Although President Museveni recently directed schools under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) to immediately suspend all illegal extra fees charged on parents as schools open for first term, some have defied his order.
While delivering his New Year message on December 31, 2019, President Museveni said if schools under the disguise of Parents Teachers’ Association (PTA) continue charging extra fees, he will abolish UPE and USE because it is an indication that they can afford to pay fees for their children.
In Masindi, Mr Museveni’s stand has disrupted Bunyoro Sub-region’s leadership plan to uplift education standards.
While addressing the NRM top leadership at State House on January 24, Mr Museveni directed party leaders to ensure that there is no more charging of fees of any form in government schools that are implementing UPE and USE programmes.
“I am totally against reintroducing a charge in government schools because it negates our principle of causing socio-economic development through education. When you find NRM people interfering with free education, that is hurting us,” Mr Museveni said.
Last November, while addressing NRM leaders in Rubaya, Ryakarimira Town Council, Kamuganguzi, Kaharo, Maziba Buhara sub-counties, the State Minister for Planning in the Ministry of Finance, Mr David Bahati, warned the administration of government-aided schools to stop charging extra fees saying it was against government policy of free primary and secondary education.
A random countrywide survey conducted by Daily Monitor has revealed that schools continue to charge parents extra fees following the opening for the new term on February 3.
According the school admission form for Victoria Nile School, one of the giant UPE schools in Jinja District, signed by the head teacher, Ms Harriet Gandi Kyakwise, pupils joining Primary One to Primary Three are charged Shs369,400 as extra fees, school project Shs32,900, computer and printer fees Shs22,900, all payable once a year.
While those joining Primary Five and Seven are charged Shs412,400, school project Shs32,900 and Shs22,900 for computer & printer once a year, excluding uniform and lunch.
At Narambhai Road Primary School in Jinja, Ms Sarah Namukose, a parent, said she was asked to pay Shs64,000 as extra fees for her Primary Six daughter, Shs5,000 for a school project and Shs5,000 for lunch per term which she cannot afford.
Ms Ruth Nangobi, another parent, said she is a single mother of four and is financially incapacitated to afford the extra fees that are charged in UPE schools.
“As parents, we are not supposed to pay fees in these schools; they force us to do so yet some of us are financially unstable so our children end up dropping out of school,’’ she said.
The PTA chairperson for Victoria Nile School, Mr Michael Kasedde, said the ‘extra fees’ they charge are for school projects such as the construction of teachers’ quarters, buying of school buses and computers, all with an aim of improving the pupils’ performance.
“Currently, we are constructing teachers’ quarters to accommodate six teachers; the building is about to be completed and so far three teachers sleep at school,” he said.
“This has improved our performance because last year we managed to score 99 First Grade out of the 188 pupils who sat PLE, with two pupils scoring Aggregate Four,’’ Mr Kasedde added.
“The reason why other schools are performing poorly is because teachers travel long distances which is no longer the case with our school.”
Mr Kasedde said parents, during their annual general meeting decided on an amount to be charged and which projects to work on.
The PTA chairperson for Spire Road Primary School, Mr Alfred Adundo, said the capitation grant is too little to take care of all the needs of the school. “The capitation grant comes at the end of the month yet it is also small. Teachers need breakfast, lunch and transport.
We have also to take care of the school utility bills and other basic needs which need to be handled by parents,’’ he said.
At Wangobo Primary School, Namwiwa Town Council in Kaliro District, Mr John Denis Opio, said although other UPE schools charge extra fees under the disguise of paying teachers additional salaries, they only charge Shs2,000 for milling maize for porridge or posho to serve as lunch but some parents cannot afford.
The Jinja Resident District Commissioner, Mr Eric Sakwa, said head teachers who are defiant ‘will be dealt with accordingly’ because ‘a presidential directive is not negotiable’.
“If schools are still charging extra fees yet the President suspended all illegal extra UPE fees, the head teachers and leaders of PTA will be arrested and charged for sabotaging government programmes,’’ he said.
UPE schools receive capitation grants on a quarterly basis which are computed basing on enrolment, with each pupil getting Shs10,000 a year.
The Kabale District chairperson, Mr Patrick Besigye Keihwa, and several chairpersons of different school management committees and PTAs last month said they charge extra fees because government provisions are too little to cater for teachers’ welfare and infrastructure development.
“Because several schools have no staff houses and enough classrooms, Kabale District Local Government contributes iron sheets and nails to complete buildings at different schools that are being constructed by parents and school management committees.
“Charging an extra fee is not a problem as long as parents and school management committees agree on a certain amount to be paid by each student,” Mr Keihwa said.
Ms Perusi Koburere, a parent from Katojo Primary School, Butanda Sub-county in Kabale, said whereas they pay Shs10,000 for remedial teaching and Shs10,000 for infrastructure development, their children rarely pass in Grade One, adding that there is no value for the extra fees paid.
Mr Bahati promised to conduct a comprehensive survey on the issues for the good of the UPE and USE programmes, arguing that such local initiatives should not deter students from attaining education just because their parents have failed to pay the extra fees.
The Kabale inspector of schools, Mr Moses Bwengye, last week said presidential directives may not be applicable because the funds released under UPE and USE are not enough to cater for all the needs, especially meals and infrastructure development.
“Majority of the parents in our government schools rejected the idea of packing meals for their children and opted to pay some money to hire cooks and buy food items that can be prepared and served to their children at school.
Some parents reasoned that packing food for their children is ‘old-fashioned’.
“Whereas nobody should question the President’s directive, my opinion is that it may not work unless the funds released under the UPE/USE are increased to meet all school requirements,” Mr Bwengye said.
Police Primary School in Gulu District is charging Shs240,000 for uniform, inclusive of scholastic materials, while other requirements include a ream of papers, a soft and hard broom.
At Labour Line Primary School in Gulu District, new entrants are charged Shs170,000, a ream of papers and two hard brooms, while at Gulu Senior Secondary School, the administrator declined to speak to the media for fear of losing his job.
The Gulu District Education Officer, Mr Caesar Akena, said the President’s directive is all about excessive monies demanded from the parents resulting into exploitation.
“We are equally concerned when it comes to unnecessary demands for money from the parents and we shall not accept that,’’ he said.
He, however, said there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ where parents and school administrators agree to put up structures to accommodate teachers for their wellbeing, which can be accepted.
In Amuru, some primary schools are paying between Shs5,000 and Shs50,000 per term, while secondary schools are charging between Shs85,000 and Shs120,000.
The district education officer, Ms Joyce Lanyero, said as administrators at the district level, they will abide by the President’s directive.
“But in situations where parents want their children to live a better life, such schools give some small contribution and we cannot stop them since it’s their own arrangement,’’ she said.
Ms Agnes Lamikio, one of the parents at Pacilo Primary School, said much as government gives UPE and USE funds, the roles played by the parents cannot be underestimated in regards to the contribution.
“Like at this school, as parents, we contribute Shs10,000 per term and find it worth the services the children get at school.
Mr Museveni’s directive in some schools, however, is inapplicable since the challenges vary from one school to another.
Bunyoro leaders have now been prompted to put on hold a December 27, 2019 resolution to push for cost-sharing in government-aided schools between parents and government to boost education in the region.
The leaders also resolved to sensitise the public on the advantages of cost-sharing in schools so that it can be embraced by all parents.
They further proposed that lower Local Governments in Bunyoro set aside 40 per cent of the local revenue to education sector so that the funding can be increased.
Mr Stephen Birahwa, the chairperson of Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus, told journalists last week that the government’s decision comes at a time when the sub-region needs to boost education standards for easy lobbying of government positions.
Ms Monica Kiiza, the Masindi inspector of schools, said there is a staffing gap of 135 teachers in the district which is effecting the education standards.
“As a district we have a staffing gap of 135 teachers and we can’t fix them because of the wage bill,” Ms Kiiza said.
Mr Stephen Birahwa, the Buliisa Member of Parliament and member of Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus, said he will meet the party bosses to discuss the move.
Bunyoro Sub-region has more than 2,380 schools with 733 nurseries, 1434 primary, 197 secondary, 3 BTVET, 9 tertiary and two teachers’ training colleges.
In Mbale District, Mr Jackson Robert Wangwe, the head teacher of Nabuyonga Primary School, said they agreed with parents to pay Shs45,000 per term to help in the smooth running of the school activities.
“The parents agreed to pay Shs45,000 to facilitate the running of the school because the funds we get from government are not enough,” he said.
He said the money is used for, among other things, clearing water and electricity bills and also for buying meals for teachers.
Call for more funding
Mr Fred Bulitya, the deputy head teacher of Namatala Primary School, said government should allocate more funds to UPE and USE schools if they don’t want the administrations to charge extra fees.
Daily Monitor visited North Road Primary School, Nkoma Secondary School and Fairway Primary School among others but the concerned officials declined to comment.
In Tororo District, the head teacher of Pajwenda Primary School in Pajwenda Town Council, Mr Erisafani Okoth said the little contributions made by parents help them to clear water and electricity bills and remainder paid to the school guard and cook.
Mr Okoth said parents contribute Shs2,000 per child per term, an amount that was agreed upon during a PTA meeting.
“UPE guidelines allow me to hire a security guard and without a guard it means school properties are at risk. What is wrong if parents sit and agree to contribute and hire services of a guard to protect the school?” Mr Okoth wondered.
Mr John Martin Odoi, the school PTA chairperson, said parents’ contributions have helped them to dig pitlatrines which the district had failed to put in place.
Schools in Budaka, Butebo and Kibuku districts have also defied the president’s directive.
Mr Yonna Kawulo, the head teacher of Petete Primary School in Butebo district, said the extra fees are determined by parents.
“During the meeting, parents agreed to contribute towards development of the school by paying Shs3,000 per year,” he said.
The deputy head teacher of Butebo Primary School, Ms Jenifer Kanyi, said they cannot solely rely on government, while the head teacher of Bugwere High School, Mr Aziz Walumoli, said they are implementing the president’s directive.
“The school hasn’t defied the president’s directive of increasing or charging extra costs because doing so will tantamount to sabotaging government programmes,” Mr Walumoli said.
He, however, noted that they face challenges like accumulated water and electricity bills due to limited funding which cripples the smooth running of the school.
About upe, use
Purpose. UPE was introduced in 1997 with an aim of ensuring that children from poor families access basic education, but several have dropped out of school after failing to pay the extra fees.
In January 2007, government also introduced Universal Secondary Education with an aim of opening access and creating opportunities for poor students to attend secondary education. Under this programme, government also patterned with private schools to implement the programme but it was later abolished.
KEY PLAYERS SAY...
“Whereas nobody should question the President’s directive, my opinion is that it may not work unless the funds released under the UPE/USE are increased to meet all school requirements,””
Mr Moses Bwengye, The Kabale Inspector of Schools,
“UPE guidelines allow me to hire a security guard and without a guard it means school properties are at risk. What is wrong if parents sit and agree to contribute and hire services of a guard to protect the school?”,”
Mr Erisafani Okoth, Headteacher Pajwenda Primary School in Pajwenda
“If schools are still charging extra fees yet the President suspended all illegal extra UPE fees, the head teachers and leaders of PTA will be arrested and charged for sabotaging government programmes,’’ Mr Eric Sakwa, The Jinja Resident District Commissioner
Compiled by Philip Wafula, Tausi Nakato, Cissy Makumbi, Stephen Okello, Joseph Omollo, Mudangha Kolyangha, Oliver Mukaaya & Ismail Bategeka