The imposing statue of Sir Samuel White Baker welcomes visitors to the once great school named after him on the outskirt of Gulu town.
“I have been telling my friends that when we were here as students in the 1960’s, is that Sir Samuel Baker School was a wonderful school. One really loved to be a student at Sir Samuel Baker School”,
“OBs were very co-operative. Discipline and academic performance had picked up. The six billion shilling ($1.7 million) rehabilitation of the school by both the government and Belgium government in 2010 was done because of the Master Plan we drew up”,
GULU-UGANDA: During the 1950’s and 1960’s, girls would compose songs praising their boyfriends who study in this great school, Sir Samuel Baker School, which is located six kilometers (3.7 miles) north-east of Gulu town in the heart of Acholiland.
Students would scramble to get admission to the school and once here, your place was guaranteed in Makerere University on full government scholarship. The scholarship included money for upkeep, commonly called “BOOM”.
“I have been telling my friends that when we were here as students in the 1960’s, is that Sir Samuel Baker School was a wonderful school. One really loved to be a student at Sir Samuel Baker School”, recalls Mr. Phillip Okech, now 67 year old retired teacher.
Mr. Okech recalls that the fees at that time were only shs.500 (some US cents today) per term but they would find everything a student need for studies at the school.
“You will find what you require for your successful study on, in the school. Things like beds, mattresses, blankets, uniforms, exercise books, etc out of the little money. Every area that requires successful learning was good”, says Okech.
Mr. Okech, who talked to me on the sidelines of a religious retreat on Male’s Encounter with Christ, on Sunday, 5 February 2017, from the rehabilitated and reconstructed Assembly Hall, says the school is now in the shadow of its past glory. The Hall was gutted down in 1974 during the reign of Idi Amin in the 1974’s coupled with the Lord’s Resistance Army two decade long insurgency from 1986-2006 , the school is now destroyed completely.
Mr. Okech, who later trained as a teacher, came back as headmaster in the school in the 1990’s, observed that academic performance declined drastically, attracting good teachers to the school was a problem and enforcing discipline was a nightmare.
“Academic performance declined. Even attracting good teachers was a problem. I am sorry to say most of the teaching staffs were overdrinking and were not putting much effort in teaching. It was difficult to enforce discipline among students as some of them, returned from LRA captivity”, says Mr. Okech.
Another Old Boy (OB) of the school, Mr. Semei Okwir (71), who was a student from 1961 (before independent) to 1964 (after independent), could only lament about the state of the famous Deer Park and the road network
“The roads are bad. Something needs to be done. The school needs to devise means of re-building the road network. The roads that go around the Deer Park to the administration and the road that goes round the dormitories are dead” says Mr. Okwir.
“The school was great and the pride of northern Uganda as a whole. It still is a great school, which was named after that great explorer, Sir Samuel White Baker. The school is not as it was during my time today”, says Okwir.
Sir Samuel Baker School was established in 1952 by the Governor of Uganda Protectorate, Sir Andrew Cohen with contributions from the local district administrations from the greater northern Uganda; Acholi, Lango, West Nile, Madi and Karamoja. It sits on a 137 hectares (340) acres) piece of land, six kilometers (3.7 miles by road along Kitgum road.
It was one of the best secondary schools in Uganda in academic, sports and achievements of its alumni for nearly twenty years until the 1971 bloody coup by Idi Amin. That is when standards started to decline.
According to Mr. Michael Ocan, who was the headmaster of the school from 2000-2001, some of the alumni of the school led by Professor Sam Obwoya-Kinyera, helped him and they developed a Master Plan to rehabilitate the school.
“OBs were very co-operative. Discipline and academic performance had picked up. The six billion shillings ($1.7 million) rehabilitation of the school by both Uganda and Belgium governments in 2010, was done because of the Master Plan we drew up”, says Mr.Ocan .
According to the immediate former headmaster, Mr. Churchill Lacere, who was also a student of the school (1971-1974), the biggest problem of the now rehabilitated school, is how to increase the number of students from the current 615 to full capacity of 1,300 students.
“Our biggest problem has been how to sustain programs in the school because of the low intake. Collecting fees and discipline are not major problems now. We are operating at below fifty percent”, says Mr. Lacere.
What attract students to a particular school in Uganda, is not its beautiful structures, as is the case with Sir Samuel Baker School today, but the academic performance of a particular school.
Being an Old Boy myself, I had the opportunity to revisit the school after forty-four years. A giant statue of Sir Samuel Baker, over seven feet tall, and in a sitting position, is a new landmark to welcome you to the school. It is erected just as you enter the Deer Park roundabout. There are two new dormitories which were not there during our time, Bitek and Burua dormitories.
It is up to the new headmaster, Mr. Johnson Erik, to instill discipline among his teachers, enforce strict code of conduct and improve on academic performance of students. Schools like St. Joseph’s Colege Layibi and the new kid in town, Ocer Champion College are not attracting students out of nothing. Improve on academic performance.