In the heart of educational discourse lies a topic that divides opinions: nursery graduation. In Uganda, every third term children in top class moving to primary one “graduate” from nursery level to primary level.
As toddlers don their caps and gowns in celebration of their promotion to the next education level, a debate rages on about the significance of these ceremonies. Are they monumental moments celebrating early achievements, or merely extravagant affairs promoting undue pomp for the young?
For many parents, nursery graduation ceremonies help bridge the transition from nursery to primary school, easing anxiety and fostering a sense of readiness for the next academic phase.
Aminah Katumba, a mother to a 6year old who graduated from top class in 2023, says nursery graduations are important for both the children and parents.
“For the children, it gives them morale to study harder and celebrate more days like those. For parents, it gives us happiness to see our children happy and putting on the gowns for the first time ready for the next level in education,” she says.
For Jimmy Ochom, a lawyer, it is one way of making kids feel loved and special.
“It is purely an educational and psychological thing you will never understand because you know nothing about education especially at an early stage and how it works. Usually at that age, kids need to be attracted to love school,” he posted on his X page.
Undue pressure on kids
However, amidst the fanfare and adoration, critics question the necessity of such graduations at such a tender age. They raise concerns about commercialization and the undue pressure it may place on both children and parents.
Some argue that these ceremonies create false expectations, emphasizing achievement rather than the joy of learning.
Phiona Namubiru, a mother of two boys, says she does not support top class graduations because it is a waste of time.
“We as parents just have to encourage our children to study hard in order to have a proper graduation. These days parents collage their university graduation pictures with those of their kids. With such, a child cannot get the morale of studying up to where their parents reached because how can you tell a child to study hard to graduate and yet in their mind they feel they already graduated,” she tells Charmar News.
In addition, Namubiru notes that schools also exaggerate graduation fees which may be unfair for some parents and children who cannot afford it.
Joweria Nakiyimba says nursery graduations come with stress and pressure on parents since they are asked a lot of money for their children to graduate.
“Sometimes parents do not have money and maybe they have not completed school fees payment and then they are pressured to pay exorbitant graduation fees. Worst of it, some schools make it compulsory for all children. I am glad that at the school where my kids go, this year they didn’t have a graduation even when my son was also in top class,” she says.
Kids need motivation
Priscilla Atayo, the head teacher Good Shepherd Nursery School, says top class graduations are relevant because kids need motivation as they grow up in the learning system.
“Whenever they reach a certain level, say from nursery to primary one and then they graduate in top class, they get motivated knowing that even after primary level, there is a certain reward awaiting them. It also creates an opportunity for them to get to know various ideas on their own knowing that they will also achieve out of education” she says.
She says while nursery graduations can involve costs, there is a need for them to be accessible and meaningful. “The celebrations don’t need to be very expensive.”
Shouldn’t be compulsory
According to Atayo, nursery graduation ceremonies shouldn’t be compulsory because making them mandatory might create unnecessary pressure or inconvenience for families.
“It’s important to respect varying circumstances and preferences. Instead, offering it as an optional event allows families to participate based on their interest and availability, ensuring a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved,” says Atayo.
In an interview with URN, Elizabeth Kisakye, a Senior Education Officer in charge of Early Childhood Development, said that the Ministry of Education is reviewing all activities which happen in the pre-school to regulate how each should be handled, graduation ceremonies inclusive.
“She observes that although the ministry has over the years been discouraging the said mock graduation due to exorbitant fees and related requirements, they accept the fact that it has some psychological importance to the learners. She says that if the practice is to remain, it must have clear guidelines and standards which could be followed rather than each school coming up with its own style.”
Kisakye, who is also a child psychologist stresses that the practice, if well-handled, can be used as a motivation tool to keep the child in school with an aspiration to complete school.