Fees hike in schools has remained topical for the last three weeks.
A section of Ugandans is angry that money demanded by the elite government-aided schools reflects a general decline in regulation. Why, for example, should a school such as Gombe, Nabbingo, Namagunga, Namilyango, Budo or Kisubi charge a senior one child nearly Shs 2 million, yet their teachers are paid by government?
Some commentators argue that these charges have turned education into a commodity affordable only by the rich. At parliament, where I work, MPs are drafting a motion that will require government to set school fees.
MPs are incensed that schools are asking parents to pay for things such as development, dormitory, PTA, board of governors, reams of paper, textbooks, library, etc.
Let me, therefore, state from the beginning that while I sympathize with these sentiments, I don’t subscribe to them. The elite, including members of parliament, have narrowed the country to their social groups. The fees these MPs and journalists are complaining about affect just a fraction of parents.
The biggest section of our population is affected by the quality of education their children are getting and MPs, the media and all elite are responsible for this.
Let us begin with S4 exams. Some 41,632 students, according to the results released recently, failed the exams completely. This number represents 13% of the 323,276 candidates who sat for S4 exams last year.
Nearly half of the candidates (142,479) passed in division four. These fellows cannot be admitted to King’s College Budo, Kibuli, Namagunga or Nabisunsa even if they had the money. Another 20% (63,072) passed in division three. Those who failed plus those who passed in division three and four make up 78% of the total candidates.
For me, this is the crisis that the country must discuss, and not fees being charged in elite schools. And the situation is not different in primary schools. On average, 90,000 pupils fail PLE exams every year. This year, the exact number was 81,210, representing 13% again.
Those who passed in division one in PLE are just 10%. These are the ones competing for the top schools in the country. These 10% are competing for just about five per cent of the schools, which explains the stampede when results are released.
I don’t want to be part of those who are looking for a solution for only 10% of the country’s pupils and students and forget the 90%. This year, districts such as Buyende, Luuka, Mayuge, Kaliro and Kween registered almost no first grades.
Most of the pupils who go to schools in these and other districts failed PLE. We will be selfish to discuss fees at King’s College Budo and not absence of any meaningful school in Luuka and Kaliro.
That is partly why this country has some of the highest numbers of school dropouts. Look at primary one, official figures speak of nearly two million pupils enrolled. Seven years later, only 640,000 report for PLE exams. It means as many as 1.4 million pupils have dropped out!
By S4, the number has reduced to 300,000. This means 1.7 million children are already out of school by the time of O-Level exams. The solution cannot be regulation of school fees at Budo or Nabbingo, but establishing more quality schools in Buyende, Luuka, Kaliro and Mayuge.
The policy of this government is that there must be a public secondary school in each of the 2,000 sub-counties. Of course more sub-counties, and not schools, are being created. The policy again is that there must be a public primary school in each of the 9,000 parishes in the country.
I think this is what parliament should concern itself with. Focus cannot be the elite schools, but facilities where children of the underprivileged go. At Kampala Parents where my children used to go, we were paying Shs 1.5 million per term; and this is a day school, but I never complained. Such schools are established for profit, and not provision of a social service.
There are people who don’t know that education is a commodity. As a country, we run the risk of collapsing the little that remains. It never occurred to me that schools such as Nakasero, Buganda Road, Bat Valley, etc, will one day be a shadow of their former selves, thanks to the universal primary education.
This UPE mentality shouldn’t be exported to top secondary schools. Real incentives should be made available to develop more quality secondary schools.
That is what the past leaders used to do. Bidandi Ssali studied at Nyakasura, and Aronda Nyakairima at Kitgum High School. Today, we all descend on Budo. There were quality schools almost in every district. Many years of neglect led to the collapse of many of them. Some were later buried by the populist universal secondary education.
I think you are aware that children of some of these people that now want to regulate fees in top schools get their education in Kenya and elsewhere. Maybe they want to kill the little that remains so we are buried for good!
The author is Kira Municipality MP.