Is it worth it to pay Millions for nursery school?

However, Nancy Mugarura notes that since this is an education service business, parents go to schools where they know that their children will be given the necessary and the best care available. Photo by Rachel Mabala

What you need to know:

  • The debate is on. On the one hand are parents who say nursery schools are charging exorbitant fees which is not necessary for a child at that level, whereas on the other hand, other parents are saying if you cannot manage fees in an expensive nursery school, find your level. But are the high school fees charged at nursery level worth it? Desire Mbabaali engaged some members of the society.

Early childhood care and education, for which pre-primary education is a constituent part is widely recognised as a critical period in children’s physical, mental and psycho-social development. In light of that, the Ministry of Education and Sports introduced the Early Childhood Development Education in 2007.

Today, providing pre-school and daycare education services is one of the flourishing businesses in Kampala and beyond. “In Namasuba alone – where I reside, there are more than 20 pre-schools in the area and still counting. A bungalow today can be painted with bright colours and decorated with various cartoons and called a kindergarten the following day,” Farida Nalule, a parent, narrates. Whereas there is a possibility that not many parents know what a good pre-school is or should be, there is an even bigger elephant in the room; the high cost in fees.

“When your child makes three years, which is the ultimate age to start school, it is exciting to the parents so one wants to enroll their child in a good nursery school – partly because it is the trend but you also want your child to have a solid education foundation. The shock comes when you learn about how much you have to part with in school fees,” Catherine Nuwagaba, a parent, shares.
When she decided that it was time for her three-year-old daughter Charity Tumusiime to go to school, the hunt for a good preschool started.

“I went to one of the nursery schools in Kampala (name withheld) to seek placement and to find out what was needed, which hit me pretty hard. School fees alone was Shs980,000. That money is enough to pay salaries of three primary school teachers in government schools and the list is just beginning. I had to pay Shs100,000 for swimming – which was compulsory to all children, Shs50,000 for talent class and Shs560,000 for the school van.

All uniforms including a school bag were at Shs150,000. Parents who wanted daycare services had to part with an extra Shs120,000. On top of that were other school requirements which is another list on its own,” Nuwagaba details. To her, spending more than Shs2m on a child who is just starting school was a total waste of hard-earned money.

“There are courses at university and higher institutions of learning that are not that expensive, so what is the point of all this money? Of course when I asked, I was told ‘we shall be giving your child the best care, and you know children are difficult to deal with. We also build a solid foundation for your child’s education besides you will not need to pack breakfast for them’. I left their office to look for another school that was not this expensive,” she says.

But Nuwagaba is not the only parent disturbed by the exaggerated preschool fees. “My child, who is in middle class goes to a nursery in Seeta and I still have not figured out how I will manage as she continues with school. School fees alone is Shs750,000 and since we only drop her in the mornings and pick her up at 5pm, I have to pay an extra 150,000 for day care – which is basically to take a shower, play and sleep at school until I can pick her up,” William Oketch, a parent, says.

He also has to carry breakfast for his daughter and pay other school requirements, plus extra fees whenever they have a school function or just a tour– which they do every term.
Asked what he feels should be the reasonable amount of fees, he says Shs500,000 per term but Hassan Mubiru does not agree with him.

“Why on earth would you take your child to a school you clearly know you cannot afford? There are different kindergartens and they all charge different school fees depending on what they offer. If you cannot afford, then take your child to schools where they pay as low as Shs200,000 because they also exist,” he says.

The report on Pre-primary and Primary Education in Uganda: Access, cost, quality and relevance of 2015 by the National Planning Authority (NPA), noted that though the Pre-Primary, Primary and Post Primary Education Act (2008) recognises pre-primary as the first level of education, and gives the Ministry of Education oversight responsibility over it, there is no sector policy that specially addresses the provision of pre-primary education in the country.

“Under the circumstances, enrollment in pre-primary education is optional for the estimated more than six million children (aged 3-5) and highly dependent on household income levels of the families these children hail from. In addition, there is no framework for inspection and support supervision of pre-primary schools. This is contrary to the school inspection regulations that require that all education institutions be inspected to ensure compliance. This leaves the provision of pre-primary education at the discretion of the private providers,” the report reads in part.

“Most private schools only mind about the brand image and how they can use it to get more money because to them, this is a business. At the school where my children go, we pay around Shs1.5m per child in nursery,” Grace Namubiru narrates. She further notes that this early development stage of a child is not just to do with learning how to count and read and speak English, but it is a stage for a child to learn more about their environment, social-cultural aspects such as their language and discipline, among others.

“Most children in these fancy, expensive preschools that we love just speak and read good English and that makes us happy as parents, but they are not disciplined. I just wonder where the value for our money is, because literacy and numeracy and talent development are not the only things there are for our children to learn at that age,” she adds.
Namubiru reechoes a similar issue that the NPA report also highlights; the need to develop a pre-primary education curriculum with emphasis on activities developing the child’s creative, physical, emotional and social skills besides literacy and numeracy.

However, Nancy Mugarura notes that since this is an education service business, parents go to schools where they know that their children will be given the necessary and the best care available. “And that must come at a price. When you want your child to make meaningful friendships, interact with children from good families and have a firm academic foundation and background, you take them to a school that will give you that,” she says. Her child also goes to the International School of Uganda which she says gives him a broader perspective to life.

“He interacts with children from different countries, races, behaviour and backgrounds which will give him a rich and wider way of looking at things and people. Additionally, the pedagogy of teaching in these schools are more learner centred, together with the different technology, facilities and environment in which children learn gives them an edge over their peers because they are more exposed. That is how I want my child to learn, as long as I still have the money and ability to give them that,” she says.

Voices

“I think what would be reasonable school fees for a kindergarten child is not more than Shs400,000 for a day scholar and not more than Shs800,000 for those in boarding section. I do not believe children in very expensive preschools learn anything special or different from those who don’t.” Azidah Namanda, parent

“That whole preschool thing is to rip off parents. The children just play, learn a few things such as counting, writing – which I can also teach them at home and then they ask for millions of money! I would never pay all that just for my child to play. Good enough, I am an educated stay at home mother. I teach my children from home, they will go to school when joining Primary One.”
Gladys Kamukama, parent

Striking a balance

Personally, I do not like how some nursery schools inflate the cost of education for a child who is just starting school. I have been in the schools business and I know that there are a lot of costs to incur and need for profit which I believe can be done by charging a reasonable fee. The challenge, however, is the competition in schools which at times forces school administrators to introduce all kinds of activities that can attract pupils and parents and these of course come with costs which the parent suffers. That said, we also know that we are in a capitalistic economy where private entities are profit-driven and the prices controlled by the forces of demand and supply and thus government has little or no control over school fees charges, unless it is in a public school. But again, some parents think that the more money they pay, the more learning takes place for their children. Whereas this may be the case sometimes, it is not always the case. But most importantly, mind about learning outcome for the child before you put your focus on the school fees.

Francis Zziwa, educator and board member, Right Care Primary Schools

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