By Gawaya Tegulle
Namilyango College is the closest that a Ugandan secondary school can come to being labelled â€˜as old as Methuselahâ€™.
At 106 years, Namilyango is the oldest secondary school in the country. This Saturday, Old Boys (OBs) will jam the traffic on Jinja Road as they go to celebrate Namilyango Day.
Supreme Court Justice Bart Katureebe, Gulu LC5 chairman Nobert Mao, Makerere University law don Dr. Henry Onoria, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative boss Livingstone Sewanyana, former Governor Bank of Uganda Leo Kibirango, Public Procument and Disposal Authority executive director Edgar Agaba, state minister for investment Prof. Semakula Kiwanuka and Olympic Committee veteran Maj. Gen Francis Nyangweso, are just a few of the recognisable names that Namilyango has produced. To that, add Quality Chemical Industries boss Katongole, Emerald Hotelâ€™s Anthony Wakabi and Computer Frontiers International supremo Charles Musisi.
One thread runs through all the OBs: Thanks to years spent at Namilyango, they pride themselves in being innovators and original in thinking; and will tell you that they are able to cope in any situation. Many of them have created their own jobs, instead of waiting to find vacancies.
In many ways, Namilyango is much better than it was in the past. For instance, while it sometimes does not produce the best-performing candidates in the national examinations, the more pleasant reality is that the students perform well across the board. In the last Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education exams, everyone passed comfortably.
The students also look good in their grey trousers (shorts for Oâ€™level were phased out), white shirts and green or yellow ties. The college also has an excellent magazine, The Anchor and an anthem.
But the college also faces huge challenges. The headteacher, Gerald Muguluma, says although the number of students is increasing, the facilities have remained static, with more classrooms, dormitories and teachersâ€™ houses badly needed.
â€œUnder the Government directive, the college added a fourth stream (North) to its Oâ€™level classes, to accommodate increasing number of students entering secondary school, courtesy of Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education,â€ Muguluma says.
â€œThe result is that what used to be studentsâ€™ common rooms in the Oâ€™level houses and reading rooms in the Aâ€™level hostel are all used for residence (with the library to follow suit). The lecture, Divinity and French rooms are being used as classrooms.â€
To alleviate the problem, parents pooled funds to construct the sh500m Sacred Heart Building, a two-storey block that will have A'level classrooms on the ground floor.
Vincent Salam, the mobiliser of the Namilyango College Old Boys Association (NACOBA) says NACOBA built an extension to the dining hall worth sh23m which was commissioned last year.
This year, NACOBA has added a modern toilet facility worth sh4m that will serve the Industrial Houses. They have also provided louvers worth sh10m for the structure.
The new buildings will be commissioned by Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga this Saturday.
Of utmost concern, however, is the changing culture of the college which is happening so rapidly that the school is in danger of losing its identity.
For starters, gone is the famous â€˜Namilyango Tossâ€™. In the 1970s, the school earned culinary distinction, the hallmark of which was slices of bread at breakfast that were so thick, other schools christened the phenomenon â€˜Namilyango Tossâ€™.
Secondly, on Wednesday afternoons (2:00pm to 5:30pm) students were given liberty to take a walk after lunch, possibly for shopping, stretching or simply breaking the monotony of the compound.
And the last Saturday of the month was another free time for visiting Kampala City or wherever. That too is gone.
In sports, Namilyango had distinguished itself in football (with two fantastic pitches christened Bugembe and Nakivubo). Even Super League teams lost games to the college team on these grounds.
But the unique sport was boxing, whose hallmark was a huge pyramid, with all the boxing facilities any institution could ever need. All this has changed.
The boys now excel at Rugby at which they are undisputed national champions; and boxing died out to the extent that the pyramid is now an Aâ€™level examination and entertainment hall.
Worst of all, Oâ€™level students now occupy dormitories according to classes â€” no two classes share a house.
This came about in 1992 after a student, Victor Rwomwiju, was killed in a bullying incident.
Then headmaster Dr. Peregrine Kibuuka, stopped the mixed sleeping arrangement. The logic was that boys of the same class were less likely to bully each other.
But this has in many ways killed the pride of residing in a particular house.
Muguluma says normal business will resume when he is sure discipline has reached optimum levels; but reality is that restoration of the old order is long overdue.
And one hopes construction of new structures will be minimised so that the school maintains its architectural originality and admits numbers that it can optimally handle.