It’s Time to Remodel Our Boarding Facilities

No, I have not watched the video. I also do not plan to watch it.

Over the last few days, there have been legitimate concerns raised from different angles about whether or not children should be sent to boarding or not.

I went to a boarding school. It built my independence muscles but the bullying messed up my self-esteem.

But I will not be writing as a parenting coach. Neither is this post really about whether parents should send their children to boarding or not.

This post is for educators like myself, who either run or plan to run boarding schools in the future.

Our dormitory model is DEAD. But I am yet to wrap my head around what the new model should look like.

As a service provider, it is important to look at the peculiarities of this generation and then redesign the boarding arrangements to meet the challenges and demands of today.

Here are my thoughts regarding some of the challenges that exist today and how boarding schools should be restructured to address them.

1.   More and more children have access to all sorts of unhealthy content from home. A few years ago, Google had it that Nigeria’s top search online was for Gay Porn. You should be worried about that. You should never as an educator assume that does not include your students, both male, and females.

They will come into schools and experiment with each other; both naive and experienced.

This means that schools need to talk openly about things like that. Boarding schools need to have coaches or train boarding officials as coaches and supervisors.

This means that children should not have access to smartphones or connected laptops in unmonitored spaces. Devices need to be secured and firewalls created where necessary. And parents who sneak around to send in phones or allow their children to come in with phones should have their children severely penalized or completely taken out of boarding houses.

In addition, provide QUALITY SEX EDUCATION. Have a sex education policy that includes topics, strategy, frequency, and how to test that students are embracing the values that are being pushed in which case I would expect it to be PURITY.

Think about it this way. Create a place where young people can come, to ask questions that they have about sex and sexuality. Then equip the people who will answer these questions.

2.   Some children are being sexually abused at home and they bring that trauma to school. Unfortunately, nobody notices the changes in their behavior or anything. Or even when teachers notice, they just talk within themselves and let it pass. No real scientific knowledge or approach to dealing with the matter. And sometimes when parents are invited, the denial makes it even more complicated.

Boarding schools should have a therapist when receiving kids back, to know their state of mind. And periodic psychological reviews too.

3.    Many parents are so busy. There is no systemic, consistent way of building character from home. No, I don’t even want to talk about when we as parents are very poor examples.

While it is not our business whether or not a parent is investing in shaping their child’s behavior positively, it is our business how far that child can rub off on the others in our care.

We need to do more than move children from one activity to the other. Such as bathe, eat, wash, go to class, and repeat.

Systems need to be put in place for these children in boarding to be taught how to unlearn behavior patterns and replace them with more empowering patterns.

How? The model of the boarding itself.

Having children live in hostels without chaperones that supervise small clusters where they speak openly about some of their struggles, without shaming, with a clear cut goal of impacting them and creating a peer to peer accountability is akin to adding yeast(of vices) to a dough.

So yes, ensuring that real functional mentoring circles are built into the boarding system is key. Don’t make it always about grades only.

4.   Young people who get into hostels as hostel masters and mistresses sometimes become a big problem for the shaping of positive values. Rich kids pay them to bring in drugs and some of them abuse the kids. Areas where chaperones access must be monitored. This should go along with proper training and background research conducted in every adult sent in to supervise children.

They also have to be steadily trained and retrained. The self-esteem of these officers should be invested in so that rich children don’t make them look stupid.

If officers like this have a car and use a decent phone, it can help with children who taunt that their parents can even buy the teacher and his or her descendants.

5.   Sometimes boarding students are far too many. Resizing the number of children that are received into boarding, based on space size, the number of supervisors available, and parental willingness to support is an important aspect to consider.

Creating high standards and criteria such as putting children through a drug test and therapy prior to admission into the boarding is strategic. Also, telling parents that for children to stay in boarding, there will be no contrabands and such and such is the behavior standard and expectations from parents is key.

Make admittance to boarding competitive sports where there are clear structures on criteria and not admittance is not discretionary.

6.   Seniors continue to be a problem through bullying. As a service provider, identify what the red points are. What are they always asking juniors to do for them? When do they make this request? What kinds of punishment do they choose?

Create structures, not just instructions and threats (that you rarely follow through).

For instance, if the problem is with asking juniors to go long distances to fetch water for them (as it was in my own time), provide water in their bathrooms.

If it’s the evening that bullying persists, have a time where juniors should not access where seniors are.

Something like that.

Some of these may not be ideal for you. Some may be some things you already do but not working.

The summary of this post is, look closely at the problems synonymous with putting the 21st-century child and all the shenanigans in one place as a boarding facility. Then design a structure to carefully address the problem points. If something is not working, find out why it is not and fix that why.

Children are given to us in trust. We cannot let other children who have certain tendencies (and need help by the way) come and mess up the innocence of other children given to us on trust. We cannot let a child handed to us in all of their innocence to be damaged at school be it through bullying or sexual molestation.

Not forgetting that when there are scandals, sweeping things under the carpet becomes fuel for the other perpetrators in boarding. Taking well thought through actions, thoroughly investigating can make a big difference.

Always remember that an innocent life is at stake and be ready to go the extra mile.

And if this seems too much for you and you are not prepared to go the extra mile to keep boarding schools safe, SHUT IT DOWN.

Irene Bangwell
Co-founder
The KNOSK N100-a-day Secondary School,
Kuje
www.knoskeducation.com

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