Exclusive Evangelical School goes Inclusively Humanist
Here is a report from Peter Kisirinya, Director of the Isaac Newton Humanist Schools in Uganda, on the first term of their new primary school.
Isaac Newton has been developing as a Humanist High School since 2005 and we have been ready, for some time, to extend inclusive education based on reason, compassion and tolerance to local primary-age children. The Covid pandemic, which forced the closure of so many schools, presented an opportunity for us to take over a nearby Pentecostalist school, which had failed for several reasons:
- It alienated local people by forcing children and their teachers to subscribe to a particularly intolerant form of Christianity.
- Pupil numbers declined as parents saw indoctrination, mistreatment of their children and generally low standards of education and welfare.
- Many teachers were unqualified and failed to cooperate with parents in matters concerning the education of their children.
- The school paid teachers poorly and had built-up long arrears of staff salaries.
- There was a severe lack of learning space (buildings) and furniture and funds collected from parents to improve resources and facilities appeared to make no difference.
Changing to a Humanist School
Children who were about to sit their Primary Leaving Examination, were left high and dry when the Evangelical school closed in 2020. The school proprietor advertised the school for sale. Approaches to turn the school into a madrasa led the local community to turn to Isaac Newton Humanist High School, which they trusted, to come to the rescue. Immediately, we provided space where a teacher could work with the children to complete their studies ahead of the November examination. I discussed the situation with Uganda Humanist Schools Trust and they agreed to launch an appeal in the UK to raise funds to buy the failed primary school.
Fortunately, UHST’s supporters responded well to the appeal, and we were able to buy the school in April 2021 and to begin work on its much-needed refurbishment. Buying the school has meant a lot to the local children, their parents, teachers and the whole local community. Linked to the High School, the Humanist Primary School now offers:
- Inclusive-secular education to local children from all backgrounds, with high standards of education and welfare.
- All staff have secure employment. They feel valued and are paid in a timely manner.
- While many of the original children stayed with the school, new children have come along now that school is seen to be welcoming to the entire community. Currently we have a total of 276 pupils, 150 girls and 126 boys.
- School fees have been reduced to a fair level since the school is now run on not-for profit principles.
- A new kindergarten section has been constructed and we now provide all-important early-age education from the age of 3.
- UHST has already provided two large consignments of textbooks and other learning materials. We now have adequate textbooks, when there were very few in the old school.
- UHST has provided re-usable sanitary towels to all menstruating girls. This was one of the factors that led to many girls dropping out of school.
- We have recruited 8 additional qualified teachers, while retaining those staff who were suitably qualified and willing to accept the new Humanist ethos.
- All decisions are now taken in an open way, with full consultation with teachers, parents and local authorities.
- We have changed the system of discipline from one based on violence to one that emphasises empathy and guidance. Corporal punishment has been banned. We are running workshops to share nonviolent strategies for managing discipline. We are also holding workshops on Humanist School Ethos.
- Adequate and appropriate types of furniture have been made and pupils feel much more comfortable in school.
- UHST has provided funds for a new kitchen and the quality of school food has improved greatly.
Children and staff are much happier. Children like coming to school and indeed they say the school is a better place than their home. Many pupils can hardly find enough to eat at home and are pleading for the school to reopen earlier than planned for the second term.
Wider benefits to the Community
The community around the school has benefited both directly and indirectly from the school takeover.
- The primary school has been connected to electricity, which was been brought into the village by the Humanist High School, with UHST funding.
- Piped water has been extended from Isaac Newton High School to the primary school and community members around the school now have access safe water.
- Local people are making extra income by letting rooms to teachers and staff from the primary school.
- The primary school buys materials such as foodstuffs, firewood, construction materials from the locality, which further boosts local living standards.
- The school staff boost the income of local transport services such as boda-boda (motorbike taxis).
- The school building has been opened up to the local community for meetings and events.
- Those pupils who could not afford an education are assisted by the school’s local bursary scheme.
- The school needs to recruit 4 more qualified teachers.
- We need more housing for teachers.
- We need a school hall for exams and other purposes.
- To be viable in the longer term, the school needs to find ways to attract more children from further afield.