To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE looks at how Uganda’s oldest school, the two- in-one complex of Mengo Senior Secondary and Mengo Primary schools, came to be
Nabilah Naggayi Sempala, Kampala Woman MP IN the traditional style of educational institutions founded several decades ago, it sits on an entire hill not far from the heartbeat of an urban centre. It has unmistakably old buildings and well-kept lawns sprawling down slopes surrounding it.
And still characteristic of those educational institutions that have been around for ages, its students wear old-style uniforms shunned by schools established recently.
The uniform is white shirts and blouses with grey or khaki shorts and skirts. All these aspects denote that Mengo Senior Secondary and Mengo Primary school were not born yesterday. But they still do not indicate the very special status that the school complex holds in the country. The schools were the first learning institutions to be established in Uganda.
Chadwick’s home school
According to the school magazine called Akwana, the Mengo School complex started as an informal home school where a missionary, Miss Chadwick, taught reading and writing. Her students were mainly youth who came to her house for prayers every afternoon.
Most of the boys Chadwick taught were houseboys of the missionaries. After a while, Chadwick began sending them to chiefs asking that the latter send their children to her for lessons. By this time, the potential of her efforts began to be
Formal school setting
Mengo old students’ magazine, Akwana, states that as the number of Chadwick’s learners grew, it was realised that her house was no longer sufficient to serve as a school.
The missionaries, eager to use formal education to fuel their religious work established a standard formal school on Chadwick’s foundation. So in 1895, an elementary mixed school known as Kayanja was founded at Mengo, making it one
of fi rst standard formal school in Uganda. The school’s location and appearance are thus described by A.K. Sempa in his 1941 article African Schools:
“The first building was situated between the present Namirembe (now Mengo) Primary School and the Cathedral (Namirembe). Its walls were made of reeds and the roof of grass”.
The magazine points out that most of the fi rst students who enrolled in the first Mengo School (Kayanja) became school masters posted by Church Councils to rural areas. Many became clerks and chiefs.
First expansion phase
Akwana magazine further indicates that the number of learners attending the school grew. It soon became necessary to house the learners in a boarding school. The then Katikkiro, Sir Apollo Kaggwa, gave them his house on Namirembe Hill which they used for 9 years.
But the numbers kept growing, with students coming from as far as Busoga, Bunyoro, Toro and Ankole. This made it necessary to have a bigger school. In June, 1904, the Church Missionary Society held a conference where it was resolved to build two new schools. One on Namirembe Hill and another at Buddo.
The schools were to produce men fit to serve God. By the end of the year a boarding school had been set up. The school was named Mengo High School, with a total of 250 students. The subjects being taught included arithmetic, geography and elementary science.
The following year the school at Buddo also started, with Mengo as its parent school.
Dividing the school
It is apparent that the opening of the new school in 1905 marked the division of Mengo into two schools. On one, an upper section and the other a lower one. Sempa further writes thus: ‘The opening of Mengo High school did not mean the closure of the original school. Rev. C.H.T. Ecob took over the superitendency of the old school (Kayanja), while C.W. Hattersley devoted his energies to the new school.
Soon, it was realized the school needed to be split into two sections. The junior and the senior sections, which was implemented with the senior section being called Mengo Central School and the other being Mengo Junior School.
One aspect that stands out in the history of Mengo is how the school has undergone so many transformations over the years. This should be expected for an institution that will soon be celebrating its a 120th anniversary.
Mengo has come from being a primary school to junior school and high school, Today, the school it is one of the few in Uganda, which are divided into three sections. They operate semi-autonomously with its own uniform and its own dean. From the less than 50 students and a couple teachers it began with in 1895, the school has more than 3,000 students today, as well as more than 110 teachers and more than 30 non-teaching staff.
In its early years, the school had a boarding section. It is important to note that in the 1950s, the boarding section of the school started operating as a day School Mengo SS has been widely considered as the best performing day school in the country both in O and A’ level.
It is also worth noting that initially, the school was for boys only, Gayaza High school having been found to accommodate the girls. In 1963, the school opened its doors to girls and it is mixed to this day.