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Should birthday treats in schools be banned?

By Vision Reporter

Added 3rd July 2013 12:04 PM

A growing trend shows that more parents are buying cakes for the whole class to celebrate their children’s birthday. Carol Natukunda weighs the pros and cons of this birthday culture at school

Should birthday treats in schools be banned?

A growing trend shows that more parents are buying cakes for the whole class to celebrate their children’s birthday. Carol Natukunda weighs the pros and cons of this birthday culture at school

A growing trend shows that more parents are buying cakes for the whole class to celebrate their children’s birthday. Carol Natukunda weighs the pros and cons of this birthday culture at school

My daughter’s kindergarten was on fire recently,” says Rose, a mother. “No, it was not about homework or the early morning preps stressing them. It was the ban on birthday parties! Personally, when they banned the parties, I was excited. I knew I did not have to worry anymore about buying soda and sweets for the whole class on my daughter’s birthday. But I had no idea that the majority of parents were bitter that someone was taking the birthdays away! I am 48, and I have children at an advanced age. So I thought my resentment has to with the fact that I am old school.

“Once, the class teacher called me while I was in a board meeting at my workplace. I panicked and thought that perhaps my daughter was ill or something. Only to be reminded: ‘It is your daughter’s birthday tomorrow. Please remember to bring some cake.’ Since when did birthday girl be the one to give the gift?

“But some young mothers were so angry that they even held secret meetings with the headmaster to reverse this ban. Somehow, along the way, the debate went quiet. You never heard anything when you went to drop or pick up children. I thought it had all died out until last weekend when one parent brought it up while we were in the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meeting. The debate was hot. But the management made it clear. Nothing is allowed for birthdays anymore. And birthdays are not being acknowledged at all, the head teacher reiterated. The teachers explained that they had decided to eliminate the celebrations because they take so much time, especially when birthdays coincidentally fall into the same months. One teacher in Primary One said on the day of the birthday, she does not teach anything. The children are busy fighting for balloons and cake. They pour soda on themselves and the whole class is a mess. The meeting finally grudgingly agreed that if all these hours are added up, there is a lot of time wasted in the process. No sweets, no singing, nothing. I was happy on many fronts. It was putting me under so much stress.”


Birthdays are a big deal. Walk into any school today and chances are you will hear a birthday song playing in the classroom. And often, the teachers ask the child’s parent to join in the celebration. In the developed countries like America, there is a growing debate on whether these birthday treats at school are not partly responsible for the high obesity levels in children. While critics argue that the birthday parties are characterized by junk foods, proponents’ claim that obesity cannot solely be blamed on a treat that happens only once in a while. “I do not see a problem. If my child’s class has 20 kids, all of them can’t have a birthday in one term. We don’t feed our children on icing and cakes every day. It is a one-off. It is fun when fellow children sing for you at school,” says Beatrice Amuge, a legal officer in her mid-20s.

According to Amuge, it also saves her the burden of having to plan something back home.true                Some teachers argue that birthday treats at school teach children values like sharing

“Children enjoy with other children, not you, the parent or the uncles,” she says.

And yet, it seems like increasingly, a birthday party at school is becoming like a battle of who comes from which background. Some parents feeling too much pressure to out-do what the other mothers did. At the same time, those from a humble background are having hard time settling in. Take for instance, Jeffrey Barigye, a 19-year-old, first year student at Makerere University studied who studied at a posh Kampala school on a bursary from a good samaritan. He was probably the poorest in class who turned up with a torn school bag sometimes. Needless to say his parents did not send any cake or gifts with him on his birthday. But he was naïve and innocent. On the day he clocked seven, Barigye went to his teacher and told him “It’s my birthday today.”

“Did you bring any sweets?” The teacher asked to which Barigye looked down and said “No.”

“Well, then what do you want me to do about it?” his teacher asked. The boy was hurt, of course. Appearing stupid, he mumbled cake. “The teacher laughed and told me: “Go and tell your parents to work hard so that they can buy for you cake the next birthday.”

“I was depressed for the rest of the day — it ruined the rest of my birthdays at school,” Barigye narrates. “I felt bad for the rest of my primary school days. I would lie my friends that my birthday happened to fall on a holiday.”


Some educationists support the trend only if it incorporates everyone since it is one way of building teamwork.

“We are in an era where schools are drilling children with too much homework; such a birthday celebration is a stress reliever. It shows children that there is life beyond just books and they learn the value of sharing, achievement, and celebration,” says Raymond Kironde, a teacher at KinderCare Nursery School, Kyebando, near Kampala.

Kironde he says birthday cakes should not be forced on any parent. “Ideally, as a school, you can set aside a small fund for such treats. Also include games and other activities, not just drinking soda,” says Kironde, stressing that ideally, the birthday ‘baby’ should be the one to receive gifts and not the other way round.


Family life experts agree that having such treats is just another way for some kids to feel left out or inferior, and it is unnecessary.

“It should be a nice birthday card from the class, the birthday song, a birthday hat, or anything provided there is same treatment for all. It should not be about who has brought what,” reasons Lillian Aweko, an assistant lecturer of psychology at Makerere University. Aweko says she sees absolutely no benefit for anyone in having children treated differently from one another on their respective birthdays in school.

“The only outcome you are creating is a divided class, the rich laughing at the poor, and the poor feeling isolated and developing low self-esteem as they grow older, ”Aweko says.

Some parents have also complained about health complications such as allergies and stomach complications that come with eating all sorts of junk when there is a birthday party.
Aweko notes that if you make it a big deal, a child will put so much pressure on the parents to buy even things they cannot afford it.

“Children need to learn that it is only a birthday, not a national holiday. They are children today, but what will happen tomorrow if all you are teaching them is greed for material things?” Aweko adds.


Should birthday treats in schools be banned?

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