On March 16, 2017, parliament asked its Education and Sports committee to examine the sector's closure of illegal schools.
YUDAYA NANGONZI reports that the committee has now agreed with the sector that schools should close until they comply with minimum requirements.
Early this year, the education ministry sanctioned a crackdown on at least 1,308 schools that its directorate of Education Standards (DES) found with no qualified teachers, classrooms, licenses and pit latrines, among other things.
Members of parliament were concerned that most schools closed were privately owned. So, they sought to ascertain the basis for the closures.
While the committee did not cover the whole country due to logistical challenges, they found that several proprietors were well aware of their inadequacies.
“During the field visits, none of the proprietors complained of having been unfairly closed after they failed to comply with the minimum standards even after the ministry notices,” reads the 44-page report compiled by the committee.
The report adds that some schools failed to comply with ministry decisions.
“The others defiantly, with the help of parents and politicians, refused to comply and have since continued to operate even after having been served with closure notices,” the report notes.
In a recent interview with The Observer, the director of DES, Dr Kedrace Turyagyenda, confirmed that all illegal schools did not close and the department was considering fresh summons to the proprietors.
“We did our part in identifying these [illegal] institutions but the practical work of closing them was given to the local governments,” Dr Turyagyenda said then. “Some local governments closed the schools and were giving us feedback but others dilly-dallied a bit by promising that they would implement the directive.”
Turyagyenda said in the third term, she will request the permanent secretary to write another circular indicating that, “if there is any other school that has not closed or is not licensed, it should not open next year ”.
According to the report signed by at least 16 committee members, verification field visits were made to 32 schools in 16 districts. In selecting the districts, the committee obtained an official list of closed schools and those with the highest number of closed schools were given first priority.
Committee members divided themselves into two groups with one heading to eastern Uganda and another covered central, mid-western and western parts of the country.
In the meeting at the Jinja district education office, committee members were informed that while over 300 illegal schools were ordered closed, early childhood development centres (ECDs) were not closed as officials were still guiding proprietors on standards.
“It was noted that many of them [ECDs also known as kindergartens] used primary seven dropouts to teach, and that children were being taught primary two content, because they did not have an approved uniform national curriculum,” reads the report findings.
While in the field, committee members also found that in many instances, proprietors were neither educationists nor had the required resources to manage the school standards.
The report by the committee has almost similar findings released earlier by the DES. For instance, MPs also discovered that the infrastructure for the illegal schools was greatly wanting.
In Butambala, a school was found operating in a mosque with all pupils from P1 to P7, studying in a single room. At Namaleli nursery and primary school in Jinja, located 50 metres away from a government school, they operated inside Namaleli Deliverance Church for classes P1 to P3.
The rest of the classes were housed in another make-shift mud-and-wattle structure.
“Upon sighting the committee’s vehicles arriving at the school, teachers [at Namaleli] demobilized children to a nearby sugarcane plantation, who could only be seen returning as the committee left the school,” reads the report.
At Amut-Aber PS in Kaberamaido, pupils from P1 to P6 were taught in an un-partitioned grass-thatched hut. Here, there was no latrine and teachers taught only English and Mathematics, claiming that they were followers of Jesus Christ who himself ‘never went to school’.
The report indicates that one of the teachers was a senior one dropput while the head teacher was a senior three dropout.
According to the education ministry guidelines, “a head teacher of a primary school must be qualified and not below grade V teaching with a certificate in primary education and must be registered with the ministry.”
A review of teachers’ files from selected schools further revealed that instructors were untrained, but advanced assessment showed their academic documents belonged to other teachers in government schools.
The committee cites a one Dinah Nabiryo, a teacher at Emirates PS in Jinja, who could hardly explain a thing about a lesson plan and scheme work.
“When asked about where she trained from; after a few minutes of silence, she said St Matia Mulumba. On consultations with the DEO, it was revealed that there was no such PTC in Jinja or elsewhere,” says the report.
Given the appalling state of the schools, the committee concluded that the ministry’s decision to close schools was justified.
It, however, called for action to be taken to ensure that the affected learners find places in other schools.
“The ministry has to also ensure that the existing gaps in government schools are addressed progressively because failure to do so, it will drive the emergence of undesirable private schools,” says the committee. It also requested parliament to carry out a similar comprehensive assessment of public schools.
The committee urged government to continue with its policy of constructing a primary school in every parish and a secondary school in every sub-county to enable learners walk shorter distances to schools.
This is in addition to taking over community-initiated schools, to be developed as alternatives to the substandard private schools that are being closed.