Bridget Nabankema, 21, sat her A-Level exams at a Kampala private school, which used to operate in rented premises.
During the second term of her final year in 2012, the school hastily shifted from its rented premises, which was considered expensive to a relatively cheaper residential house in Kawala, a Kampala suburb.
Despite relocating without notifying authorities, it also established a boarding section for candidates, which according to the ministry of Education, is illegal.
“The relocation didn’t only interrupt me, but my parents also suffered because they had to pay an extra Shs400,000 as my accommodation and meals at school for the three months that were remaining,” Nabankema reminiscences.
Like Nabankema, many students suffer similar challenges and it is the parents who often pay the price.
However, this seems to have come to an end as government institutes new guidelines for operating and opening private schools. According to the 2014 guidelines, it will be illegal to shift a school or change its ownership without notifying the ministry of Education, and if clearance is granted, this has to be at the end of a school year to avoid interrupting the learning and teaching process. Among other guidelines, no new school will be allowed to tag the tittle ‘college’ or ‘academy’ if they are not, and those that already have such names will be asked to change.
A school will only use the title ‘college’ if it is attached to a university or college to demonstrate skills taught there while an ‘academy’ will be one that offers particular skills like military, music or drama.
Mr Francis Agula, an education expert and former commissioner ministry of Education, says although the new guidelines are good, implementation might become difficult due to corruption which has eaten deep into the moral fabric of society.
“At districts, inspectors are not well-facilitated and when they visit schools, they simply do it as a ritual because it is the proprietor who will provide them with transport back to their work station,’’ he says
Mr Agule says for the 14 years he worked in the Education ministry, he learnt that some schools would spend years without being inspected because inspectors are poorly paid. He adds that many people venture into the private schools business to get money but forget the basic standards as outlined in the Education Act, 2008.
“You find a fish monger who never went to school opening up a school. He can be a director like many do, but a good number of them don’t want to take advice from the professionals. And that is why we usually find a head teacher and director clashing over professional issues,” he says
Mr Ismail Mulindwa, the assistant commissioner for private schools [policy and regulation], says even though inspectors are few, they will be able to enforce the guidelines. “Inspectors are thin on ground but they have always made good reports, which inform policies like this one we are coming up with,” he says.
According to Mr Huzaifa Mutazindwa, the director at the Education Standards Directorate, the body has only 57 inspectors at the centre and 287 at district level, but lack of transport facilities curtails their operations.
“For a very long time, each of the five regions had one inspection vehicle, but even though they have been increased to three, it is still a drop in the ocean,” he says.
The inspector ratio in Uganda currently stands at 1:100, which is far below the internationally recommended 1:40.
Mr Mutazindwa says to make a meaningful change in inspection of schools; the number of inspectors at the national level has to increase to at least 180 and the Directorate of Education Standard’s annual budget raised from Shs1.2b to at least Shs10b.
The Education ministry has in the last four-years enjoyed a lion’s share of the national Budget with an allocation ranging between Shs1 trillion and Shs1.8 trillion.
Paradoxically, the sector resource envelope in the new Budget was slashed in the 2014/15 Financial Year to Shs1.6 trillion, down from Shs1.8 trillion it got last year.
Mr Issa Matovu, an education analyst, wonders how government will implement the new guidelines yet it has failed to enforce the already existing basic education requirements and standards.
“If they were implementing the rules to the letter, there wouldn’t be schools running illegal boarding sections. Frankly speaking, some of the rules which they say are new were simply recycled,” he says.
Government liberalised the education sector in the early 1990s, giving way to individuals to set up private schools some of which attract students from Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Despite the high fees charged, most parents prefer private schools because they are assumed to offer quality services compared to government-funded schools.
There are about 20,000 private schools in Uganda and 3,600 of them are in Kampala.
The new rules
Teachers. No proprietor will be licenced to start a private secondary school unless they have at least seven full-time teachers, three of whom should be teaching sciences or mathematics.
Head teacher. Whoever heads a school must be a university graduate while that of a primary school must be led by a Grade Five teacher.
Enrollment. At least 55 pupils must be enrolled in each class before the opening of a primary school while the minimum number for secondary schools must 40 students per class.
Licence. A registration certificate will be valid for only five years for secondary schools while primary schools will be reviewed every after two years.
Matrons. They must have a minimum academic qualification of primary seven and not below 30 years.