What you need to know:
- The policy is expected to mitigate the school fees challenge among parents.
The government, through the Ministry of Education is considering regulating fees charged by pre-primary schools to make early childhood education affordable to all.
The director of Basic and Secondary Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Mr Ismael Mulindwa, said the Education ministry had already drafted a regulatory framework that would come up with a harmonised school fees rate in all schools, including pre-primary.
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He told Monitor at the sidelines of a press conference for Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE) in Ntinda last week that once the policy is ready, it would be presented to Cabinet for approval.
“The policy will regulate fees at all levels, including pre-primary level. We want more children to get access to quality and affordable education. Some of your children in pre-primary are paying fees which are higher than what some university students pay,” he said.
“Those who cannot afford fees charged by such schools go for cheaper options, which most times offer poor quality education.
Poor quality education leads to coaching which wastes the already limited resources and is detrimental to the foundation of a child’s education,” he added.
The decision was premised on the fact that school fees is a challenge for many parents yet most nursery schools are privately-owned and charge exorbitantly. Government believes that such a policy will create standard charges affordable to ordinary Ugandans.
Two years after schools were fully-opened following a Covid-19 induced lockdown, several private schools hiked school fees allegedly due to the high cost of living.
But the ministry warned that all schools intending to hike fees must first consult the Permanent Secretary.
Last month, the Minister of Education and Sports, Mr Janet Museveni, said her ministry had finalised drafting a statutory instrument that’s intended to regulate school fees.
“My ministry will soon be embarking on the process of consulting the various stakeholders about the statutory instrument that we have drafted to regulate school fees and other charges in our education institutions of learning,” she said.
Cost of education
On overage, pre-primary schools in urban areas charge between Shs300,000 and Shs1.5 million per term while those in rural areas range between Shs50,000 and Shs200,000. This excludes transport charges that may range between Shs100,000 and Shs450,000 per term depending on the distance.
Records from the Ministry of Education and Sports indicate that the percentage of Ugandan children attending pre-primary school is at 14 percent, the lowest compared to the other three East African countries such as Kenya 53.5 percent, Tanzania 35.5 percent and Rwanda 29.0 percent).
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The records further indicate that of the 3,614,827 children aged between three and six, who are eligible for Early Childhood Development ECD, only 563,913 (5.5 percent girls) were enrolled in the 6,798 pre-primary schools by 2016. In addition, the 2016 records indicate that of the 7,210 pre-primary schools, 6,633 (91.9 percent) were nursery schools half (3,450) of which were privately-owned and fee-based.
On the issue of government introducing free pre-primary education, Mr Mulindwa said this was still a preserve for the private sector.
“Government is still struggling with Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE). Universal pre-primary education is a big intervention that require funding. We cannot be ambitious and add early childhood education policy.
For now, government will play regulatory and supervisory roles. ECD is in the hands of private sector, which is healthy because it promotes public private partnership,” he said.
Mr Safina Mutumba, the principal education officer for pre-primary education in the Education ministry urged proprietors of pre-primary schools to recruit qualified teachers.
The Ministry of Education in 2012 proposed that all public primary schools must have a nursery section to improve numeracy and literacy skills after reports showed that majority of Primary Three pupils failed to grasp literacy and numeracy skills.
The executive director of Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE), Ms Stellah K. Tumwebaze, said they had established non-formal ECD centres in Gulu, Nwoya, Koboko, and Obongi to enhance smooth transition to primary schools by children whose parents cannot afford the cost of pre-primary education.
“Under this approach, parents are trained in delivering home-based learning through songs, storytelling and singing. Learning is delivered in local languages. They also use peer to peer approach where children in upper classes support the young ones at the weekend,” Ms Tumwebaze said.
She said they currently have 55 home learning centres in the four districts.
The head of the Department of Early Childhood and Pre-Primary Education in Kyambogo University, Assoc. Prof. Godfrey Ejuu, said non-formal ECD would help parents to promote social emotional development, which was missing in the kindergarten approach.
Prof Ejuu also emphasise the importance of maintaining education standards right from pre-primary level.
“As a professor and researcher, we normally deal with problems. And the problem here is children accessing education that lays a firm foundation for learners. This is an important stage because it lays foundation for a child’s education and if not well laid, a child is bound to face challenges and drop out of school,” he said.
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He revealed that less than 30 percent of children who are supposed to be in pre-primary are in school.
Teachers, parents speak out
Ms Susan Nansama, whose son is in Middle Class and pays 500,000 as fees in addition to Shs200,000 for transport, welcomes the idea of regulation.
Mr Hasadu Kirabira, the chairperson of the National Private Educational Institutions Association, said before government comes up with such policies, they should first consult the proprietors of schools.
“Ideally, any policy that is targeting to regulate or harmonise fees in private education institutions must involve the owners of schools themselves. Private education is expensive because of the costs involved such as the cost of putting up the infrastructure, feeding learners and paying experienced teachers and other activities,” he said.
“Even feeding is not for the sake of feeding. Some parents demand certain standards. We don’t see this policy working or putting the schools at the same level or have a yardstick upon which schools should base on to charge fees. It should depend on certain levels that are clearly identified. There must be some factors that should be based on to group or cluster the schools,” he added.