First year as a Humanist primary school

Jonan Arianda has written this report on his first year as Headteacher of Isaac Newton Humanist Primary School.

“Our school was created from the collapsed fundamentalist Pentecostal school, called His Grace Primary School. The former school proprietor forced all pupils to become Pentecostal Christians. This caused friction with community members who wanted freedom of conscience and they gradually withdrew their children from the school. With only 19 children remaining and teachers having gone unpaid for 4 months the school closed. 


Since Isaac Newton Humanist High School took over, the school has recovered and gone from strength to strength. The new inclusive Humanist philosophy, which is friendly and welcoming to pupils from all backgrounds, has seen a growth in numbers from 19 to 259 pupils. The atmosphere in the school has become positive and vibrant.

Kindergarten children
Primary one class

School staff and children really appreciate the efforts of Peter Kisirinya, our new Director, and UHST supporters in saving the school and working to establish high standards of education and welfare. The staff appreciate the good working relationship with teaching colleagues from Isaac Newton High School since its takeover. We are delighted that the school is now run as a not-for profit organisation and all income is used to benefit the school, with none being taken by a proprietor. As staff our lives are greatly changed and we pledge to work hard to make the school a success.

The first year has been transformational. New and better qualified staff have been recruited. We have 15 staff members, 12 teachers and 3 non-teaching. Textbooks have been provided and the general school infrastructure transformed. We have acquired new learning materials, visual aids, a TV set and preparatory materials for teachers. 7 former pupils who had dropped out of school were allowed to return and enter for their primary leaving examinations.

School food has improved immensely. Children receive breakfast and lunch every day – and, for some children, from the poorest homes, the school provides their main meal of the day. 

Typical School Menu

MondayPosho & beansPorridge
TuesdayPosho & beansPorridge
WednesdayRice & beansMilk & eggs
ThursdayPosho & beansYellow banana & eggs
FridayPosho & beansPorridge & Bread.


Embracing our new Humanist Ethos

Humanist is a new idea to many, but it has been in practice here without many of us realising. Many parents appreciate the need to have free will in deciding ones’ destiny and are particularly happy that in a humanist school there is no indoctrination. Pupils as young as four ask critical questions that deserve to be answered openly. Our teachers are learning that it is OK to say to children “I am not sure of the answer, what do you think?”. Teachers come into school with their personal beliefs, but they do not generally see a conflict with the humanist perspective on life. They are keen to learn more about the full implications of working in a school that embraces the Humanist ethos. For example, teachers who have come from schools where discipline is based on the rod are having to learn the positive benefits of moving from “violence to guidance”. We want our staff to understand and work within a Humanist Ethos. We need workshops on critical thinking, human rights, free speech, democracy, conflict resolution and other progressive policies. We require humanist literature and activities that are suitable for young children in Africa.”

Jonan Arinda, Headteacher, Isaac Newton Humanist Primary School

NOTE UHST and Uganda Humanist Schools Association have been trying to run a 3rd Humanist Schools Conference for some time. Covid held it up for two years. Our plans to hold it in late January 2023 are now in jeopardy. Given the broader financial pressures we are going to find it difficult to find the £5,000 it will cost to bring together teachers from the different Humanist Schools in a 3-day residential workshop. If the current outbreak of Ebola lasts into the new year then that will force a further postponement.