(Published in New Vision, newspaper in Uganda on 24 August 2016)
Prom culture is fast catching up in Uganda, though the word “Prom” itself is not much used. But everything that is done in economically developed western countries in the name of prom are done in our School Leavers’ Parties in Uganda. They baptise their Prom as Sosh, Splash, Social, Ball, etc. It is remarked that the festivity that is done in Uganda beats other East African countries.
Every Saturday, the leading newspapers of the country insert pullouts with flashy pictures of Leavers Party (Prom) celebrations of popular as well as less known schools. The pages meant for educational matters are now galore with pictures of teenage students showcasing themselves as hot couples. Through these worldly parties the school administrators even take pride in getting media attention for their schools. This flamboyant festivals of the schools certainly markets the school or at least attracts students to join such schools that believed to be modern and up-to-date.
For those who have not had firsthand experience of this school party the news papers give us enough information. We witness our teenagers do adult thing. That day schools give licence to students to ‘pair-up’ and exhibit all their hidden fancies and fantasies. New Vision pullout called ‘Swagg’ on June 20, 2015 carried pictures of a less known school in the outskirts of Kampala. The picture of a pair tightly embracing each other that the caption, “Guys relax, this is just prom”, Another caption, a boy lifting a well dressed girl said, “Indeed prom is a contact ‘sport'”, yet another picture where a pair clinging on to each other said, “Better go slow, the HM could be watching” and another picture of seductive nature even flashed, “Keep this picture for future reference”.
Originally these parties were done mostly in private schools that had students from expatriate and elite families. As the culture has spread like wild fire even the schools in semi-rural surroundings tries to have them at least in lower standards. Now it is commonly done even in schools known for implementing strict discipline through austere measures. It is not uncommon to see even school Proms done is nuns run schools.
The growing popularity of this Prom culture is a proof that parents, teachers and school managers have resigned to this new school culture and are willing (or have painfully accepted) to pay any price for any amount of extravagant enterprise. But few right thinking parents do raise complaints. A parent and a civil servant laments, ‘my daughter’s school sent me a bank slip of a whole 138,000 for their school leavers’ party. It is too much for a monthly salary earner like me. How can I pay so much for a non-essential item of the school”. While evaluating the event the parent retorts, “Where does all these money go? How much a plate of food going to cost the school, how much are they going to spent on music and other organisations?”
Now this event is celebrated any time of the year, starting from first term. In few secondary schools, Proms have ushered students into the new academic year, in others it is coupled with talent shows, miss teen selection parties, etc. We cannot easily push aside this exaggerated youth culture in our schools as necessary evil or just overlook our Senior Four and Senior Six Leavers and say “let them have it before they concentrate on their National Examinations. As adults and educators, various stakeholders need to look into this growing culture in our schools and put things in right perspective.
Surely this prom culture is a product of secularism which slowly pushes aside Christian and human values. Secularism is indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations. Coupled with modernity it also rejects and overrides many positive aspects of culture and tradition that have been build for centuries. This the advent of secularism, it is possible to lose age old cultural practices within few years or decades. The prom culture is a practical example of slow but sure eroding of culture and religious values.
As the parent lamented there is a lot of exaggeration on money spent for this event. Talking to a youthful teacher of a semi-rural secondary school run by a religious society in Luwero district revealed that the students formed a committee to organise the Prom which they call “Sosa” and they came up with a budget of 7,000,000 which the Headmaster found it exaggerated and slashed it to 4,500,000. Though it is a small budget compared to other prominent schools the attitude and the value attached to such an event is questionable. The school hired event managers to provide food, decorate the school and do video coverage.
Besides the money paid for the organisation, each student spends colossal amount of money for ‘party dress’ and ‘changing dress’, make up and the rest that go with it. I know of a church run medical school which has built a tradition of fundraising for this event from well wishers. The budget goes into several millions of shillings. Surely an exaggerated event of this kind is a waste of time for candidates who are preparing for their National Examinations. The organisation and the execution of this event occupies their mind for several weeks. The behaviour that is tolerated at these events is also playing with the emotions of students who are yet to mature.
Often teachers and school administrators are at the mercy of the students and give into all their demands. They fail to challenge them to do good or become indifferent to their immature behaviour and thought. We all tend to indulge in unevaluated western practice when we cannot really afford to do it. As students need guidance, the teachers and administrators too need guidance in this regard. These event end up being held in school without proper decision or discussion from various stakeholders of the school such as members of the school board, government officials and parents.
Surely a false hope often created in the minds of teachers and students that this helps them to get over everything and later on concentrate on studies fully is a flimsy argument. Let us keep the Leavers Party as a day for expressing gratitude to school and one another and keep it a moment of greeting farewell to others, but not day for exhibiting perverted ideas. Let the faith-founded schools set example, because we should be educating and morally guiding the students kept under their care.