Isaac Newton High School Videos
THE WORLD’S FIRST HUMANIST HIGH SCHOOL
Isaac Newton High School was founded in January 2005 and we believe that this makes it the first Humanist High School in the World. In this talk to the American Humanist Association on 21 April 2021, Steve Hurd tells the story of how Peter Kisirinya came to set up the school. He talks of the role of Uganda Humanist Schools Trust in raising funds for the school’s development, of the growth of the school and the transformational effect it has had on the life chances of its students and of quality of life of those living in the communities around the school. Its impact has been truly inspiring and provides a model for the development of Humanist Schools elsewhere in Africa and indeed the World.
A series of short video clips of interviews in March 2021
Peter Kisirinya, the school’s Director, speaking about the following:
Becoming a Humanist
Peter Kisirinya, Director of Isaac Newton Humanist High School, was introduced to Humanist ideas by the biology teacher in his Catholic High School. He was first child from his District to go to University, where he studied Physics, Chemistry and for a Diploma in Education. At university he read books on Humanism, including those by Paul Kurtz, the prominent American Humanist. With two other students he founded Uganda Humanist Association and became its Chair. The group invited IHEU to hold their Humanist International Conference in Kampala in 2004 and made a pledge to bring Humanism to Uganda by founding Humanist Schools in impoverished rural communities.
Setting up the School
School was inspired by the East African Humanist Conference of IHEU in 2004. Peter used his own savings, as a newly qualified science teacher, and proceeds from the sale of 4 bags of coffee beans harvested by his mother, to build the first classrooms on their family land. He attracted funding for a science lab and extra classrooms for Barry and Jean Berkley of NE Humanists in the UK. Since 2008 the major funding partner has been Uganda Humanist Schools Trust. Provision of sanitary pads (Afripads) and other measures to help the girls has brought their participation up above the level of boys.
Main school buildings: girls hostel funded by the Ethical Society of St Louis, another girls and two boys’ hostels funded by UHST; a new main hall for exams, assemblies and dining; a new multimedia classroom block. The school has a good stock of books and science materials and UHST has provided money to improve the site paths and appearance.
School accepts children from all religious backgrounds and none. We encourage religious tolerance and allow each child to follow their own religion in their own time. We have very harmonious and friendly relations between all students and staff – we are a happy school. We foster a spirit of enquiry and scepticism.
Isaac Newton School aims to be a beacon for Humanism in Africa. The school encourages students to be free thinkers. There is a focus on self-directed study using books and computers and on free discussion. Teacher-centred education is giving way to student centred in order to foster capable individuals with independent minds. We would like to have even more computers to give students access to the huge resources of the internet.
Sharing with the Community
Isaac Newton School has transformed life in the 4 villages around. Bringing mains power has transformed employment and income earning activities to include: food processing (maize, coffee), metal working, hair dressing, music CD manufacture, lighting and cooking. Piped water , brought by the school, provides clean water for cooking and drinking, and even flush toilets. Houses have been improved. A Humanist Community Based Initiative has created a Cooperative through which farmers can market their produce, add value by local processing, bulk purchase seed and fertiliser. The school has established nursery beds for trees, which are given to local famers to restore the local tree cover.
Tree Planting Project
Isaac Newton School is participating in a Tree Planting Project together with other Humanist Schools. The school is growing tree seedlings and giving them to local farmers to restore the local tree cover, which has been devastated by felling to make charcoal for cooking.
Gift of Land for Primary School
The parents of four young primary-age children, who have died for HIV/AIDS, have left a portion of their land to Isaac Newton School. The land is adjacent to the school and the parents final wish was that a Humanist Primary School be built for their children to attend.
Interview with a Student
Lailah has been supported on a UHST scholarship since her first year in the school. She is now in her 5th year, studying for the first year of her A-levels in the sciences, mathematics and computing. Lailah was born with albinism, which makes her skin susceptible to burning in the sun’s rays and her eyes are very light sensitive. Despite these problems, she has done well in the school. Teachers have arranged for her to sit at the front of the class so she can clearly read the chalk board. UHST has provided her with special tinted spectacles. Laila is very happy in the school. She is popular with her peers, who voted her Head Girl of the school.