The high cost of educating children

Emilly C. Maractho (PhD)

What you need to know:

  • Good education is expensive to provide. The cost of educating for schools and even in higher education, if you are in a private setting, is way too high to charge minimal fees

January to March of each year is special for us in many ways. We emerge from the holidays and so many things remind us of how serious life can be, especially when you have children. This becomes one of the most stressful seasons for parents as the holidays are put behind us.

The pressure of trying to have a happy holiday season dissipates in the face of trying to send our children to school. The schools soon open up in February and everything changes. There are those whose children completed Primary Seven and have to join Senior one. Then the other group are joining Senior Five, all within the same period.

Too bad if you had two candidates, in Primary Seven and Senior Four. As the excitement for excellent performance wanes, it is replaced with the anxiety of which schools to go to and the fees that accompany them.

As quickly as possible, we forget the fate of the millions of Ugandan children who failed to make it to the next level. Our attention immediately turns to those who have excelled and giving them a chance in life by going to some of the best schools if we can afford them. We promote schools that have done well in a bid to increase their fortunes. These schools in turn, make the most of it.

In the past weeks, there has been so much talk about how much money some schools charge for fees at entry level. It is not just what they charge in fees, but also some of the requirements. I remember a school that did rounds on social media for asking children to bring chicken, among other requirements. There were jokes about this ask. It seemed strange for so many people, that a school should ask for a bird.

The thing is, we never found it strange, when schools started asking for products such as toilet paper, books, printing paper, with some of these in specific brands and quantities that our children would never have needed in a term. Schools then realised they could always stretch parents, in exchange for good performance perhaps. When public schools largely fail, private ones know where to get parents.

Some government schools too, began asking for school fees that increasingly, are not for the faint hearted. Many of us trying to secure the future of our children, do our best to comply with the price.

These efforts send our children to the best performing schools may eventually pay off for those who are able to join the university after the A-Level results are out, on government sponsorship. Majority, will still have to content with paying a lot more to have their children join the university.

The reality may be that they will spend years in pursuit of a degree, even an excellent one, and still spend years at home looking.

Good education is expensive to provide. The cost of educating for schools and even in higher education, if you are in a private setting, is way too high to charge minimal fees. As the cost of other things rise in the economy, so does the cost of providing a reasonable service for any sector.

In this country, we tend to turn our guns on private service providers when prices are high. We rarely look at the cost of providing such services and if there are ways that those who provide it are cushioned by the government.

I recently went to renew my driving permit. Like most people who have been there, I was impressed. It was efficient and quick. Everyone was helpful and fast. This excellent service that most of us are not used to, has been the subject of many discussions.

While there, I observed that many of the people working there looked happy. There were jokes among the team mates as they kept their eyes on their tasks, they were also laughing. But more to that, there were several people doing different things.

Achieving that level of efficiency is not just an issue of setting up the machinery. It involves much more and of course, to make it worthwhile, you have to motivate the people and pay them well in numbers that can afford them to perform the task. So, you cannot benchmark that without going all the way in terms of investing in what is required to get the job done.

So private schools, many of these invest in the right teachers, infrastructure and management of the schools. All these are costly, and have to be paid for. And yes, it is parents who pay the price. If we do not care about where government puts money and how much effort is put in public services and social services like education, then we shall pay millions. Moreso, we shall find it hard to make demands on private service providers.

 It should also matter to us that while private schools are there to give us great services, government is offering good and affordable education for those who cannot go private.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is a senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]