How to find an international school in Kampala
Ugandans are big on family and are crazy about children. Statistics say the average Ugandan family has seven children, although that reflects very big families in the village, rather than the average Kampala family.
Although children are welcome everywhere, few restaurants offer facilities for children. Very few families have buggies or prams. Pavements are few and far between and – where they exist – are often broken, have gaping holes, or simply stop halfway down the road, thus not the best terrain for using a pushchair.
Many parents say Uganda is a good place to bring up children because childcare costs are so cheap.
Where to live / go to school LOCATION
Kampala is not a huge city, yet the traffic situation can be terrible. Newcomers are advised to look for accommodation fairly close to where you will be working, rather than on the other side of the city. If you’re not sure where to set up home, the best thing is to sign up for temporary accommodation to start with, get to know the city and familiarise yourself with the journey, then make your more permanent decision.
The same can apply to your choice of schools or nursery: you may choose to find a school that’s fairly close to where you live. The majority of international schools do provide a transport service for their pupils. It is common for primary and secondary children to attend boarding school.
Schools in Uganda – Ugandan state schools
The majority of Ugandan children attend state schools, once modelled on the British school system. Ugandan state school teachers are generally poorly paid for managing large classes of pupils in ill-equipped facilities.
Generally, the state system is not highly regarded although educational standards in Kampala are higher than in the rest of the country. Throughout, the teaching methods are old-fashioned “chalk and talk” equipping very few students with analytical skills. Expat teachers frequently bemoan the lack of problem-solving skills in their state school students. Pupils may excel at memorising large volumes of data, for example, and leave school with reams of paper qualifications, but few actual skills. This is in part a reflection on big class sizes and the teachers’ inability to have interaction with individual pupils; it is also a reflection on a society that is essentially hierarchical and authoritarian: generally children are not encouraged to speak up for themselves. Teachers rule with an iron rod and discipline is all-important in a Ugandan state school.
The term times for local schools and international schools are quite different. Ugandan schoolchildren have their long holidays for two months of December and January (the hottest time of the year). In July / August Ugandan children have just two weeks.
By contrast, international school terms are: end of August to middle of December with a one week half term mid-October; second week of January to end of March with three days half term mid-February; April to the end of June, (with the long summer holidays lasting until the end of August).
Schools in Uganda – private and international schools
Private schools are attended by a mixture of Ugandan and expat children. Ugandan private schools cost less money than International schools and many are well-regarded.
There is a range of international schools across Kampala, however there is no one central resource for information on private or international schools in Uganda.
How you choose a school may depend on:
- Your physical location: where you live / work
- Denomination: secular or Christian, for example
- Nationality: certain schools are very popular with the British, American, French communities etc and have many teachers and pupils from those countries.
- Curriculum: the British curriculum, International Baccalaureat (I.B.), American curriculum, the French curriculum (e.g. CNED or COBIS)
- Recommendations from family, friends or colleagues
Introducing GEMS Cambridge International School, Kampala
I don’t usually get excited about going back to school but last week I had the opportunity to visit GEMS Cambridge International School-Kampala, an incredible new international school. Set in the green and tranquil suburb of Butabika near Luzira, adjacent to the Royal Palms Estate, the secure compound, colourfully painted interiors and airy building layout are a world apart from the average Ugandan school. What a head start in life to be able to attend such an institution.
Spacious classrooms, two computer suites, an art and drama room, two swimming pools, a tennis and basketball court, floodlit soccer pitch, science laboratories, a well-equipped food technology room, and Uganda’s first and only “LEGO Innovation Studio” are just some of the top class facilities offered as part of a GEMS international education in Kampala.
I visited a few days after Art Week, where a wide range of pupils’ artwork was on display. The school Principal Neville Sherman explained that every student, aged between three years and 15 years old had been given the opportunity to spend one hour with one of 16 visiting artists, each a specialist in a different type of media: pottery, metal, art and dye, paperwork, ICT, paint, beading and jewellery making. The exhibition I saw was a result of the week’s interactions.
It’s not just GEMS pupils that benefit from such a great setup. During my visit, I spotted Uganda’s national netball team, making use of the school holidays to train training for free in the school’s state of the art indoor gymnasium. Other national Ugandan sporting teams making use of the facilities include the She Cranes. Go, ladies, go!
GEMS is working hard to develop relationships with the local community, national organisations and its international brothers and sisters, such as the GEMS school in Dubai. On one project, students at the two schools exchange ideas and create artwork based on their understanding of the interactions between the two cultures.
Closer to home, GEMS pupils are encouraged to ‘give back to the community’ and regularly take part in CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities at the nearby Butabika Hospital. The GEMS Art Bus is a regular visitor to other schools in the area, offering children in the Butabika area access to the same high quality materials and teaching as the GEMS students.
GEMS Cambridge is so named because it offers the internationally regarded British University of Cambridge examination syllabus at its Butabika, Kampala base and at each of its 71 schools in 14 countries. Studies lead to the award of the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and then A’ Levels.
The connection to the global GEMS family is quite important not just for exchange programmes but even more for students to have online interactive lessons with students beyond Africa.
In its two years in operation, the number of pupils attending the school has risen to 300. The current pupil teacher ratio is 1 to 15. Even with its maximum proposed intake, the pupil teacher ratio is forecast to be a maximum of just 1 teacher to 24 pupils. The majority of pupils are Ugandan, with another 25 or more nationalities represented including American, British, South African, Chinese, Rwandese and Indian, among others.
GEMS Principal Neville acknowledges that in the future, students will have several careers “doing jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.” A GEMS education is therefore devised to give students the broadest education and includes educational trips and visitors to the school (such as gold medal Olympic medal winner Stephen Kiprotich). A Memorandum of Understanding with Uganda’s National Theatre is just one of many high-quality extracurricular activities promoted and encouraged by the school.
GEMS’ four core values guide everything it does. Achieving to the best of your ability, developing personal confidence and developing an appropriate use of ICT are some of the guiding themes. It was interesting to hear how the school carefully advises on when and when not to use computers; GEMS may have two computer suites but it doesn’t mean to say the kids have to rely on ICT for everything that they do. Far from it.
Learning support assistance is available through GEMS’ Achievement Centre. Assistance – in or out of the classroom- can be offered to children with special needs, or simply those for whom English is not their first language.
If you think Butabika is too far to send your children to school, then think again. The school can collect children from across the greater Kampala area and already has day pupils from areas as geographically spread as Namugongo and Lubowa, and everywhere in between. Furthermore, from September 2016, GEMS Kampala will be accepting its first boarding students.
From September this year, GEMS will accept its first intake of sixth form students.
For more info
I came away scratching my head wondering which of my friends’ I could encourage to send their children to attend such an amazing school.
“Research suggests that a parent who is actively and consistently engaged in their child’s learning can add the equivalent of two to three years of additional education over their school career. This is precisely why we’re so keen to promote the importance of parental engagement.”
GEMS therefore encourage potential pupils and parents to visit the school for a tour of their facilities. The school is open Mondays to Fridays from 7:30am- 4:30pm and Saturdays from 8:30am to 12:30pm. There is no need to make an appointment on weekdays.
For admissions you can email the GEMS registrar or call +256 755 177 982.
DISCLOSURE: This sponsored post is based on my personal observations and information provided to me by GEMS Cambridge International School-Kampala. For more information on sponsored posts, please read the Muzungu’s Terms and Conditions.
If you have found this article helpful, please feel free to share it.
What is your experience of looking for a school in Kampala?