How to find an international school in Kampala
Are you looking for an international school in Kampala? This article gives a quick overview of the different kinds of schools in Uganda’s capital and introduces you to the world-class facilities and innovative resources available at GEMS Cambridge International School that opened in 2012.
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.
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 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 predominantly traditional society that is 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.
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.Kampala is not a huge city, yet the traffic 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 when you move to Uganda, 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.
- 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
- Your budget
- Term times: these vary. 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).
Introducing GEMS Cambridge International School, Kampala
I don’t usually get excited about going back to school but I recently had the opportunity to revisit GEMS Cambridge International School-Kampala. Set in the 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 headstart in life to be able to attend such an institution. Scroll down to read some of the reasons why.
The new kitchen facility has had a very positive response from the kids, possibly because they choose the menu! During food and technology classes, children create a lunch menu. Every year all students are encouraged to compete in a MasterChef-style competition, that is linked to the curriculum. The next year’s school dinner menus are chosen – by the students – during this competition.
Spacious classrooms, libraries, common rooms, 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 Education Innovation Studio” are just some of the top class facilities offered as part of a GEMS international education in Kampala.
In 2017, GEMS Kampala launched Puzzlemania, a games room par excellence that helps build a child’s critical analytical skills.
My first visit was 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.
In the Apple Centre, a wall graphic of Steve Jobs reminds pupils to “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” GEMS’ Apple Centre aims to help in design thinking. The aim is that here young people can learn how to use technology to bring ideas alive. Next to be developed is a Robotics Centre.
It’s not just GEMS pupils that benefit from such state-of-the-art facilities. The school has signed a partnership with the Uganda Olympics Committee and the Uganda Rugby Sevens are occasional users of GEMS’ facilities. During one visit, I spotted Uganda’s national netball team, making use of the school holidays to train (for free) in the school’s indoor gymnasium. Other national Ugandan sporting teams making use of the facilities have included the She Cranes ladies football team. Go, ladies, go!
GEMS works hard to develop relationships with the local community, national organisations and its international brothers and sisters, such as the GEMS school in Dubai. The connection to the global GEMS family allows students to take part in online interactive lessons with students beyond Africa.
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 local schools, offering children in Butabika access to the same high quality materials and teaching as the GEMS students.
GEMS Cambridge offers the internationally regarded British University of Cambridge examination syllabus at its Butabika, Kampala base and at its 71 schools in 14 countries. Studies lead to the award of the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and then A’ Levels.
In its first five years, the number of pupils attending the Kampala school has risen to 400. 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.
GEMS Principal Neville says that in the future, students will have several careers “doing jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.” A GEMS education is 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 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. The school 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.
How to get to GEMS Kampala – transport or boarding
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 has day pupils from areas as geographically spread as Namugongo and Lubowa.
Boarding facilities at GEMS Kampala
Many parents had asked GEMS to open a boarding facility as they had been through the boarding school experience themselves. These parents want their children to be independent and self-reliant.
An advantage of boarding is that extra coaching is available when children need it. Boarders also have a chance of taking part in weekend trips, to Jinja for example. Cycling and football are always popular too. (Boarders all have access to bicycles for cycling around the school’s huge grassy compound).
In 2017, the boarding school has 40 boarders, from year 4 through to year 12 currently. In time, the school will have boarders between the ages of five and 17 years. Maximum capacity is for 450 boarders, half boys and half girls.
Scholarships at GEMS Kampala
With such superb education opportunities available, GEMS frequently receives questions about scholarships: these are offered via the Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) who receive thousands of applications. USF recommends the best young swimmers with the chance of competing for Uganda in the Olympics. From these recommendations, GEMS sponsors five students with the best academic potential. The scholarships are reviewed on an annual basis and cover between 50 and 80% of the tuition fees.
How to contact GEMS Cambridge Kampala International School
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 7.30 am- 4.30 pm and Saturdays from 8.30 am to 12.30 pm. There is no need to make an appointment on weekdays. Visit the school between 9 am and 4.30 pm from Monday – Friday for a guided tour of the boarding facilities.
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 Diary of a Muzungu’s Terms and Conditions.
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What is your experience of looking for a school in Kampala?