Who will end this exploitation by schools?

Monday September 16 2019

It is back to school and more than rising

It is back to school and more than rising school fees, parents are worried about the exorbitant requirements that nobody seems to regulate. FILE PHOTO 

By Paul Murungi

Recently, Kabojja Junior School was the talk of the town especially on social media for charging parents Shs30,000 to attend their children’s concert at the school.
A letter dated August 8, from the school, read: “We are scheduled to hold our end of term concert on Saturday 17, 2019 starting from 9am at the new site. It will be staged by pupils from Pre-primary to Primary Three only. You are invited to attend, witness and cheer up the children displaying their exhilarating presentation in singing and dancing. There will be a lot of fanfare on that day.”
The letter continued: “Entry fee shall be at Shs30,000 per adult person. Tickets shall be sold in advance to parents and guardians from their respective class teachers. We may not have enough tickets for everybody but will be sold on first come first serve basis. Only ticket holders shall be allowed entry.”
In the letter, the school seemed to send a signal that there was limited space to accommodate every parent hence the ‘small’ charge.
Kabojja aside, Makerere College School recently inaugurated a Shs600 million bus, amidst the fanfare and ululations for the new bus that would save the school from renting public means.

Martin Muyingo, the school’s head announced that they had sought permission from the Ministry of Education to allow the school increase fees and charge an extra fee of Shs80,000 in order to fund the Shs600m loan for the bus, which he said the parents had approved in the meeting.
However, not everyone was happy about the investment.
In fact most asked why the school went on to increase fees for a bus of that amount yet there were new buses that go for as low as Shs200m and Shs300m on the market. At Golden Berry Nursery and Primary School, Primary Seven candidates were recently charged Shs350,000 to go to Murchison Falls National Park for a one-day tour that included spending a night at the national park.
The fee attracted mixed reactions from a section of the public. According to Jowet Matsiko, a tour operator at Gild Tours, the cost was exorbitant considering there’s a subsidised fee for students in most National Parks.

Matsiko also says the cost could have been narrowed down to either between Shs180,000 and Shs200,000 including spending a night in the national park, food and transport. One of the candidates at the school says they shared rooms with colleagues though on separate beds while at the national park.
The above scenarios explain the increasing costs attached to school services.

The rising cost
Ideally, a parent would have paid school fees and a few basic requirements. But that is no longer the case. Today, the number of school requirements has tripled overwhelming parents who already have to bear the heavy burden of paying the ever increasing fees.
And parents feel some school requirements are a sign of exploitation by schools.
While speaking at the annual general meeting of the Association of Secondary School Head Teachers of Uganda at Muni University recently, Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema, the head of State House Anti-Corruption Unit, highlighted that admission fees was one of the several forms of corruption eating up the education sector.
Nakalema showed dissatisfaction about schools who charge students to be admitted. Currently, some schools charge between Shs50,000 and Shs500,000 for admission. Apart from admission fee, this writer analysed recent end of term circulars.
Schools go ahead to charge interview fees usually between Shs40,000 to Shs100,000 for a student in the school.
The schools also demand reams of paper per term from lower primary to Primary Seven.
For instance a list of requirements at Fairways Primary School in Kireka, indicates that all pupils must carry a ream of paper. In addition, those from Primary Three to Seven, must take two dozen pencils, and two dozen of books.
Children at that level write mainly with pens so requesting for 24 pencils in addition to the dozen opens definitely raises questions.
What bothers parents even the more are the termly reams of paper. For instance, most schools have between 600 and 2,000 pupils in number.
Each child brings a ream of paper. A stream of 50 pupils means 50 reams a term.
At Kitante Primary School, whose enrollment surpasses that of most schools in Kampala, pupils only bring a ream of paper in first term to last a year.
Other related costs include, church fee, not less than two pairs of uniform bought from the school which usually ranges from Shs150,000 to Shs400,000.
School tours around Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso cost between Shs30,000 to Shs60,000. Last year, a school made rounds on social media after it charged parents Shs60,000 for a trip to Hardware World in Ntinda, Kampala. The holiday package is charged from between Shs30,000 to Shs50,000.
In most secondary schools, students are required to buy books from specific authors for the school book bank. The authors are sometimes the same teachers in the school promoting their content.

Josh* a Senior Four student at Midland High School in Kawempe, says he is not happy with some school requirements arguing that some should be scrapped. “
How can the school ask for three kilogrammes of sugar per term yet in addition to this, you are required to buy your personal sugar at school? The school says the three kilogrammes are used for baking,” he says.
Josh says they are charged a medical fee of Shs15,000 per term, they have their blood checked at the beginning of the term but they rarely get the results. “That is cheating,” he retorts adding that they are also required to pay Shs10,000 for in house competitions.
“Why should you pay for your own ‘co-curricular activities? As candidates we do not even participate in these activities. Sometimes our pocket money ends up in the bursar’s office because of the various issues to pay for,” he says.
A Senior One student at Gombe S.S in Butambala in Mpigi District says they usually pay Shs1,000 for entertainment at the school during weekends. The money is usually asked by the entertainment teacher and if a student fails to pay, they cannot access entertainment.
At Naalya S.S, a Senior Five student, says if a student is interested in joining a club, they must pay Shs5,000 which is seen as a way to show commitment to the school.
Phiona Kaahwa, a parent at Golden Berry Primary School, Namugongo finds it outrageous for schools to ask for items such as cement yet parents pay a lot of school fees which she thinks can be used to do further development in schools.
However, schools have become smart and no longer ask directly but rather as ‘development fee’.
“You find a school telling students to bring cement by specifically saying that every year, parents must bring five bags of cement. Asking parents to bring building materials is really exploitative,” she says.
Kaahwa says it is becoming burdensome for parents and that is why most are withdrawing from some schools because of the exorbitant rates. “If I pay Shs1m and they ask me for five iron sheets, which is an equivalent of Shs250,000, what will I do?” she asks.

Ignorance of schools
Sam Mulindwa, the rector of Gombe Education Services, agrees that some schools have becomes exploitative by asking for many school requirements.
He says sometimes school requirements are asked unfairly though at times it is a question of ignorance.
“The requirements are needed but they need to be asked for in a fair manner. If you have primary and secondary students, you do not need to have a ream every term when you calculate in terms of the work given to the learners,” he says but defends why they ask for specific brands, “Some on the market are fake. For instance, many reams of paper on the market are fake and the machines we have cannot use them.”
He, however, says at Gombe, all the requirements are included in the school fees so as to save time for learners and parents. He gives a rough figure of between Shs1.2m and Shs1.3m for O and A level students.
Whereas Mulindwa says this, a look at the school’s requirements indicates that for a beginner, a parent will cough out at least Shs2m for the start.
Managing the damage
Patrick Kaboyo, the national secretary, Federation of Non-State Education Institutions, says most schools lack the principle of frugality, and preserving knowledge. Most of the books go to waste during holidays as children wait for new books the next term.
“Every lesson at lower primary is conducted for 30 minutes. In upper primary, lessons go for 40 minutes. Which means a pupil won’t write more than four pages. So the fact that schools are asking for more books, means that there is less learning and more of coping of content to fill the books,” he explains adding: “Beyond that, there are issues we need to interrogate deeply, for instance, what happens to books that are brought back to homes and are not fully utilised with unused pages.”
Kaboyo advises that there should be a policy. “When you calculate and see the level of cost benefits, the policy will help on how the money is spent because there should be requirements the school should provide.”
He explains that for every school with an annual plan, it should be able to budget for its administration, but also budget for school inputs, for example a library and it should be able to buy text books and stock it.
“The business of buying specific text books from the school should only happen when they are not in the library. In fact, it is the obligation of the school to stock its library,” he asserts.
Kaboyo says for schools that ask for cement and other development project items, those are capital expenditure components that schools should cater for in their strategic and investment plans.
Similarly, Mulindwa says boards of governors, head teachers and parents should be able to sit down and plan thoroughly by making budgets that are realistic, otherwise, some of these projects are being mishandled though the burden is pushed to the parent.
To Kaboyo the government too, needs to subsidise taxes on some of the scholastic materials because students cannot survive without them.


Ministry of Education directive
According to a 2018 ministry of Education circular issued to schools under the guidance of Alex Kakooza, the permanent secretary. “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.”

Patrick Kaboyo, the national secretary, Federation of Non-State Education Institutions, advises:
•Schools must practice frugality.
•A policy must be enforced for schools to provide certain requirements.
•Every school with an annual plan should be able to budget for its administration and school inputs.
•Schools must stock their own libraries.
•Schools must cater for expenditure in their strategic and investment plans.
•Government should subsidise on taxes of the scholastic materials.
•Sam Mulindwa, the rector of Gombe Education Services boards of governors, head teachers and parents should be able to sit down and plan thoroughly by making realistic budgets.