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.