Ban Visiting Days in High Schools
By Maurice Amutabi
A story in an old school magazine recently caught my attention. The story was about the ‘celebratory mood that engulfed our school last weekend” when our parents from all over the world converged to see their children. The story goes on to add that the visiting was so emotional because some of the parents had been away on tour of duty for the Empire for almost a year. The story justifies why visiting days are better than midterm or half-term breaks allowed in some schools “when some of the African students return with strange things and habits, and indulge in heathen practices” such as circumcision and taking oaths on such breaks.
I have been wondering how this notion of ‘visiting days’ entered our school systems, until I stumbled on this story. Visiting days in boarding schools were started in colonial days, for schools in empire. Parents who served in empire, in places such as India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would return to the United Kingdom or Kenya and visit their children, usually once a year. The practice started in elite public schools and private high cost schools where there were many white children in the colonial days. ‘Elite’ schools have embraced visiting days while regular ones preferred midterm break for their students.
Visiting day is a colonial legacy, embraced as a ‘high culture’ practice by gullible Africans. Many of the parents who imported this practice in Kenya saw visiting days as an opportunity to bond with their children and would therefore spend the whole weekend in the school. Many of these individuals had one child, making it possible to commit an entire weekend on school visit.
Today, few Kenyan parents stay away from their children for a whole year because there are school holidays in April, August and December when children go home to be with their parents. There is no longer the British Empire and no parent spends a year on tour of duty on empire in India or Australia. Many of the parents are in Kenya throughout the year. Therefore, it makes no sense to allow this colonial practice to continue in our schools in Kenya.
I have recently been shocked to witness what parents are doing during visiting days in high schools. There is great lavishness and display of wealth to a point where parents are competing to visit with larger family entourages, bigger and luxurious cars, and recently a helicopter landed a parent (a cabinet minister) on one of the schools. There are some who come with professional chefs or hired caterers, to prepare and serve food and drinks to the lucky kid and his or her friends. They come with tents and picnic chairs and tables. This is wrong and bad for the rest of the children, especially the poor ones whose parents arrive on foot with few chapatti, sweet potatoes and arrow roots, and a flask of hot tea.
The vision of the Ominde Commission report of 1965 in recommending use of school uniforms in schools was to ensure some equality. Uniformity makes learning fair and balanced and does not terrify some learners. As presently organized, visiting days make some students frightened and depressed when they look around and see opulence which they cannot afford it. I have heard stories some children run away from their parents when they show up on foot or in old cars on visiting days. Visiting days are no longer used to see children but for boastful parents to display their wealth and show off.
Parents are put under a lot of financial strain. Many schools have visiting days on the first Saturday of the month and yet some parents have more than two children attending schools in different parents of the country. It becomes very hard to attend to all of them.
The solution to this outlandish western tradition is to ban visiting days totally from our schools. Many Kenyan parents are of the opinion that visiting days should be banned because they do not promote equality and egalitarianism. Parents are equally against half term (or midterm) break, which is also colonial. Let children learn uninterrupted and come home during schools holidays.
Prof. Amutabi teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.