Early last year, several parents protested rising tuition fees by schools.
The matter caught the attention of education minister Janet Museveni who directed her sector to do something about it urgently. Almost a year on, MOSES TALEMWA looks back into what has been done.
As she released the O-level exam results in Kampala in February this year, education minister Janet Museveni revealed that she had been made aware of concerns by parents over schools, some of them government-aided, raising tuition fees far above what they could afford.
“The issue of schools raising tuition fees abruptly is of major concern to me as this increases the burden on parents, who are already struggling with other challenges,” she said at the time. Museveni then asked the permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, to address the issue.
Kakooza pledged to re-issue a circular, first directed at the private school operators by his predecessor in October 2016.
That circular had not prevented private school operators from raising their tuition fees again. As all this was happening, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (Iser) petitioned the speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, over the same matter.
In their two-page statement, Iser expressed concern that government-aided schools were charging very high fees, comparable to and in some cases more expensive than purely private schools that are for profit, without sufficient justification.
“The government pays wages of teachers in government aided schools. Please note that wages are the biggest cost for any institution like a school. The average pay is between Shs 470,000 to Shs 650,000 per teacher,” they stated.
“On top of the teachers’ wages, the schools in question receive government support for infrastructure development. Some of this money is in the form of loans from development agencies which money is repaid by taxpayers.”
The petitioners also expressed dissatisfaction with the justification made by the schools on the increased fees.
“Non-tuition charges like development fees and entrance fees among others need to be justified. As a result of these high fees, government–aided schools are now a preserve of a few. Children from humble backgrounds who excel can’t get admitted because of fees.”
Iser then questioned the justification for government using taxpayers' money to support these schools.
“Should we think of redirecting resources to community schools or government seed schools? This trend if left unabated constitutes a threat to the right to education in Uganda.”
Handing over the petition, Iser’s executive director, Salima Namusobya, entreated the speaker, to make an inquiry into the issue and make recommendations to the ministry.
With pressure mounting over the matter, the ministry set up a committee to look into the school fees. This committee, drawn from selected sector experts and some school operators, then reported to the permanent secretary in October.
With that, Kakooza then developed a tough two-page circular, released last week. In it, Kakooza demanded that all head teachers, school management committees of primary schools and boards of governors of secondary schools should strictly abide by this circular.
“No school, private or government, shall increase school fees in the year 2018 for whatever reason without written authorization from the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Sports and/or Chief Administrative Officer/Town clerk as the case may be. Other cash and non-cash requirements outside the approved school fees are strictly prohibited. All non-cash items must be catered for in the school budget,” Kakooza demanded.
He added: “All school budgets must be discussed and endorsed by the full Board/School Management Committees and submitted to the respective Chief Administrative Officers/Town Clerks. For Secondary Schools, the Chief Administrative Officers shall submit the endorsed school budgets to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Sports by 31st December of each year for final approval”.
In the circular, schools implementing the Universal Primary Education (UPE), Universal Secondary Education and Universal Post O-level education and Training are to strictly adhere to the policy implementation guidelines.
“Where parents decide and agree to contribute towards an emergency in the school and permission is sought and granted by the Permanent Secretary, no learner shall be excluded from school on account of parent’s failure to pay the agreed amount in accordance with Section 9(3) of the Education Act 2008. As soon as the emergency is solved, the school shall stop charging the emergency fund.”
Noting the concern raised by Iser, regarding the cost of maintaining teachers, Kakooza also directed head teachers against employing additional instructors before those on the payroll have been assigned the minimum required teaching load.
“All teachers without a minimum teaching load should be promptly reported to the Ministry of Education and Sports in case of Secondary schools or respective Local Governments in case of primary schools for appropriate redeployment. All schools must respect staff establishment ceilings for both teaching and non-teaching staff as provided by Ministry of Public Service.”
“Where a School Board/School Management Committee has to employ additional teachers to those on payrolls, permission shall be sought from the Permanent Secretary in case of a Secondary School and Chief Administrative Officer/Town Clerk in case of Primary Schools, to use part of the Capitation grant towards the payment of the additional teachers.”
Private schools were also directed to adhere to approved staff employment guidelines. “They should formally recruit, contract and effectively manage and develop staff on reasonable employment terms,” Kakooza added.
All government and government-aided schools are also discouraged from taking commercial loans in 2018.
“Any school applying for a loan must seek authorisation from the Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Sports as provided for in the Public Finance Management Act 2015.”
The directives also extended to boarding status, after some private school heads insisted that there were additional costs embedded therein.
“Day schools must desist from changing their status to boarding until such a time when the change in status is approved by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Sports. Day schools desirous to operate Boarding Sections/Hostels should seek authorization from the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Sports. All un authorized hostels/ dormitories MUST not open starting 2018.”
The permanent secretary concluded with a warning to all those intending to flout the guidelines. “Stern disciplinary action shall be taken against any head of school operating contrary to the above guidelines. Any private school that fails to observe these guidelines shall have its license/registration certificate withdrawn.”
SKEPTICISM AND PROTESTS
Whereas the circular has been met by a mix of skepticism and relief from parents, the tension may be developing between the ministry and the private school owners, who view themselves as the ultimate target of the directives.
Parents we talked to last week felt that the ministry is powerless to control the schools. “The ministry issued a circular last year, and again this year, and the schools just went ahead and increased tuition, I doubt that this will be any different,” Irene Nankya, a parent in a high-end Kampala Primary school said.
“I’m waiting to see whether they will act.”
Colin Kushaba, another parent, said he was confident that the circular was ineffective.
“Just wait and see … the schools are readying themselves with explanations on how the cost of living has gone up … this won’t stop [the schools] at all."
However, there is evidence that the private school operators are not ignoring the circular at all. The private school operators have been in meetings with their federation to map out a strategy.
United as the Federation of non-state education institutions (Fenei), the private school operators are concerned about the circular. Two weeks ago, before it was released, they protested that the ministry was preparing to issue directives without consulting them.
Last week, Fenei’s national secretary, Patrick Kaboyo, was blunt about the matter.
“We do not agree with the circular, it is supposed to communicate procedures that have been agreed upon in a dialogue [with the ministry],” Kaboyo said.
“The most ideal situation would have been for the ministry to consult with us, then we all agree on the way forward. For now, [the circular’s contents] are likely to be misunderstood.”
However, Kaboyo refused to be pushed into whether or not the private school operators would defy the circular as some parents feared.
“In principal, we don’t agree with a regulation framework that we can't understand – how it was arrived at is the main issue. We shall comply if we understand the contents,” he said.
However, he indicated that Fenei planned to write to Kakooza to discuss their concerns over the circular. Meanwhile last week, The Observer met several printers around Nasser Road in Kampala, preparing bank slips, for issuance to parents, ahead of the conclusion of third term. Most bank slips indicated that several schools would increase tuition fees next term.
MINISTRY REMAINS FIRM
At the end of the education ministry’s sectoral review a fortnight ago, the permanent secretary indicated that he was determined to take action on the matter.
“I will issue the circular and we shall take it from there,” he told reporters, before declining to say anything more.
Since releasing the circular, Kakooza has been locked in meetings, only taking a break to travel to Kapchorwa to survey some schools that are being built with support under the World Bank-backed Global Partnership on Education.
During the trip, he made no mention of the circular. However, officials at the ministry have indicated that Kakooza has the support of education minister Janet Museveni, both of whom are anxious to show they mean business this time round.
Parents, officials at Iser and other NGOs in the education fraternity are waiting to see who will blink first.