uganda National Examinations Board. As students report back to school, the school fees expectations of most private schools have left parents agape. Matters are made worse by the non-school fees requirements that in some cases amount to nearly 50% of the school fees charges.

Back in my home village located in Naweyo sub-county, Butaleja district lies the once great Bukedi College Kachongha. This school was known for its academic exploits in the same vein as others like Tororo College, Nabumali High School, Teso College, Ombaci College, Jinja College, Busoga College Mwiri, Nyakasura School, St Leo’s College Kyegobe, Sebei College, Comboni College, Manjasi High, Tororo Girls School, among others. All this happened during their golden years of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Bukedi College disintegrated due to a multiplicity of factors only to become a shadow of itself. A few years ago, some old students started pushing for the revival of this school and I happened to be a well-wisher/observer of these efforts. I saw how they battled all odds to restore sanity at the school as well as get it streamlined. Small efforts created small achievements that built up one day at a time. It is therefore no wonder that after so many years in the doldrums, the school has registered its best performance over the last decade.

Some of the old giants that are still on top of their game like St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Kings College Buddo, Namilyango College, Gayaza High School, Mt. St Mary’s College Namagunga, Ntare High School all have strong and functional Old Students’ networks that play an active role in the school’s affairs. Seeing what Bukedi College Old students have been able to achieve in just two years lends further credence to this school of thought.

I then ask myself, what if those of us complaining about the failure of schools that we studied in decades ago chose to be more proactive and worked towards reviving them? Couldn’t this be an opening towards better performance hence increasing the school options that today’s parent has? Why should a parent from Kumi send their child to a school in Mukono district yet well functioning Teso College lies within their environs?


BCK Students lining up for lunch in the dining hall

The massive drop in performance of most government aided schools fostered the growth of private led secondary schools that took on the mantle of giving parents hope in good grades for their children. These schools then begun pegging their school fees on performance. Since they churn out numerous distinctions, they use that as a right of passage to have their fees increased year in, year out. Parents seem not to have any fall back position and hence have become victims of this plot by the private schools. If something isn’t done to arrest this, future generations shall have an even bigger problem on their hands.

Some of the benefits of reviving these historical schools include among others:

Lower School Fees. The capacity of these government aided schools is averagely 1,000 students and if only their standards can be improved, it means that close to 20,000 places can be availed nationwide in just 20 historical schools for students to study in a competitive environment and have a chance of passing well. The biggest losers if this happens are private schools whose fees structure hardly matches that of these government schools. This should push them to lower their fees or even close shop. For the uninitiated, there was a time when the likes of Tororo College would send over 100 students to Makerere University in a single year.

Less Congestion. The congestion in schools within Central Uganda i.e Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso, Lugazi, Mpigi is likely to decrease. Parents in Kampala for whatever reason could choose to take their children to a well performing upcountry school and less countryside parents would struggle to get their children into schools around greater Kampala.

Increased Nationalism. The existence of decent schools across the country could help us relive the days when it was not strange for an Easterner to send their child to study from Kabale. This has the effect of opening us up to the entire country as citizens thereby fostering greater understanding and appreciation of one another. Today, it is not surprising to find a person that has never travelled beyond 50Km from their home.

Cultural Understanding. Since most of these historical schools are located in places with distinct ethnic backgrounds, they offer parents a chance to expose their children to their culture. I may choose to take my son to Bukedi College Kachongha so that he can get a chance to master the Lunyole language as well as understand the people better. The same would apply to a parent from West Nile where Ombaci College and Mvara SS are.

The continued survival of that historical school is highly dependent on you the Old Boy/Girl. Remember, ours is the last generation that saw the greatness of some of these schools. If we do not act now to restore them, our children are very likely never going to know their importance in Uganda’s education space. Let us learn from the demise of Namasagali College.

Adapting from Bukedi College, below are some highlights on how the OB network is transforming it.

  • Commenced engaging the school in 2015.

  • Student population had dwindled from 1,200 to 130 only.

  • The school was a dumping ground for indisciplined teachers.

  • It had been turned into a mixed school as well as a day section introduced.

  • There was no Board of Governors in place.

  • In 2017, student population dropped to 54. The school nearly lost its centre numbers.

  • There were no first grades for the last five years.

The OBs then decided to take action in liaison with other stakeholders;

  • Lobbied for a new Head Master and Deputy.

  • Took on a new bursar

  • Got a laboratory attendant

  • Instituted a Board of Governors

  • Relieved non performing teachers of their duties

  • Hired temporary teachers

  • Introduced incentives for teachers and students

  • Repaired student dormitories

Results? The UCE 2018 has shown a significant improvement with the school registering 6 first grades, 11 second grade and 11 third grade. Considering the fact that for the last five years there had been no single first grade, what appears like a simple performance to others is a very big step in the right direction. I can only predict a brighter future for this school.

This is my parting shot, take time to think about the wretched nature of your old school, do not give up, mobilise your network of old students and start changing things for the better. One day, you too shall be proud of that school the way SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza, Buddo, Namagunga old students are of their own.

Take charge.

James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda.

Follow him @wirejames on Twitter

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza, Lubaale Mubbe

There is a Luganda saying that goes like, “Bakuuma mbugo, Lubaale mubbe.” Its nearest English equivalent is, “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

This saying is purported to have been coined during the time of Kabaka Jjunju (1780 – 1797). Baganda families had gods they worshipped to suit different needs in their lives. Each family had a select member who was in charge of keeping these gods. It was a prestigious role that many envied. These gods apparently were “kept” wrapped up in bark cloth (mbugo). Due to one reason or another, these gods could be stolen or misused by a member of the family or someone else who had the ability to “steal” them. So, while the guardian of the gods thought that he had them in safe custody on behalf of the family, the opposite would be the case. The gods were already stolen and he was just keeping bark cloth. Hence the saying which is loosely translated as, “They are keeping bark cloth, the gods were stolen.

A while back, I wrote an article warning the traditional giant schools in the form of Namilyango, SMACK, Buddo, Gayaza etal that they were digging their own graves. Alot of criticism was directed at me including allegations that I was a hater among other flimsy pedestrian conclusions. Today, I came across the list of admissions for the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Makerere University, government sponsored and it read as follows:



Number of Students


St. Mary’s Kitende



Uganda Martyrs Namugongo



Bishop Kihangire



Kiira College



St. Mary’s Namagunga



Kings College Buddo



Seeta High Main



Naalya Main



Mengo SSS



St. Julian



Gombe SS



Nabisunsa Girls



St. Mary’s Ruhoroza



Ntare School



Mbarara High



Seroma Christian High School



Seeta High Mukono








Namilyango College


St. Mary’s College Kisubi


The government scholarship admission for this same degree for those that joined Makerere University in 1993 had at least Ten (10) guys from St. Mary’s College Kisubi. It was basically an extension of old students from either Namagunga, Gayaza, SMACK, Buddo, Namilyango, Mwiri and a few other schools like Makerere College.

It is shocking to find that in 2017, Gayaza was just lucky to get only One (1) candidate on state sponsorship while SMACK and Namilyango contribute zero (0) students for this course. This is an abomination and a fulfillment of what I did warn a while back.

In a scathing article that I wrote on the traditional schools, I stated thus, “… one thing I can admit is that the prioritisation of quantity over quality has put me off totally to the extent that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a radical mindset like mine to take their child to those traditional big guns. It is time they rethought their strategy otherwise today’s perceived minnows will eclipse them tomorrow when their products excel where it matters …

If there is one thing that defines old students of the traditional high performing schools, it’s the pride we exude as having been part of an elite class as well as littering the professions that are deemed to matter in the world of employment. While I am proud of the fact that I can walk into any office in this land and find someone I know as an OB or OG of sorts, I must say, the writing is on the wall for the traditional schools. Having taken for granted this superiority, they gave room to the minnows to work their way upwards and eclipse them.

I did come across an argument on Facebook where those allied to the traditional schools were busy bashing old students from St Mary’s Kitende claiming that the best they can do is to operate photocopiers in the various city shopping arcades. The results I just shared should be a wake up call, the Kitendes you have been underlooking are annexing every inch of land that you had been taking for granted as a birth right for over a century. First they swept the arts courses, now they are on an onslaught for sciences.

Traditional schools have always given their students this aura of invincibility and entitlement making them feel like royals of sorts. Unfortunately, in reality, like the luganda saying I quoted earlier, apart from the structures and historical legacies they have, these traditional schools seem to have nothing to offer lately. Lubaale Mubbe !!!!! Wake up guys.

I consider this a critical moment for the traditional schools. Over the past twenty something years, they have digressed from working towards the set founding goals of their institutions and instead opted to play to the gallery. By abandoning the core values they represented including sticking to the recommended admission procedures, they fell into the trap of populism. Matters were worsened when bribery became the norm. I know of someone whose son was not certain of getting to Kings College Buddo for Senior One and this led him to execute plan B which was SMACK where he got a place after parting with UGX 4 Million. Today he is happy and chest thumping that he has a child at SMACK but I want to remind him that, Lubaale Mubbe.

At A-Level, these traditional schools admit star studded students who do not even need the slightest push to excel. How the hell can you tell me that they can fail to convert them into nationwide leading performers at the University entry exams? It means that either the children that are admitted have falsified results or the teachers responsible for teaching them are sleeping on duty. Lubaale Mubbe.

The traditional schools in a bid to play to the gallery have opted to compete on the same terms as the private schools that are fast rising. They forget that what they were set out to offer is more than just good grades in class. They fail to impress this need upon the aspiring students or parents and instead lure them with the promise of high grades. If it is grades that one is pursuing solely, then they can no longer compete with many private schools that seem to have mastered the art of churning out good grades. However, if they can look inwardly and come up with a revised offer which has a linkage with the vision of the founders, they will retain a lot of relevance despite not churning out high grades academically. After all, we all know that success in life is not necessarily directly proportional to the grades scored in school.

As for King’s College Buddo and St. Mary’s Namagunga, with 4 a piece heading for the Medicine class, I don’t encourage you to chest thump. It is a sign that you too are slowly descending to the place where Namilyango and SMACK have already bought plots of land, Zero (0) contribution.

Time for change. To effect this change, there is going to have to be a total overhaul of the mindsets starting right from the Board Members of the Schools, School Administrations, Old Students Associations, Students and Parents. Otherwise, Bye Bye SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza; Welcome St. Mary’s Kitende and Uganda Martyrs Namugongo.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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