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Traditional schools threaten to go private over new ‘no fees’ policy

Pupils of Holy Rosary Primary school register on arrival on the first day of school on Monday. PHOTO URN

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The major foundation bodies of government-aided schools have warned they will go private should the government fail to reverse what they consider a drastic decision regarding the no fees policy. This comes days after cabinet resolved to eliminate all fees for learners in public and government-aided primary and secondary schools.

This decision was aimed at addressing the issue of exhorbitant fees charged by the schools despite the substantial government investment. The government’s decision to eliminate fees from public and government-aided schools is consistent with the ruling party’s aspiration of providing free education to Ugandan children.

To achieve this goal, the government has warned foundation bodies that they must accept this policy and implement it in their schools, or risk losing government funding. The decision has not gone down well with the foundation bodies. Sheikh Juma Bakhit Cucu, the Education Secretary at Uganda Muslim Supreme Council-UMSC, says that while they support the idea of reducing school fees, the government’s approach to the matter is insufficient.

“We have all been here, and we know why school charge these fees. Government should address those underlying factors before making any pronouncements. Otherwise the schools will fail,” he said. Sheikh Bahiti also noted that many Muslim schools in Uganda offer a dual curriculum consisting of secular and Islamic education.

He said that while the government provides funding for secular education, it does not provide any support for Islamic education. “Therefore, if the government were to prohibit fees for Islamic education, it would defeat the purpose of establishing such Muslim schools in the first place,” he said.  He explained that if government insists on this move before addressing their concerns, they will be left with no option other than running their schools privately.

Sheikh Cucu was also concerned that the decision was made at the cabinet level without consulting the foundation bodies as stakeholders. He pointed out that the Minister had later acknowledged that the government would be consulting with the foundation bodies soon after making the pronouncement.

Church of Uganda warns

The Provincial Secretary of Church of Uganda, Rev Canon William Ongeng also expressed his concerns, saying that unless the government increases funding to schools to match the market demands, the decision to eliminate fees will only lead to a further decline in the quality of education provided by UPE and USE schools.

Rev Canon Ongeng stated that the inadequate funding towards the education sector is evident in the meager salaries given to teachers, lack of staff quarters, and insufficient classrooms in many schools across the country.

Ongeng further argued that the new pronouncement is likely to encourage laziness among parents, who may become less involved in their children’s learning and the overall development of the education sector. While communicating the cabinet decision, Dr Joyce Kaducu, the State Minister in charge of Primary Education, noted that the government is committed to injecting more funds into the education sector.

This includes plans to recruit more teachers, build more schools and classrooms, and provide instructional materials to schools among other activities. The minister also noted that parents would still hold some responsibility, including buying books and related materials for their children and packing for them lunch boxes.However, she emphasized that the government had banned cash contributions for lunch, as such payments have been a barrier to many learners from attending school. The Catholic Church was also caught off guard by the announcement, and they have raised concerns.

BISHOP: Government should do its bit

Bishop Sanctus Lino Wanok, the outgoing Chairperson of the Education Commission of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, stated that while the concept of free education is welcome, it can only be effective if the government can fulfill all of the schools’ needs. “The problem comes when this decision is enforced and parents stop making the little contributions to school and government funding remains constant, then what will we achieve?” the bishop asked

Bishop Wanok, who also serves as the ordinary of Lira Diocese, emphasized the need to reassess the pronouncement and engage in constructive dialogues. He suggested that different models should be developed for various areas and settings to ensure that the government can effectively implement the policy while being truthful and transparent in synchronizing the system.

Boniface Ssentongo, the Chairperson of the Education Inspectorate Authority at Kasana Luwero Diocese also opined that the move by government is likely to cripple the education sector.  He argued that church founded schools ask for money from parents to supplement the little grants received from the government.

Ssentongo explained that the foundation bodies use the collections to construct classroom blocks, pay private teachers and other development projects, which are aimed at uplifting education standards. He added that forcing the foundation to abandon such projects will affect development of schools as well lead to poor performance.

In previous reports by URN, some parents expressed support for the government’s proposal for free education, but also highlighted some areas that require further consideration. For example, some suggested that the government should allow schools to collect a predetermined fee to provide lunch for students instead of requiring them to bring packed meals.

During the interviews, URN also learned that the foundation bodies have larger fears concerning their schools beyond the issue of school fees. These fears stem from two other decisions made by the government that affect the foundation bodies’ say in their schools, both of which were taken without consulting them.

Financial issues raised

The first issue revolves around the management of school funds. The government has directed that foundation body-appointed school board members cannot be signatories on school accounts, which has raised concerns about financial accountability and transparency.

The second issue concerns the ownership of school land, with the government requiring foundation bodies to surrender certificates of title for the school land. This has caused anxiety among the foundation bodies, who fear that they may lose control of the land on, which their schools are built.

Rev Canon Ongeng stated that a team has already been constituted within the Inter-Religious Council to engage with the government on how best to handle these matters. He also expressed his belief that this team will provide their views on the issue of school fees.

In Uganda, the biggest percent of schools are owned by foundation bodies including religious bodies such as the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the Muslim community, as well as  communities and non-government organizations.

Brenda Nabukenya the Shadow Education Minister says before government implements its move, they need to a genuine conversation with foundation bodies. Her biggest fear is that if foundation bodies pull out their schools the country might be thrown in crisis given the fact that government will remain with few school to implement UPE and USE programmes which are critical.

The current dispute between the foundation bodies and the government is not a new issue. Similar conflicts were evident as far back as the 1940s and continued for the first three years after Uganda gained independence.

In his book, “History and Development of Education in Uganda,” Professor JC Ssekamwa explained that while the government provided financial support to these schools, the foundation bodies had significant influence over which students were admitted and the ideology that they followed, based on the groups that controlled the various schools.

“This meant that some children could be denied opportunity of education if there were no places in schools run by other groups. Yet such schools were being financed by the government,”he highlighted. To address this issue, the government introduced the 1963 Education Act , which placed complete control of all financially aided schools under the government’s jurisdiction.





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