A civil society report has recommended that poorly performing schools under the private-public partnership (PPP) arrangement should be phased out. In a wide-ranging study, the researchers say the schools are doing more harm than good. MOSES TALEMWA and OLIVE EYOTARU have been studying the report.
The Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (Iser) has advised government to phase out poor-quality low-fee PPP schools since they are not benefitting the public, as initially expected. In a 40-page report, Iser argues that, instead, the state should provide community schools with more support to meet the minimum operating standards.
In their report, Iser add that the quality of education, value for money and financing of these schools is wanting, leading to poor learning outcomes. In explaining the criteria for phasing out these schools, Iser says schools with a combination of unqualified teachers, poor infrastructure and poor learning outcomes ought to be closed down.
The report, completed last August, was finally launched at a conference by Iser at Hotel Africana, last Thursday. Iser also encouraged the sector to build partnerships between PPP, community and not-for-profit schools, as a measure of increasing geographical access to learners in both urban and rural areas.
This follows a finding in the report that showed that PPPs in the rural areas were in a poor situation.
QUALITY OF EDUCATION
The report was compiled from a research study conducted in 28 schools in Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Mbale, Kween, Kapchorwa, Lira, Kole and Alebtong districts between March and June 2016.
The study notes that while the PPPs were intended to ensure improvements in the quality of education especially in areas that did not have public secondary schools, this did not happen.
Researchers found that most of the PPP schools sampled were of poor quality and lacked basic infrastructure, as well as instructional inputs like science laboratories and libraries.
One such school, Kawowo SS in Kapchorwa district, did not have a Uganda National Examination Board centre in 2005, sending intending candidates to distant facilities like Kaserem SS, Nabong SS and Mbale Progressive School.
In 2007, government introduced the Universal Secondary Education (USE) to increase access to secondary education for families that were economically vulnerable.
In trying to increase the number of students enrolling in the secondary schools, government also introduced PPPs, to support the numbers graduating from Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme, launched in 1997, that would not be absorbed by USE institutions.
Under the framework, government would pay a per-student capitation grant of Shs 47,000 per term to private schools to enroll students who qualified at no extra cost. Beneficiary schools included for-profit schools, not-for-profit schools and community schools.
Out of the 1,820 schools under the USE scheme, 852 are privately owned and known as PPP schools. The report also points out the absence of qualified teachers in PPP schools, which has prompted them to recruit Senior 6 leavers and diploma holders to teach the students.
“Paying qualified teachers is very expensive; so, in most cases if they know student X did very well in Mathematics or Biology in S6, they would bring them for that period before they join university so they teach, yet the ministry has parameters on who must teach,” reported Safina Nakulima, a senior programmes manager at Iser.
The research study pointed out seven of the PPP schools, St Mary’s Kaptany, Kawowo SS, Toswo SS, Binyiny SS, Oxford High School, Maluku SS and Nkoma High School among those with inadequate physical facilities.
Four out of the seven schools lack a computer laboratory; none has a sports field; most have few permanent classroom blocks; and few have latrines and libraries.
The field visits by Iser also indicated that there is no reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities, with buildings not physically accessible to such students.
MISUSE OF FUNDS
Even though the education ministry issued a directive to PPP schools not to charge students any extra fees, this has been defied by the private owners. The research states that school owners are using the institutions as a money-minting scheme.
“In one of the schools we went to, we were informed by the head teacher that once the capitation grant is deposited on the account, the owner of the school, who is a businessman, goes and gets all the money and does his businesses. It makes it very hard for the school to be run efficiently,” Nakulima said.
The rationale by government to provide the Shs 47,000 capitation grant was to ensure that students from poor backgrounds are enrolled. However, many of the private school owners have resorted to charging extra fees in form of non-tuition and other requirements to make up for the low tuition per capita provided by government. Some of the charges include development fees, lunch, uniforms and school materials.
“While PPP schools are seen to be increasing access to secondary education in the country, there is likely to be little or no benefit for children from the poorest families who cannot afford the additional costs levied upon them, hence forced to drop out of school,” the report reads.
To generate more resources, PPP schools such as St Peter’s Mixed SS, Central View High School, Fairland High School in Mukono district and Fr Aloysious SS in Kole district have created compulsory boarding facilities. This, Nakulima said, is contrary to the MOU signed.
“With boarding facilities, there comes many requirements; so, when summed together, many parents and children from poor families cannot afford and drop-out rates are very high.”
Proponents of quality education believe that the state has abrogated its cardinal duty to regulate the sector, leaving it to private self-seekers, whose goal is to make profit.
Prof John Jean Barya, a professor of law at Makerere University, contends that if education is a social-economic right, the economy must promote and protect this right. He says the education policy on PPPs has benefitted a few individuals.
“The problem in education, just like in the health sector, is that because government is overwhelmed, it simply allows private people to operate without regulation...for a public good like education, the primary responsibility lies with the state,” Prof Barya opines.
Iser also recommends that government should regulate fees charged at PPP schools while punishing non-compliance strictly. But Prof Barya disagrees, saying with the current policy on private education, regulation of fees is unworkable.
“Unless you change the policy on private education, which is a business, you cannot regulate fees. As a private individual whom you have allowed to make profit by setting up a school, you cannot come back and say regulate the fees...government has abdicated its responsibility in this area,” he contends.
He argues that private schools are bound to be expensive by their very nature, since their major objective is to earn a profit, while education is only a means to an end.
“To expect PPPs to be affordable is unrealistic … PPPs are bound to be expensive by nature,” he adds.
Prof Barya also adds that the state has also not been keen to improve learning outcomes in the PPPs.
“To expect good grades in a school with poor infrastructure and unqualified teachers is also very unrealistic,” he said. He believes that unless the schools are helped out of their situation, they have no positive future.
The ministry’s commissioner for Private Schools, Ismail Mulindwa, acknowledged the loopholes in the PPP policy with private schools. However, Mulindwa says government’s goal to enroll more students in school has been achieved, despite the challenges in implementation.
In order to strengthen the policy, Mulindwa says, the policy is currently being scrutinised.
“What we need to do is see how we put it right, not to say do away with PPP. As we talk now, we are reviewing it and we want to see how we have moved and where we have gone wrong that we must go back and correct,” Mulindwa said.
He admitted that the education sector has been polarised by private individuals, which has given leeway to anyone to join the education business, something government is also looking into.
“It is interesting that you find people who open schools when they cannot even read the word school. You wonder; really, are we serious?” he queried.
However, he offered some assurance, saying he would pass the report on to officials in the education ministry and call for more dialogue on the matter, with a view to improving the situation.