KAMPALA. A conflict of interest among policy implementers and the State’s surrendering of the delivery of quality education to a private sector that auctions it to the highest payer, according to parents, is exacerbating class divide in the country.
In interviews over the months, some families said they had to painfully relocate their children from better-performing schools that charge more than they can afford to relatively cheaper schools that post less-than-satisfactory academic results.
The probative levies, in this case tuition that some school administrators said they increased this year to cater for rising cost of living, has been made worse by growing material demands such as baking flour, rice, cement, stationery, slashers and brooms.
“It is now clear that schools under [free education programmes] are for the poor while schools without these government programmess are for the rich as government looks on,” said Mr James Kutosi, a public relations student.
The higher fees charged by private institutions, he said, is “sending away poor parents and thus creating classes in the education system where the poor go to some schools and the rich go to others because they can afford”.
Victoria Najjulu is one such disaffected parent. She told this newspaper that she was forced to transfer her daughter because the school where the student was to take Senior Four classes each term made demands for “weird” requirements.
These included four kilograms of baking flour, three kilogrammes of rice, two moppers, a slasher and two hoes from each student to be provided each term ostensibly for hands-on lessons in agriculture as well as food and nutrition subjects, she said.
A follow up warning to school administrators by Mr Robinson Nsumba, the commissioner for private schools and institutions, and Education ministry spokesman Patrick Muinda, against increasing tuition fees and other school requirements without authorisation from the parent ministry has largely been ignored without consequences.
At Seeta High School, one of the high-flying private schools owned by State Education minister John Chrysostom Muyingo, a long list of school requirements cost a parent between Shs700,000 to Shs1m in addition to tuition.
The school lists the following as items for a student to report back to school with: reams of paper (ruled and un-ruled), a brush, an outdoor broom, text book, T-shirt (sold at school), trash bin, scrubbing brush, torch, jerry can, an umbrella, a mat, hair fee, rain coat and medical fee, besides personal requirements.
As the junior Education minister for Higher Education, Dr Muyingo stands at the cross-roads of policy making and enforcement.
Asked if he, as a school owner and minister, felt a conflict of interest in the government’s failure to crack the whip on private schools making endless demands on parents, Dr Muyingo first told this newspaper that his school is “fair and only asks for reams of paper and brushes”.
When this newspaper later contacted and read to him requirements itemised in the Seeta High School’s admission letter, minister Muyingo retorted: “My school is asking for requirements which parents can afford, and I am sure and aware of this. But why would you write about my school? And as a ministry, we also encourage parents to go to schools they can afford, especially the Universal Secondary Education schools.”
The government introduced free secondary education mainly to absorb products of universal primary school launched in 1997, which has increased enrolment by millions but eroded quality of education.
Elected leaders have pointed less able voters to send their children to schools implementing free education --- so that they can get some kind of education that enables them to read and write, but without skills to tap into opportunities in a competitive world of work and innovation.
In an apparent vote of no confidence in the government scheme, most public servants enroll their children in private schools.
Bureaucrats have always argued, and minister Muyingo subtly referred to the same, that free education is for segments of the population unable to afford any kind of education on their own while higher quality education offered by the private sector is for the financially able.
That notwithstanding, some parents think otherwise. Mr Adam Werikhe, for instance, said in an interview with this newspaper, that he saw no justification in unexplained school requirements.
“These things are designed by schools to fleece us. Our children tell us that many of the items schools request for are not even used at school, where do they go?” he asked.
Mr Zacharia Sserunjogi, a resident of Seeta in Mukono District, alleged that some school proprietors connive with shop owners or open their own shops where they sell items contributed by parents.
“I have seen many books shops selling the same paper, hardware shops belonging to the head teachers or their close friends selling the same cement and the same slashers, brooms, machetes brought at school,” he said.
He questioned how well-established schools with fully constructed classroom blocks still demand for bags of cement.
Mr Tony Mukasa, the assistant commissioner for primary education, told Daily Monitor in May that each proprietor must have operational resources and facilities in place before opening a school so that parents are not burdened with building the infrastructure.
“Those asking for such requirements do it illegally,” he said, blaming district education officers for not cracking the whip.
The concern that poor quality education for poorer citizens, which limits their upward mobility in society, could set up the country for future unrest by a population that feels excluded, early this year prompted the government to instruct proprietors not to price private schools beyond affordability of the majority.
Parents had complained that the material demands are disguised levies and exploitative, issued a directive to proprietors of private schools not to make education unaffordable.
The directive imposed no thresholds, specified no items that schools should not ask for and left determination of tuition to the discretion of individual schools as long as parents and the management committee consented.
That is where income inequality, and class distinction, has come to play. Parents with means during annual meetings side with school administrators seeking to increase fees or impose additional charges, drowning the voices of poorer ones opposed or unable to pay for such upward adjustments.
For instance, Ms Hadijah Namasaba, a mobile money agent in the eastern Mbale Town, told this newspaper early this year that she struggled to find a better school with affordable fees for her son who scored Aggregate 13 in Primary Leaving Examinations in vain.
“I went to one of the good schools; the school bursar told me they have increased fees for Senior One students from Shs295,000 to Shs350,000. I gave up,” she said then.
But for, Mr Christopher Mulindwa, a parent in Mpigi District in central Uganda, tuition increases are justifiable to enable schools run their programmes smoothly.
“The problem would be if there was no consultation, but as long as parents consented to the increment, for instance, in their PTA meetings, then it is fine. Imagine a boarding school where a student has to be fed, given medical care and other necessities. As a school, you cannot operate without increasing fees when faced with this skyrocketing cost of living,” Mr Mulindwa said.
A market research done by this newspaper for a story published in May showed that the cost of feeding a Uganda family had, on average, increased by 30 per cent.
Such economic realities coupled with the prospects of holistic education, said Ms Doreen Nabukonde, a nurse, make private schools attractive because their teaching “captures crucial aspects such as leadership skills, critical thinking and problem solving --- all of which are essential in today’s job market.
In a January guidance, Education ministry permanent secretary Alex Kakooza noted that whereas the “government appreciates the prevailing economic situation, which results in a number of requests to increase fees, schools should not hike these fees inconsiderably because we want all children to access education”.
“My school is asking for requirements which parents can afford, and I am sure and aware of this. But why would you write about my school?”
CRYSOSTOM MUYINGO, STATE EDUCATION MINISTER
“Government appreciates the prevailing economic situation, which results in a number of requests to increase fees.Schools should not hike these fees inconsiderably because we want all children to access education,”
Alex Kakooza Education ministry PS
“These things are designed by schools to fleece us. Our children tell us that many of the items schools request for are not even used at school, where do they go?”
Adam Werikhe, PARENT
“Those asking for such requirements do it illegally,”
Tony Mukasa, the assistant commissioner for primary education