No grain of hope as schools ponder hike

Pupils of  Rwotobilo Primary School in Gulu District  queue for lunch. Heads of schools are weighing options available to them in order to be able to provide decent meals amid the soaring cost of utilities and food. Photo / File

What you need to know:

  • Mr Hasadu Kirabira, the chairperson of the National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA), says the head teachers have ultimately been faced with two grim choices: Should they increase the school fees? Or reduce food portions and the number of meals they serve students?

As the end of the second term inches to a close, heads of schools are weighing options available to them in order to be able to provide decent meals amid the soaring cost of utilities and food.

Mr Hasadu Kirabira, the chairperson of the National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA), says the head teachers have ultimately been faced with two grim choices: Should they increase the school fees? Or reduce food portions and the number of meals they serve students?

“We prefer to sit down with parents to see how we can manage the situation. Let us see how we can increase the fees while at the same time bearing in mind the state of the economy,” he told Saturday Monitor, adding, “You see, there is no way you are going to manage the learners in the schools unless we increase fees.”

The considerations arise amid an increase in the overall consumer price index, which rose to 120.88 percent—up from 119.73 percent in May—as inflation rose from 6.3 percent in May to 6.8 percent in June.

The end result of all of this is an increase in the cost of food items such as beans and maize flour that are a staple in the feeding programmes of most schools.

A kilogramme of maize flour has since shot up from between Shs1,800 and Shs2,200 when the second term began, to between Shs3,500 and Shs4,000. The price of beans also shot up from Shs2,500 to Shs3,000; that of a kilogramme of sugar from Shs2,500 to Shs4,000; that of cooking oil from Shs6,000 to Shs9500 per litre.

The cost of sundries such as soap and detergents that are necessary in the maintenance of hygiene has also shot up, with the cost of a bar of soap rising to Shs7,000 up from between Shs3,500 and Shs4,000.

Increased utility bills

Earlier this month, National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) announced a six percent increment in water tariffs. The tariff for government institutions was raised from Shs3,558 a unit and Shs71 per 20 litres to Shs3,771 per unit and Shs75 per 20 litres. The tariff for commercial institutions, which consume less than 1,500 litres per month, now stands at Shs4,473—up from Shs4,220. Elsewhere, those that consume more than 1,500 litres of water per month will pay Shs3, 575—up from Shs3,373. Schools fall in those general categories.

Mr Samuel Apedel, the senior manager of corporate affairs at NWSC, attributed the revised tariff structure to—among others—imported inflation.

“The price rise is being driven by high fuel prices, depreciation of the shilling against the dollar, which is affecting importation of chemicals and other equipment, high transportation costs and high costs of diesel we use to run our booster stations,” Mr Apedel said.

Most schools consume large amounts of water. Schools use water for cooking, bathing, and maintenance of toilets.

The need for water increases especially amid the need to frequent hand washing, which is one of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for prevention of the transmission of Covid-19.

Consequently, this has increased utility bills for schools. These now find themselves in the unfortunate position where the bills have to be passed on to the parents.

“Realistically, to meet the demands of the schools, especially food, the schools needed to get a supplementary budget. A supplementary can only be made through additional income to be able to maintain the status quo in the schools,” Mr Martin Okiria Obore, who heads the Association of Secondary School Head Teachers of Uganda, told Saturday Monitor.

Whereas an increment of fees looks like the only option, Mr Okiria believes it will invariably precipitate a number of school fees defaulters.

“I have been moving around schools. You will find that parents of children in schools that have been charging above Shs1 million are crying. Even those with children in schools that charge as low as between 70,000 and 200,000 are crying,” he noted, adding, “The teachers say the default rate is increasing. If we increase, will the parents be able to pay? That is where my quagmire is coming from.”

On their own

The Ministry of Education and Sports, however, claims to be powerless, leaving market forces to decide the fate of the affected.

“I am not aware of any ministry position. I am not aware of any Ministry of Education or government response for the education sector. I am not aware of any discussions or proposals being made to have the cost of utilities reduced,” Dr Dennis Mugimba, the ministry’s spokesperson, told Saturday Monitor.

In order to avoid raising school fees, schools would have to consider drastic measures such as either reducing the portions of food served to the learners or the number of meals provided. Mr Okiria says this portends trouble.

“I am foreseeing schools trying to scale down on diets and that will cause a problem of strikes. A school that has been having meat twice a week will want to have it once a week. Those that have been having meat once a week may want to have it once every two weeks. Will the students understand?” Mr Okiria wonders.

During the course of this term, there have been at least five violent strikes in five schools in the districts of Hoima, Masaka, Lyantonde, and Lwengo. The strikes occurred in Mandela Senior Secondary School in Hoima, Blessed Sacrament Kimaanya in Masaka, St John’s Comprehensive Secondary School, St Gonzaga Secondary School and Kaikolongo Seed School. Most of them were over poor feeding.

Mr Kirabira told Saturday Monitor that besides the fear of strikes, compromising feeding is certain to cause health complications for the students.

 “You cannot compromise the feeding. Definitely, if you do that, you will have a lot of strikes, you will have a lot of sicknesses and ill health in the schools,” Mr Kirabira said.

Low-calorie intake

Figures from the nutrition desk of the Ministry of Health indicate that recommended calorie consumption for active females between four and eight years ranges between 1,400-1,800; between 1,800-2,200 for those between nine and 13 years; 2,400 calories for those between the ages of 14 and 30; 2,200 calories for those between 31 and 50 years of age and; between 2,000 and 2,200 calories for those above 51 years of age.

Recommended calorie consumption for active males ranges between 1,600-2,000 for those between the ages of four and eight; 2,000-2,600 calories for those between nine and 13 years; between 2,800 and 3,200 calories for those of ages 14 to 30; 2,800 to 3,000 for those between 31 and 50 years of age and; 2,400-2,800 calories for those above 51 years of age.

Reduction in the intake of calories can lead to health complications arising out of nutrient deficiencies. A restricted diet is unlikely to provide one with sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, iron, folate or vitamin B12, lack of which might lead to anaemia and extreme fatigue.

Similarly, low uptake of foods rich in proteins may cause, among others, loss of hair, loss of muscles and brittle nails.

Low consumption of calcium leads to reduced bone strength, while reduction in consumption of magnesium may cause migraines, abnormal heart rhymes and muscle cramps.

Reduced consumption of biotin and thiamine may lead one into developing a scaly skin, while reduced consumption of foods that are rich in vitamins may cause damage to the eyes and also weaken one’s immune system.

Mr Kirabira has, therefore, urged the government to intervene by reducing electricity tariffs for the maize mills and facilitation of a process through which schools can directly purchase grains and cereals at a competitive price from the grain council. The government has so far been reluctant to give any form of subsidies.

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