On school affordability, high drop-out rate

Author: Mr Karoli Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.

What you need to know:

As the economy reels from post-Covid financial stress, the youth are out in the open without a shield

Schools recently reopened for the third and final term of 2022. But schools did not quite reopen. In the city, the snarling traffic jams associated with school reopening are still off the mark.

Traffic jam is now majorly associated with crumbling sections of the trunk and city roads under the weight of blocked underground drainage. The main Kampala-Entebbe highway is registering pavement failures in the wetlands illegally claimed by construction in Zzana, Bunamwaya-Lufuka, a big underground spring at the Entebbe road, interchange at the point the huge flyover touches down north of clocktower. The owner of Shell Gas Station is hosting taxis, boda bodas, and foot traffic running away from an active point of the Nakivubo swamp.

Several buildings are quietly feeling the seismic movements of the Nakivubo swamp, Lotus Towers where the Judicial Service Commission recently evacuated is not alone in this mix.

Many parents after the surge in school fees in 2021 are struggling to meet rising school charges. Schools have become a secondary address for confusing fiscal and non-fiscal measures which are passed on to parents. Members of Parliament on the Education Committee have cited ballooning non-education measures on school bank slips.

Pupils are a capital fund, a tithing centre for religious bodies, and funds for all sorts of levies that have little to do with class instruction, class materials, or student welfare.

 The non-tuition component of school fees continues to rise, even as schools struggle to feed boarding scholars the net effect of which is forcing schools to close earlier than the published school year.

Uganda uniquely does not offer special tax relief for private school owners. They are subject to the full brunt of the tax regime even though the government’s capacity to provide full enrollment does not exist.

 Recent fiscal measures have also designated schools as collection centres for withholding tax for supplies to schools. This is a convenient way of entering them into the tax base even though it is creating a parallel problem.

Most businesses in Uganda operate two sets of books, the VAT register, and non VAT register. This extends to most formal businesses. So-called customers asking for Electronic Fiscal Receipt documents are duly slapped with VAT while a lot of negotiation and haggling still exists for most purchases.  Schools are high on the list of businesses ravaged by Corvid and many banks are growing ulcers as the moratorium on debt repayments lapsed. During Covid, private school teachers went hungry and many quit the workforce never to return after schools collapsed payrolls for nearly two years.

Dropping school enrollment is being felt elsewhere. During Covid, many youth of ages 13-19 transited from the school system to the workforce. As the economy reels from post-Covid financial stress, the youth are out in the open without a shield. Every corner of the country is reporting a rise in crime, and vandalism which in turn creates an environment of insecurity.

The Uganda Police Force, aware of this problem has gone slow on enforcement, surveillance, detection, and prevention of crime. In any criminal reference, there are two transactions. The complainant who has to facilitate the police to visit the crime scene, arrest suspects, and impound exhibits on the ante end of the transaction.

Then there is the suspect who pays police to receive bond, a short code for early release without charges, facilitates the police to negotiate with the victim to “kill the file”.   Uganda Police does not report for public consumption how many crime references “die” a natural death before being referred to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

Many functions of the police have therefore been outsourced to civil society to fight truancy in schools. One wonders whether the legal framework for example arrests the multiplying hordes of school children, mothers with babies who are children patrolling city streets, or the mushrooming cottage industry of petty thieves who can focus their attention on a neighbourhood, a business establishment leaving owners, patrons reeling in distress. This is all bad news for the education sector and requires urgent attention.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]

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