On Saturday I attended two nursery graduations. I received 5 invitations from different nursery school graduations, but could only squeeze in two. I should be excited about these events. There are many things about them that are encouraging, but I also find them quite ‘painful’ at the same time.

They are encouraging because:

  • It is wonderful to see parents celebrating education and the finishing of a landmark year for their child (last year of nursery).
  • Nursery schools here are all private, so it is certainly an investment from the parents and it is an achievement that they have finished.
  • It is a community event; it is always nice when the community gathers around together for a celebration (in daylight hours).
  • Teachers are appreciated verbally and encouraged.

I find it ‘painful’, although that is possibly not the best adjective: disappointing? Because:

  • Parents spend an awful lot of money on these events! Only last week I had one mother ask me for two cups of posho flour (a staple food here) because she had spent all her salary and money in the house on graduation expenses and had no food left in the house.
    • Graduation expenses include: hiring a graduation gown for the child to wear, buying cakes, presents for the child, money for the hiring of the photographer, certificate, feeding everyone present, hiring a sound system and marquees, hiring a marching band and local entertainers… the list goes on…
  • As mentioned earlier, nurseries here are all private, so it is only the middle-high income families who can afford them. All other families wait until their children reach the age for primary school and just send them then.
  • Graduations seem to become competitive among parents: an overflowing pile of gifts for the children. Some children receive many gifts, others one (or possibly none). Why bring the gifts to graduation to put on display? This encourages a bit of a class system early on in a child’s life, and encourages materialism and children to want more.
  • Speeches, speeches and more speeches. The event normally takes at least eight hours.
  • It also pains me to see that the nursery graduation becomes just a celebration of the finishing of school, regardless of the quality of education or what the child has learnt (or has not learnt). Nursery schools tend to be taught in English (the academic language). On the weekend I asked one of the graduants in English where his mother was (I could see her nearby); he could not answer; I asked him did he enjoy the day; again he could not answer me; I then asked him ‘how are you?’ the textbook question which all Ugandan children are spoon-fed to reply ‘I’m fine’ – that was his only response to me.

The children who graduated this weekend will most likely be attending private schools next year. They will not be attending the government schools which we are predominantly working with in Gulu. I know I am sounding extremely critical and need to be careful of my attitude here. I should be looking more for the positives. Thankfully my work is not directly related with graduations, just what happens in the classroom in the lead up to them 🙂

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The pile of gifts for nursery children (5-6 year olds) at their graduation.

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Cakes at a nursery graduation in Gulu. The cakes were distributed to important guests at the graduation.

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The pile of gifts at a second nursery graduation event I attended.

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