By Michael Aboneka
For long, schools have been left to determine their own set of rules including school fees and other sets of rubrics which have been normalised even though they are outrightly illogical and unacceptable. Many have argued that schools like any other business are in a free-market economy and therefore are entitled to charge exorbitant fees and demand for requirements that are unreasonable. It is now over 2 years since schools have been officially closed and much attention and time has been drawn to discussing how they recover their loans and survival and little about reforming our education sector, especially the curriculum. We should have spent the 2 years discussing the ideal education for our economy, regulation of the education sector including fees charged. It is also the Government’s duty to provide quality and affordable education services for its citizens in the acceleration to the attainment of SDG 4 on quality education.
The Schools have now officially opened but with difficulty for some as their buildings have been eaten away and some of the teachers cannot return to peanuts. It is sad that for 2 years, some schools lack the basics to house the pupils and one wonders what planning was taking place for school reopening in the two years. Be that as it may, the school fees and requirements pain is back; after most of the parents losing jobs and business due to the pandemic, the majority of schools have turned them into a milking cow. Most schools have increased tuition fees and added a list of other fees such as toilet fees, chapel fees, School bus maintenance, Generator fees, functional fees, security fees, abnormal bank charges, among others on top of school fees. One wonders what exactly the school fees is for if a parent must also pay for such irregular and illogical fees.
Further, the hurt continues with the list of abnormal school requirements which range from paint, toilet papers, rakes, cement, brooms, barbed wires, reams of paper which each student must bring, and one wonders whether pupils and students are going to operate shops or actually study. On top of this, each student comes with their own set of personal effects, and one wonders whether the rest are taken. Why would a school demand each student to bring 5 reams of paper? What then is the school fees for? Imagine a school with 500 students, it will collect 2,500 reams and not all this will be used for printing out their exam question papers. It is unfair for schools to look at education as business and not as service to the nation. As if this is not enough, different schools set different UNEB registration fees for Candidates, and I have seen some who have set it at UGX 500,000 for PLE Pupils; this is theft and is intolerable.
As schools open up this week, they need to reflect on these issues since with the effects of COVID-19 it is no longer business as usual as parents are already struggling with how to feed their children before they come to school fees and all. Further, the parents too have a duty to protect themselves against extortion. Do we still have PTAs? What do they discuss? What do the parents’ school whatsapp groups discuss; do they ever raise these issues, or they simply shy away? Parents must be in the business of raising these injustices; unfortunately, many have decided to let it go in the name of pomp and end up struggling to pay the tuition. We need to care about education as a community and not as a household, the result of an uneducated community affects everyone!
It is time for the Government to intervene and FastTrack a policy and a standard/scale for school fees and also the unreasonable school requirements because school is now unaffordable and yet we are singing about achieving SDG4 on inclusive, quality and equitable education for all. The state has the responsibility to take control and sometimes take over certain services such as education and health! We need urgent government intervention on these matters beyond just publishing warnings!
It is also time we started conversation on Government’s reclaiming of public services such as education and health . Let us reform our education sector now!.
Michael Aboneka is a lawyer and Partner: Thomas & Michael Advocates, Director Envirogreen Trust Ltd and Member: World Youth Alliance. He is also Chairman Working Group (Regional Integration for Economic Development)-Young African Activists Network (YAAN).