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Are prefects small gods in schools?

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th April 2006 03:00 AM

PREFECTS play an essential role in school. They provide student leadership, guidance and link students to the administration.

PREFECTS play an essential role in school. They provide student leadership, guidance and link students to the administration.

By Timothy Makokha
PREFECTS play an essential role in school. They provide student leadership, guidance and link students to the administration. Aggrey Kibenge, the senior assistant secretary, Ministry of Education, says prefects act as role models to fellow students and it is essential that they maintain the highest standards of discipline.
In some schools however, prefects are given a lot of latitude. Besides the uniform, there is no telling a prefect from a teacher. In many schools, prefects mete out punishment to fellow students and keep junior students in a slave-master relationship.
Junior students run errands for prefects, execute menial jobs like washing clothes, utensils, picking their meals, mopping their rooms and brushing shoes. Prefects in different schools enjoy different privileges, have varying duties and wield powers ranging from figureheads to near absolute.
Usually, the all-powerful prefects decide what type of punishment to administer. They move from assigning manual labour to meting out corporal punishment by way of a cane.
While some schools have made it clear that prefects do not administer punishment, especially corporal punishment to fellow students, several other schools, both private and government, make it certain to new students that “prefects are unquestionable and their word is law.”
Indeed, it is not lost to new students in some well-established schools that punishment by prefects is sanctioned by the administration and that any questions can only be entertained after serving the punishment.
More students from private schools reported having been punished by prefects than those in public schools.
Except for a few cases in big schools, most private schools engage teachers on part time basis. Thus besides the teaching, fewer teachers do the day-to-day running of the school.
“This makes it easy to let prefects run the school especially on weekends,” says Bernard Oite, formerly a teacher in a private school. “As a result, prefects are likely overstep their boundaries, thereby administering punishments otherwise reserved for teachers,” he says.
However, Margaret Bell, the Head of Education, Aga Khan Education Service says ill-disciplined students are usually not elected as prefects and it is therefore unlikely that prefects can bully fellow students in the school. “We do not want prefects to think that they can go away with bullying,” she says.
Contrary to Bell’s assertion, some schools are reputed to have had spineless brutes of prefects. Kasozi of Kawempe Muslim Secondary School says, once he walked when a prefect called him. “That night, I endured a cold bath in the dead of the night,” he says.
Andrew, now a Senior Four student in Ntinda View says his first tormentor in high school was a prefect. “This guy demanded that I open my suitcase for inspection. He helped himself on my 2kg of sugar. I have never liked him since.”
It is apparent that some errant prefects go against the school regulations, punishing students without the knowledge of the the administration. At St. Mary’s College Kisubi, such cases are not rare.
“Prefects punished me for as long as I can remember. I had a choice to refuse but the alternative was usually worse. Chances that one would face a stiffer penalty made punishment by prefects a better option,” Mukasa says. “It was better to be punished by prefects than possibly face a suspension.”
Kibenge says prefects, as an extension of school administration, should enforce discipline.
He says if one is acting within the school regulations, a prefect is free to ask a student to sweep to instill discipline. “However, any dehumanising punishment including corporal punishment, is unacceptable,” Kibenge says. He says every school administration should ensure that prefects do not abuse their powers.
Evelyne Arina, a head prefect at Highway College Makerere, says she has had to tell fellow students to sweep or mop for flouting school rules.
Godfrey Waiswa, a teacher educator at Kyambogo University says punishment by prefects is harmful both to the students and the prefects themselves. “Punishment by prefects dehumanises the students. It is also possible to mask a deeper weakness on the part of the prefect,” Waiswa says.
“Prefects could be inferior but choose to cover their inadequacies by intimidating other students through punishment.”
He says under no circumstances should a teacher sanction a prefect to punish fellow students. “Often times when this happens, the outcomes have not been positive. Several strikes in school have their origin in punishment by prefects.”
Ruth Matoya, a practicing counsellor in Kampala says it hurts the person of a student to be punished by fellow students. “It is usually demeaning, especially when the punishment is bent on putting down the student,” Matoya says.
“Prefects at times, unlike teachers, punish fellow students to assert themselves and the purpose of punishment is lost,” she says.
Most schools agree that prefects play an important part and should be recognised for their role. Mary Namukasa, headteacher, Highway College Makerere, says, prefects are exempted from manual work, wear different neckties, long-sleeved shirts and different shades of pairs of long trousers and skirts.
In Aga Khan School, prefects are exempted from certain punishments. Bell, however, says a concept of privileges creates an environment where prefects undermine fellow students.
She says prefects, like other students, have the responsibility to respect and abide by school rules and regulations.
Ends

Are prefects small gods in schools?

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