As the country grapples with drastic measures to flatten the coronavirus curve, the economic curve continues to spiral downwards.
Businesses have been ground to a halt and offices closed. This has left many parents without work because of the pandemic.
School fees demands
In the short term period, it continues to negatively impact on their earnings. But the reality remains; once schools open, they will continue demanding for tuition and other school requirements.
However, in such challenging times, there’s public opinion that ‘schools should understand the situation’ as it normalises.
Very few people who have remained with a sustained income are those offering essential services. Mr Keith Muhakanizi, the secretary to the treasury also recently directed government ministries and local governments to priotise salaries and other allowances for only civil servants offering essential services during the Covid-19 crisis.
This therefore means a parent working in government but whose services are not so essential may have to wait longer to get salary. The economic blow is therefore harder for everyone whether in private or the public sector.
Take for instance, George Rutaboorwa, a resident of Rweshenko village in Sanga Subcounty in Kiruhura district.
He’s a parent to four school going children; three at secondary school level and one at university.
His main source of income is selling milk from his diary farm whose demand has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Rutaboorwa has been supplying milk to Pearl Dairy Factory in Mbarara earning a steady monthly income.
However, the factory has since halted production because of low domestic demand, unsteady export market and the coronavirus pandemic.
He says paying fees for his children will be tough since there’s no steady flow of income.
But Rutaboorwa is not facing the crisis alone. Many parents will face a tough time paying school fees for their children.
To put this in perspective, take for instance a student who goes to a ‘high or middle class school.
Such schools demand fees ranging between Shs900,000 and Shs1.5m, in addition to a number of school requirements such as; development fee, essential dormitory requirements for personal hygiene, pocket money, library fees, ream of photocopying paper, class requirements, foundation body fee, club fee, school identity cards, new mattress and mackintosh, bucket, school uniforms, swimming pool, school magazine, medical checkup, field study, and digital teaching/ learning facilities.
These requirements vary depending on the term. The mentioned amount or requirements could as well be much higher if a student is in a candidate class.
In the public arena, there’s a rallying cry over the increasing number of school requirements. This cry continues to fade each passing year with schools keeping a firm deaf ear.
Schools have different fees policies depending on their budgets. Some prefer payment of school fees either in holidays or at the beginning of the term while others are lenient with a possibility of parents paying installments in the course of the term as students’ study.
Meanwhile, every year, there are reports from various universities of students dropping out over tuition challenges.
Whereas most universities have lax tuition requirements allowing students to pay through the course of the semester, it still remains a challenge especially for students who pay their own tuition.
Benjamin Wairindi, a third year Food Science student at Makerere University is worried whether he will receive his last batch of allowances and tuition since he’s on government sponsorship.
He says the last batch of money had not been given out by government at closure of university.
Infact, he mentions that, “there’s a possibility of students on government sponsorship not getting the money even if they get back to campus.”
“Students may be forced to strike if government doesn’t release the finances in time.”
Wairindi also expresses worry for private students and finalists whom he says may be forced by universities to pay up the remaining tuition balance quickly in order to do tests and exams.
He says the period between course work tests and exams is likely be shorter as universities race up to cover for the lost time.
“Most of our parents are not working and therefore supporting a student at campus will be a tug of war,” he notes.
Wairindi says the current situation will force some students mainly on private sponsorship to apply for dead years.
With higher education being an expensive venture, there’s possibility universities will as well have a drop in student applications.
Ann Kukundakwe, a parent with school going children says schools must be able to identify students who have been directly affected by the pandemic with parents either infected or quarantined and provide fees waivers for such students.
Another category of students that Kukundakwe demands needs special attention are those from underprivileged homes who have been severely affected by the pandemic.
“I don’t think vulnerable students should be chased out of school for failure to pay school fees. Schools need to adjust the period of paying school fees to give parents time to clear,” she remarks, adding that government needs to push it as a directive. She notes that parents are struggling economically and schools are aware.
School administrators’ say
Ham Ahimbishibwe, the deputy headteacher at Mbarara High School in Mbarara district says on matters regarding school fees, the school will have to comply with the Ministry of Education guidelines.
“In the first place we are not charging anymore fees. But for those who had not paid money for the first term, they will continously pay for their debts,” he says. He says in such a period, the school won’t press parents to pay because the term is almost done, noting that, the school will have to wait for the second term then have parents clear their debts.
Schools need to understand
“This holiday is very unique,” he says, “schools need to understand the situation when it comes to paying fees. I don’t expect schools to be pressing students for fees at this time.”
Whereas it’s true that the tradition of the school dictates on requirements. He says these are prohibited by government especially if the requirements are non-monetary which translates into a higher cost of education.
However, he says it is understandable that scholastic materials are essential to students and they can’t be foregone.
The Education minister Janet Museveni in her guidelines warned schools against increasing fees during such challenging times. The Ministry issued a circular in 2018 with guidelines on school tuition and other related requirements.
The guideline stated: “All school budgets must be discussed and endorsed by the full Board/School Management Committees and submitted to the respective Chief Administrative Officers/Town Clerks. For Secondary Schools, the Chief Administrative Officers shall submit the endorsed school budgets to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Sports by December 31 of each year for final approval.”
Another guideline reads: “No school, private or Government, shall increase school fees for whatever reason without written authorisation from the permanent secretary and/or chief administrative officer/town clerk as the case may be.”
“Other cash and non-cash requirements outside the approved school fees are strictly prohibited. All non-cash items must be catered for in the school budget,” it reads in conclusion.