Parents have raised concerns over the increasing 'unrealistic' and exploitative non-fees requirement demands by Ugandan schools. One such parent is Abigail Mukisa who sells men's clothes in one of the city arcades. She has eight children. Five of the children are in lower classes while three are in university. According to Mukisa, she takes care of the five lower learners while her husband takes care of those in university.
On average, Mukisa earns Shs 30,000 daily, which she splits into her daily expenses and the education of the five lower learners. Mukisa doesn’t want her children to miss anything when it comes to education despite her meagre earnings, especially after the lockdown. As schools open for the second term this week, Mukisa is worried about the school requirements. She explains that some of the requirements cost more than half of the tuition she pays for her children.
According to Mukisa, school requirements are becoming a headache for her. Her biggest concern is the pre-primary schools that ask her for reams of paper on a termly basis. Mukisa says that she could understand this if it was for the upper primary and secondary children but she has failed to come to terms with the demands for pre-primary.
She explains that besides the scholastic materials and personal requirements like clothes, she also has to buy sugar, rice and soap as part of the requirements yet the fees are also high. When asked why she has never considered enrolling her children under the universal education programs financed by the government, Mukisa says that the quality of education given in government schools is wanting yet they also demand similar requirements.
Mukisa is not alone. Ruth Nabagala, a wife to a boda boda rider in Kampala with six children, says that they cannot save anything for the future of their children or even think about building their own house soon.
"My husband and I never had a chance of getting an education, and now we want our children to have it. We cannot take them to universal education because it is not a solution to our dream,” says Nabagala.
According to Nabagala, all her five children go to the same school. She explains that before paying tuition, they are required to clear school requirements separately valued at Shs 100,000 per student. This means the couple spends Shs 500,000 on requirements alone per term before they even think about tuition.
Justine Akello, considered to be well off in her community, says that the government needs to come in and tame schools. She shared a circular detailing school fees and requirements needed in a government-aided school where the children go. These include fees for textbooks, computer programs, lab equipment, library reference books, games and sports, sports day and internal audits among others.
Filbert Baguma, the secretary-general of Uganda National Teachers Unions (UNATU), says that schools are pushing parents to the extremes when it comes to requirements. He says parents need to wake up and have a strong voice on such issues that can be respected by both schools and the government.
"Now our overseer is ministry of Education, but they have not done much to make us move to act that is why you find them saying; don't do this, then next day you find schools doing it and there is no one to bring them to order. So the ministry of Education and Sports should come to the rescue of parents or the guardians because it has become too much. But also I want to request parents in this country, they should start having a body that brings them together so that they have a voice otherwise some of these things are becoming too much and the parents will continue suffering," said Baguma.
According to Baguma, government schools should not be asking for requirements more than scholastic materials and personal requirements in case of a boarding school. Asadu Kirabira, the chairperson for the National Private Educational Institutions Associations in Uganda, says schools ask for requirements depending on their standards.
He notes that it is upon the parents to choose which school they can afford to take their children to. Kirabira however, notes that there is the need for schools to involve parents to reach a consensus on the costs.
"They vary sometimes depending on the level and the need of the level. There are those which are general. What we take as requirements can vary from one school to another. You can talk about reams, toilet paper, brooms, trips and excavations in the school - all those we grade them under non-fees requirements. Fees is another category...That is why I'm saying they depend on the programs and level of the school and what is planning to do for the students and parents," said Kirabira.
According to civil organisation, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), both private and public schools demand unnecessary requirements such as toilet paper, reams of paper, brooms and rags, among others on top of school fees. They add that this has in the long run, prevented many learners from returning to school as the requirements are an additional cost to school fees and burdensome to the parents and learners.
Recently, ISER sued government for alleged failure to put in place a legal framework to regulate school dues and requirements. In their application before the High court civil division in Kampala, ISER together with Michael Aboneka and Andrew Karamagi, both lawyers want the High court to compel the minister of Education and Sports to immediately exercise her mandate to draft a policy that will regulate school fees and all dues payable at school and tertiary institutions in the country.