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School CP - March 1999
The Monitor, Kampala, 29 March 1999
Kawempe: Small school that beats the giants
By Daniel K. Kalinaki
There is nothing fancy about the school. Even the sign post announcing it a few kilometres outside Kampala city, along Bombo Road is obscured by a telephone pole and hardly visible.
Yet Kawempe Muslim Secondary School (KMS) on Plot 169/206 Kyadondo Hill, Kawempe division of Kampala district has beaten the odds and become a top secondary school in Uganda. In any case, the school did not exist 15 years ago. KMS opened in 1984 as a Muslim-founded, government-aided school with a class of 60 students in a classroom rented from Kawempe Muslim Primary School.
Today, it is a co-educational, day and boarding school with 1,000 students. None of the first batch students in 1988, scored a first grade in the UCE exams. This year, the school was best in Arts nation-wide and had five students in the top 25.
Their best student, Kalenge Bashir, was the best in Arts with a perfect AAAA score.
And it wasn't a fluke.
In the 1997 UACE exams, it was the 4th best overall. Last year, the school was one of the top performers in UACE and had two candidates in the top ten. It sent 54 students to Makerere University on government sponsorship, including five to the highly competitive Mass Communication course. In this year's UCE exams, 128 students were in 1st division, 35 in second and one in third division. It would be open flattery to call Kawempe a giant school. It cannot lay claim to the history, stature and alumni of traditional "giant" schools like Namagunga, Gayaza, Budo or Namilyango. KMS doesn't even boast a "reading environment" as such.
After the obscure signpost, the road leading to the school gate is a dusty affair with no past history of tarmac. The first and only impressive thing in the school is a five-storey red-brick partially finished building. This building is the school.
The compound is rock and earth, nothing fancy. There is no working photocopier in the school and has only one computer. The nearby mosque is obviously older than the school.
The Headmaster, Bulaimu Matovu was not available for comment but Deputy Headmaster and Director of Studies Bruhan Mugerwa (the man behind Kawempe's academic success) quickly dismisses claims that the school's road to academic excellence is paved with examination malpractices.
But Namakojo is adamant. He says over 90 per cent of the students are Muslims and some of them have studied Arabic and Islamic studies since primary school, and are at an advantage and easily pass these subjects.
"Why take the other papers which are harder?" he asks.
This simple approach has worked miracles.
Unlike the giant schools, Kawempe does not admit only good students. This year's senior one selection cut off aggregate was 9. But Kawempe has proven it can mould weak students into winners.
Hamza Sewankambo got Aggregate 17 in PLE. He joined KMS for his A-levels with a grade two in UCE. This year, he was one of the best, with AAAB.
So what is the secret?
The three kibokos (canes) in the deputy headmaster's office may be the answer. They all look well used.
"We use corporal punishment to fight indiscipline," Namakajo boasts.
He says strict discipline results in academic excellence.
"Earlier on there was a struggle to get students and in the process many indisciplined students were taken on. We are more experienced and more strict on discipline," he says.
Kawempe has also adopted a sort of community discipline in which people in the area around the school report cases of indiscipline involving the students.
Of course, Kawempe students work hard.
The classes are relatively small, on average 30 for "A" level Sciences and 90 for Arts.
The school day starts at 8:00 a.m and lasts until 4.15 p.m including 80 minutes for lunch and mid morning breaks. Preps start at 7:30 p.m and run to 9:30 p.m for girls and 10:00 p.m for boys.
"Many students read until 4:00 a.m in the morning," says Bisaso.
Our last stop is, fittingly, the school's well-stocked, 100-seater library.
Only time will tell if Kawempe can keep its place at the top and continue to shame its critics. For now, at Shs 230,000 per term in fees, success does not come cheap. But it does come.
© Copyright 1998 The Monitor Publications Ltd and Worldwide EP Inc.
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