VEHICLES speed past St Aloysious SS, Kalerwe on Gayaza Road. Students stand on the top floor of the incomplete storeyed building. Loud music blares from a nearby entertainment joint. But gallantly, classes go on. Or is it?
This is just one of the many schools located in noisy places. At Nateete Muslim High School, students complain of noise from the neighbouring discotheque, market and slums.
â€œSometimes when we are reading, we hear touts coaxing passengers to their taxis or cars hooting,â€ a Senior Four student laments.
At a time when Uganda is concerned about the quality of education, it is especially disturbing that, for the most part, the Government has not yet addressed the adverse effects of the school surroundings on performance.
The Ministry of Education and Sports admits that there is no policy on the issue. â€œWhat we have are minimum requirements in terms of facilities which every school must have, but there is no policy on where a school should be located,â€ Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesperson says.
Although Kibenge feels that proprietors must be reasonable enough to have suitable locations for their schools, some headteachers defend the move as being cost effective.
â€œOur teachers are able to commute to and from home easily. The school is near the main road,â€ says a senior teacher at St Aloysious.
He adds: â€œThe only challenge for us is to get soundproof windows and doors.â€
Rose Lukwago, the director of studies at Nateete Muslim High School, denies any kind of interference.
â€œThe outside noise does not affect us. The discotheque operates late in the night when there are no classes. Besides, it is on the backyard side. And the noise cannot reach the section where our boarding students sleep.â€
Joseph Mugenyi, the headteacher of Kampala Secondary School, near Pride Theatre and overlooking the noisy Kisenyi slums says: â€œWe have a perimeter wall and our students do not interact with the people outside. The location of the school is an advantage in terms of distance, especially for students who come from Kisenyi, Mengo.â€
But experts refute these claims as baseless and argue that whether the noise is interior or exterior, studentâ€™s concentration suffers.
â€œIf the surrounding environment is quiet and secure, then a child will concentrate and excel. If it is near a bar, someone may end up taking booze!â€ says Fagil Mandy, an education consultant.
Mandy feels that some schools are being built in town under a wrong impression that town schools are performing better than rural schools.
â€œLet nobody be deceived that schools excel because they are in the city centre. It is because of the environment in which they are located,â€ he says.
Research also demonstrates that insufficiency in reading and language skills emerge due to poor classroom acoustics.
In a 1997 study, researchers compared reading scores of children in a New York City school whose classrooms were located adjacent to elevated train tracks, with those of students on the quiet side of the school.
By the time the students reached sixth grade, the students in classrooms on the noisy side of the school tested one year behind those whose classrooms were located on the quiet side. In a follow-up study six years later, noise was controlled and the reading scores were equal.
Brother Edward Bukenya, the headteacher of St Maryâ€™s College, Kisubi, boasts that the reason they register 100% of students in grade one is partly because of the â€œbeautiful and quiet environment with a well-kept compound. I think this stimulates the brain to work harder.â€
Dr J.C Muyingo, the headteacher of Uganda Martyrsâ€™ SS Namugongo, says noise may make teachers ill-tempered.
â€œWhen you raise your voice over the background noise, you become tired, frustrated and burnt out. So the children will not benefit much.â€
Mandy also says that the context does not enable a student to understand, especially for a slow learner or hearing impairment.
Mustafa Miwa, the director of studies at Nabisunsa Girlsâ€™ School, concedes but points out that it depends on how big the interference from the surrounding environment is. He discloses that although Nabisunsa sometimes experiences noise from the neighbouring Banda slums, or from the social activities taking place at the nearby Kyambogo University, students have been able to excel through the years.
What parents, students say Augustine Kabandwa, a parent and former district education officer in Wakiso, argues that the quieter places are, apparently, found in the rural areas. And this, Kabandwa says, means that a school will concentrate on non-academic issues.
â€œSome parents know that a school that is in the rural area sends students to dig, pick grasshoppers or to have a holiday on market days. It is possible that a school, irrespective of where it is located, might be losing time when students have to spend that time fetching water, or are reading using hurricane lamps,â€ Kabandwa says.
A 55-year-old mother of two says: â€œMost of those schools in towns are just peopleâ€™s houses, without a place for our children to play. They are only making money. I do not support them; I cannot send my child to such a school!â€
Alfred Masaaba calls for â€˜more seriousnessâ€™ on the part of the education ministry. â€œI do not understand why you should give an operating license to a school located in a market!â€
However, some students argue that someoneâ€™s passing depends on their ability to cope.
â€œI think it depends on how bright an individual is; a student can pass from anywhere,â€ says Betty, a student at Kampala SS.
â€œI have a cousin who only reads with music playing, but she passed well and made it to Makerere University,â€ says another.
A senior six student at Kithende College School, Rubaga says: â€œI love this school because you do not feel like you are in prison! My friends in Gayaza only see town life during holidays, which I think limits their experience.â€
Mandy recommends that although the ministry does not have a policy on where a school must be located, efforts must be made to ensure that the environment is conducive for learning. In addition, parents need to be sensitised on how the noise can affect their childrenâ€™s studies. So they should avoid sending them to schools that are not conducive for learning.
Noise hinders studentsâ€™ performance