BY ALLAN KINANI
The Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) has called upon Parliament to look into the exorbitant school fees charged by government-aided schools. This plea was made during the meeting with the Parliamentary committee on education and sports. The meeting was chaired by Hon. Sheila Mwine and the ISER team led by their Executive Director Salima Namusobya.
The meeting was a follow up to a petition presented to the Speaker on the 15th of February 2017, where ISER urged Parliament to undertake an inquiry into the issue of the different kinds of fees charged by these schools and to make a recommendation to the Ministry of Education. Saphina Nakulima, the Program Manager (Right to Education) who led the presentation said that the exorbitant fees charged by schools have hindered access to education for many children especially those who are from poor families. She added that the introduction of UPE and USE programs was based on the research findings by the government and other agencies that fees was a barrier to access education children from poor families.
Saphina further added that it is the preserve of a few who are mainly children from the rich and wealthy families. According to ISER, children from a poor background who excel cannot get admitted in government-aided schools and cited that the National Household Survey indicates that poverty levels in the country have increased from 19.7% in 2012/13 to 21.4% in 2016/17. This implies more households are unable to access basic social services such as education. The same survey reports that 35% of the school dropout rates are as a result of high charges of fees from schools.
They further explained that the high fees defeat the spirit of the country’s Vision 20140 and the Sustainable Development Goals of Leaving No One Behind hence undermining the country’s national development agenda but also amounts to discrimination contrary to Article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Government aided schools like Nabisunsa Girls’ School, Kings College Budo, and Ntare School pay way above what Private Schools pay even with the financial aid these government schools receive.
ISER asserted that Section 8 of the Education Act 2008 compels the government to grant these schools among many, trained teachers, paying for their salaries and their allowances. Government is thus mandated to shoulder the biggest financial burden in the running and operation of government aided by providing both recurrent and development funding. ISER thus argued that there is no basis for these schools to charge exorbitant fees from learners because the burden is lessened by the government.
Saphina concluded the ISER presentation by reminding the committee on the directive that was issued by the Ministry of Education to halt the increase of school fees and maintain the status quo and should not undertake the review of fees structure. ISER urged the committee that much of the petition calls into the high tuition and non-tuition fees charged by these schools, they also prayed that the committee directs the Ministry of Education to give concrete justifications for the continued investment of colossal public resources to these schools.
Reactions from the Committee
Hon. Ajilo Maria Goretti noted that the petition by ISER should have encompassed all the schools regardless of whether they are government schools or not. She further claimed that these schools hike fees to accommodate a given development project but never really revert to the old fee when the project is accomplished. Hon. Adoa Hellen was disgruntled by the non-tuition requirements like bags of cement among many others that school ask for and argued that this is unfair to parents who have already paid large sums of fees. Hon. Etuuka Isaac Joakino also felt like parents are being exploited because of their desperate need to provide the best education to their children. Hon. Baba Diri however blamed parents who willingly pay these fees yet the government has set out to provide relatively cheap education as a social service. Hon. Geoffrey Macho MP for Busia Municipality was infuriated by the fact that these schools continue to charge exorbitant fees alongside a long list of expensive requirement.
The committee has set out to investigate deeper into this issue and make a subsequent report that will be presented to Parliament.