Columnists Features

Collective efforts towards well-being of boarders

AT SECONDARY school, whether day or boarding, the learners are still children. They are 13- to 18-year-olds who need to be protected by their parents, guardians, teachers and every other member of society. The pupils also need to be trained on how to be responsible for their own lives.
Recent reports of alleged sexual abuse at Kasama Girls High School, in a way, have brought to light the deteriorating situation in which schoolchildren, especially girls, find themselves while at school.
No one has a right to take advantage of the pupils’ vulnerability and begin to abuse them in any way, including sexually. Teachers, security personnel (watchmen) and all other older members of a given school’s community should consider themselves as parents to these young people who have travelled over long distances to acquire an education that must prepare them for the future.
In a boarding school, housemasters and housemistresses have a huge role to play in ensuring that learners are cared for while they are away from their families. Theirs is a 24/7 job that requires them to deal with matters ranging from sleeping arrangements, good hygiene in the dormitories, avoiding going against school rules, to issues of how to be fully committed to academic work, handling exam pressure and effective use of technology, i.e. computers, Facebook, WhatsApp, and mobile phones, among others.
In this age of advanced technology, it is possible to create great, desirable relationships between school (boarding) and home. Updating parents on various school programmes and working with them to tackle important issues affecting their children should be one way of strengthening such relationships.  For instance, directly engaging parents in helping to prevent potential problems such as smoking or drinking among pupils can be a worthwhile undertaking.
It is true that most children in boarding schools are almost always homesick. Therefore, on certain days, they should be free to call their parents and siblings. Most kids have mobile phones. They must be allowed to use them, as long as they do so within the confines of the school’s regulations.
If they can happily talk to the people at home on the phone, then their parents will be able to fight off the impression that their ‘babies’ are always sobbing as they struggle with boarding life.
Sometimes, things simply get more serious in school. A situation may demand the services of more than a mere teacher. Not even a careers master can handle some situations. This is where trained counsellors may prove to be very important.
It is vital, therefore, that the system incorporates such specialists to complement the work of other staff in boarding schools. Teachers who have gone a step further to acquire counselling skills are actually better placed to fully offer protection to their pupils.
Every stakeholder in a school set-up has a role to play in sensitising learners on the risks of electronic gadgets. Though young people can find ways around everything, it is important to keep on talking, educating and warning them against abusing the gadgets to which they have access.
When children under their care face some problems, teachers and other members of staff must ensure they support each other in sorting out the issue at hand. In most cases, past experiences do help in coming up with a consistent response (solution) that is fair as regards a particular kind of difficult situation.  Sometimes, solutions are realised through less formal interactions as staff meet to chat.
The children themselves are also major stakeholders in ensuring that their lives in boarding schools are secure. They must be prepared to face the future with a lot of confidence as they are destined for true success. They should begin by obeying simple rules such as avoiding being away from boarding premises without permission, regardless of pressure from their peers who want to go clubbing at night.
Being law-abiding and having self-respect, to a large extent, helps one to avoid any form of abuse. But if it happens that children, especially girls, are forced into immoral acts, such as the alleged case of the Kasama Girls’ Secondary School male teachers and watchmen (guards), pupils should be quick to alert the authorities so that they are adequately protected by the Law of the land.

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