Last week, government maintained that schools without better education standards should not open for First Term to prevent the lives of children from being endangered.
Earlier, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) had closed 21 private schools over non-compliance with standards.
The closure of these schools has caused uproar among the proprietors, parents and learners who argue that government should be considerate to schools which accommodate learners especially from low income earners.
However, the battle over compliance with school standards has been on for a long time. Previously, government has threatened to close schools whose standards are lacking.
Although some are given a grace period to operate as they improve their standards, they always relax, provoking authorities to take action. Some keep on dodging education inspectors until the term closes.
Such is the situation under which some of the privately-owned schools operate. The situation is worse in rural areas which are rarely inspected by education officials. But why do schools defy government?
Geoffrey Mwanje, the director of Dynamic Junior School in Kawempe, which was closed acknowledges that some schools are non-compliant.
However, he blames it on authorities whom he says ask for many requirements which might not be easy for some proprietors to acquire.
“We all want to be complaint but the responsible authorities are too harsh in implementing directives yet it is important that they appreciate the fact that not all schools can manage the requirements at once. For instance, KCCA has more than 50 requirements which are really hard for some of us to meet,” he says.
To mitigate the impasse between owners of private schools and government as far standards are concerned, Mwanje says government should always listen to school owners instead of shutting them out completely, arguing that such schools can improve if given time.
Playing hide and seek
Juliet Namuddu, the KCCA director of Education and Social Services, says although there are standards which must be met before one is cleared to operate a school, some of them only report to authorities after they have set up schools.
“Some school proprietors are defiant because at times they do not have the capacity to meet all the requirements as demanded by the Education Act. When we learn about it, we immediately take action,” she says.
Namuddu further says authorities at times get overwhelmed with the excuses given by some school proprietors whenever they are in a crisis yet they opened the schools without involving education officials.
“To avoid such challenges, people intending to set up schools must first liaise with government authorities so that they can be guided on what to do because openning a school without involving the relevant bodies, could cost you more money when the law takes its course,” she says.
According to a statement released by the Education ministry Permanent Secretary, Alex Kakooza, recently, there are at least 1,300 schools that do not meet education standards and therefore must remain closed until they comply.
This newspaper understands that many of the schools crop up because there are no authorities enforcing the directives.
For instance, districts have few education inspectors who can effectively monitor the schools in the area to weed out those which are in bad condition.
But Rosemary Sseninde, the State minister for Education, says government is this time round ready to fight this vice by carrying out operations to eliminate the schools with poor standards, which she says, put the lives of learners at risk.
“Many schools have been operating illegally but we have now revisited all the laws to fork out all those schools that are not compliant,” she says.
But Sseninde explains that government is ready to always give audience to private school owners since they support the country’s education sector.
The law says..
According to Section 36(4) of the Education Act, 2008, school authorities are required to comply with closure notice and shall not reopen the education institution without written permission from the permanent secretary of the Education ministry, chief administrative officer or the clerk.
Ismail Mulindwa, the commissioner in charge of private schools at the ministry of Education, says whereas government supports private education institutions, it cannot bend the law by allowing some whose standards are low to keep operating.
“Since November, we have licensed at least 1,006 primary schools and 348 secondary schools. This means that we are ready to work with the private sector. You need to organise yourself before you embark on a school project to avoid being inconvenienced,” he advises.
However, Patrick Kaboyo, the secretary Federation of Non-State Education Institutions (Fenei), says operators of private schools are at times frustrated by officials at the Ministry of Education who take long to legitimise their operations.
But he opposes closure arguing that schools should be left to operate as they make some improvements.
A licence, good structures, security, well trained staff with their certificates enough land for expansion, security of the learners, water, toilet, scholastic materials, financial ability, report from a health inspector, partnership deeds, physical planning department approval, school inspectors’ reports, Land title or tenancy agreement, among others.