School fees: Digital payments and the story of long queues

Mathias Kamugasho, the Service Cops managing director, says it is now impossible to give excuses because technology is driving every facet of life. Photo / Courtesy  

What you need to know:

  • For anyone who braved  long queues at banking halls every school term in the 90s and early 2000s, it would be a big  relief that they now pay school fees by pressing mobile phone buttons

The hustle of parents and learners making mad dashes repeats itself every school season.  

Perhaps, the only beautiful part of this story is that unlike eight or 10 years ago, parents and or learners no longer have to go through the rat race of banking school fees. 

The chaos of long queues at banking halls every school term were an eye sore and a reminder of where technology has picked Ugandans. 

Queues have long been replaced by instant payment solutions that carry little or no risk at all. 

SchoolPay, which allows instant backend payments through mobile money bank, PayWay and Interswitch is one such solution.  

“It is an entire education value chain platform,” says Joseph Ndiho Kiiza, the Service Cops Group chairman. 

The story of SchoolPay dates back to 2016 with Seeta High School being the only user then. 

However, today it has grown into a large value chain, serving more than 10,000 education institutions and six million learners. 

When we talk about the education value chain, Kiiza says, we are talking about all actors in the value chain including schools, students, teachers, parents, and financial system operators. 

The education system in Uganda has slightly about 10 million learners, majority of whom are in primary and secondary. Therefore, the numbers are enormous and tell of the potential that can be exploited by digital payment innovators and operators. 

Part of this space has been occupied by SchoolPay, which trades under Fincom, a payment service provider and operator licensed by Bank of Uganda. 

Patrick Muhumuza, who is the head of operations SchoolPay, says the beginning was never smooth.  

“When we started in 2016, it was very hard to convince someone to pay their fees using mobile money. But now, parents are happy, schools are happy, which  drives us to do more,” he says.

Digital payments have not only eased school fees payment but have helped schools to  digitise and ensured proper storage of data and records.

“In the digital age, data and associated antilytics are a big asset to have,” Muhumuza says. 

Beyond this, digital payments have mitigated forgeries, which John Eyaku, the finance manager at Victorious Education Services, one of the early adopters of SchoolPay in 2017, says had become a serious problem. 

“We had several issues where parents could forge bank slips yet when we reconciled we would find that money was never paid. But now, we conduct real-time reconciliation online, ” he says. 

Similarly, Moses Kakooza, a director at MK Learning Centre in Bweyogerere, is a relieved man. 

“We used to collect a lot of cash. It exposed the school to fraud, where some staff would issue own receipts. But all this is no more,” he says.

Other schools that testify to the relief brought by digital payments include Happy Maria Primary and Nursery School, Makindye Junior Academy, Mirembe Primary School and St Marks College, Namagoma. 

Payments of school fees used to be a cite in the 90 and early 2000s. However, queues have since been eliminated by digital solutions. Photo / Edgar R Batte 

Away from users, aggregators and payment operators believe digital solutions are one of the best revolutions that have happened in the education ecosystem in the last 10 years. 

Albert Yiga, the Stanbic head of the education sector, says digital payments have deepened financial inclusion in schools.  They have also helped government to advance the digital agenda. 

George Mutekanga, the Ministry of Education assistant commissioner in charge of private institutions, says the drive towards digitization in the education sector should not leave anyone behind, regardless of where they are. 

“My concern is how do we bring on board all other remaining schools? How do we bring on a board all partners and stakeholders,” he says. 

Digitising education sector  

Service Cops, which operates SchoolPay and other digital payments platforms, has for the last seven years innovated a number of products in the education space, many of which have enhanced efficiency in the sector. 

Mathias Kamugasho, the Service Cops managing director, says education is the heartbeat of the economy, thus: “We have invested in digital resources that can improve the delivery of education services, manage students and make school fees payments.” 

For instance, he says, SchoolPay has the ability to capture staff data and monitor attendance via digital clock-in, teach and distribute e-learning products, monitor learners and teachers’ class attendance. 

It also has a timetable scheduler, human resource management tools for school administrators and purchase and supplier management tools.  

Therefore, he says, it is impossible to give excuses because “technology has touched every facet of our lives, be it payments, lifestyle, financial services, travel, or tourism, and has not spared the education sector.”  

However, this he says, must be a collaboration that has continuous engagement with stakeholders in the education ecosystem, key among them school owners, students, administrators and  government.