A few days ago, I met two children in the village returning home from school in mid-morning. When I asked them, I learnt they had been chased from school for lack of school uniform. They received clear instructions to stay away until they find the required uniform.
According to the head teacher whom I later contacted for an explanation, there was nothing he could do apart from implementing laid down school regulations and did not want to displease his superiors.
This encounter immediately forced me to reflect on the on-going efforts by the Minister of Education and Sports, Ms Janet Museveni, to equalise educational opportunities between the rich and the poor. I believe that the demands on the poor made by the school system are bound to frustrate her ambition.
Let us look at this way. One shirt and a pair of shorts cost a poor child about Shs20,000 as the most conservative price. Most times, it is higher, especially because schools around the country work with designated tailors. Suppose family has four children attending school, which is often the case in the rural areas, then it means Shs80,000 must be found immediately to return them to school. In many cases, this is clearly an impossibility.
The result often is for parents to keep them at home to help with other domestic tasks for an extended period. When they resume schooling, if they ever do, many lessons are lost never to be found again. If they do not return to school, the next sure thing is for them to engage in early marriage.
Looking at this scenario closely, interesting questions arise. Why turn away children, who come to school on their own to get knowledge, on grounds of lacking school uniform? What association does uniforms have to do with academic achievement? Whose fault is it that such children are living in poverty? Are their families responsible for it so that the children are excluded from classrooms? Did they have a hand in the establishment of the liberalisation of economy, which has denied them social services such as education?
What is to be done then to enable the poor to attain some form of education? In my view, it will need humility on the part of government to ask hard and simple questions. For example, what danger will it cause to society if the children of the poor are permitted to attend schools without uniform provided tidiness and other standards are strictly observed?