By Beatrice Akite
Reviewing with the common adage: ‘If education is expensive, try ignorance,’ education is a future investment that many parents concur with that it needs great sacrifice. However, the wakeup call for schools not to hike fees is a move to awaken the overarching exorbitant dues that some schools set to run their institutions. The directive by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of education and sports to all private and public schools in Uganda not to increase fees without permission continues to receive mixed reactions. The directive, which was made clear by the First lady, Janet Museveni, the Education Minister after releasing the 2016 results of the Uganda National Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE), was not a surprise to the heads of schools. However, with a number of explanations ranging from the difference in settings, activities and resources, the educationists are not moved by the directive to hike fees.
Nonetheless, following instructions in a circular to all Head-teachers and Board of Governors by the Education Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza, dated 15th February, 2017, all secondary schools are to submit to the Education Ministry not later than 10th March, 2017, their fees structure for the last three years. The directive demands public schools to submit their details to the commissioner in charge of Government Secondary schools, while private schools are expected to submit to the Commissioner for private schools and institutions.
Observing that there has been a rising outcry regarding the increasingly unrealistic school fees, Mrs. Museveni observed that in cases where parents decide and agree to contribute to an emergency at school and permission is sought and granted by the permanent secretary, still no child should be barred from studying on grounds of defaulting on the payment of dues.
With the continuous complains by parents about the high cost of educating children, many are unable to afford the exorbitant fees set by a number of schools. However, different schools will admit to spending within their means making the dues they set realistic to a specific school setting. The fact that school fees are very crucial in the running of a given school, a number of proprietors defend their continuous need to hike the fees.
With the bandwagon effect of parents ‘living’ for neighbors and relatives, many parents have been caught up in the web of debts every term, leaving parents as the only cause of their inability to sustain their children in school. The parents confirm that the choice of one school over another comes hand in hand with affording the school fees. They advise that when one needs better services, then a good school is worth going for. However, they caution that once you need your child to go to such a school, then you must be able to cough the money.
Acellam John Baptist, a parent advises that parents need to know which schools they can take their children to not just getting taken up by other parents who can afford anything.
This, he says makes parents end up being indebted with fees balances being carried from term to term. Alluding to the English expression, “cut your coat according to your size,” he calls upon parents to go in for what they can afford. He explains that the high costs vary from school to school due to commitment of teachers, coordinated activities and different better services. He however concurs with the Minister of Education on the basis that some schools go to the extent that school requirements can even pay school dues.
Another parent, Jesca Ingabire Ngabo apportions the high fees to differences in operations of schools. She observes that schools operate on different scales. She calls upon parents to reason when choosing schools to take learners to. ‘Why should I take my child to a different expensive school teaching the same things?’ She queries. She explains that it is out of choice that parents take their children to one school over another. She adds, parents get challenged by school dues as a result of associating themselves with a certain class! Commenting on the continuous need for schools to increase fees, she says, the economic environment is pressing and in order to balance life, schools charge accordingly.
Though she contends that it is not a good thing for schools to charge highly, she observes that a look at different services and lifestyle is one thing that creates differences in running schools. She advises parents to stop pushing to the edge because of the bad choices of schools they choose. ‘When you want an extraordinary life, then be ready to pay for it’, she explains. She says, the problem can be solved by relatively supporting schools with cheaper fees structures. On the other hand, the school proprietors think otherwise. Talking to one of the school head, he does not see reason in the call to hike fess dues. He questions, ‘Don’t increase from what?’ Accordingly, the principal says that the scheme is impractical. This he based on the fact that different schools spend differently. ‘Aren’t we in a free market economy? Once you liberalize the economy, everything is at the discretion of the owners,’ he clarifies. Unfortunately to him, parents are the ones who decide whether or not fees should be increased.
A group of teachers also believe that the directive is impractical. They see the decision to increase fees as an impossibility in private schools. Though they confirm that some schools levy unreasonably high costs, they believe that the directive can only be possible in government schools because all policies come from the government which must be followed by the government aided schools.
Observing that the directive may not apply to private schools, which are giving a service, and satisfying their personal demands, one teacher observes that schools can increase fees provided they are able to convince the parents.
Commenting on the varying fees dues, she observes that one cannot pay for a cheap quality. She advises parents to follow up on how the school maximizes money meant for running schools. This is in a bid to make schools accountable to parents. Though she calls upon parents to take their children where there is value for money, she cautions them to look out whether the money they are paying is worth the standard of the school. ‘Are you getting value for the money paid,’ she queries. Talking to one head-teacher of a government school, she comments that fees depend on the school set standards. She observes that when a parent decides to take their children to school X, they are saying they can afford and abide by the rules set.
She observes that the problem comes from parents who sometimes take the children to schools they cannot afford. ‘I look for a school that is of my level,’ she embraces. She cautions parents to take their children to schools they can afford, ‘if the school is expensive, why did you take your child there?’ She pries. She faults parents who in the name of better services look out for schools way beyond their means. She summarizes all in her rhetoric, there are government schools that are affordable and offer the same services, is the curriculum different?
The increment of fees depends on so many factors. As schools decide to either increase or not increase school dues, all the governors of the schools must be informed. However, when all is said and done, like many have confessed, choices matter and one should choose what they can afford, don’t bite off more than you can chew!
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