At the beginning of each school term, most schools — both primary and secondary — have a list of requirements which students have to report with on the first day, writes Carol Natukunda
A nursery child reporting with a tin of paint every term, schools with different uniforms for each class which must be bought from a particular tailor, students asked to take bags of cement, a child sent back home for not bringing brooms, scrubbing brushes, two buckets of washing detergent and two reams of paper. These and many more are the cries of parents.
“If a school has 1,000 children and each of them brings a scrubbing brush, where do they all go?” asks Humphrey Ahimbisibwe, the former head teacher of Ntare School in Mbarara. “If you are building, you do not ask students to bring cement. That is out of order and ridiculous.”
Ahimbisibwe argues that schools should budget well and have ways of raising funds without pushing the cost to parents. Some parents also complain about schools which dictate that they must buy uniforms and other materials from them or particular suppliers.
“I wanted to come with my own files for my child’s test papers, but they insisted they must be bought at the school. They even charge me sh10,000 for wrapping my child’s exercise books, yet I could use old newspapers and calendars at home,” says Jackson Mujuni, a father of two in a Wakiso school.
Resty Were, another parent, says: “My twins were joining S1 and the circular said hoes and knives are a must for every new entrant. This is a school where students do not peel matooke or potatoes or even do digging. For the mops, we got old clothes. The teacher on duty said I had to buy a new rag. So every beginning of term, I go to Owino market to buy second hand towels for rags. This is too much!”
Were adds that ideally, the rags are for cleaning the dormitories, but her girls told her that each dormitory uses only two rags.
“Someone must be in business,” Were laments.
These stories intrigue people who studied several decades ago. Going to primary school in the 1950s, Elly Rwakoma, a retired social worker and photojournalist, says all he had to carry was a small bag with his pair of shorts and a shirt, and sometimes snacks to eat. “We did not have to carry much as is the case nowadays. The uniform and everything we needed were provided by the school,” he says.
Dr Edward Kayondo, an old boy of Kings College Budo, says: “When I went to school, we did not have to carry mattresses. The students were largely looked after by the school. If you fell ill, maybe with malaria, you were not sent home or charged a medical fee as it is these days.”
According to Kayondo, this culture of demanding many things came to the peak in the mid-1970s when private schools started cropping up and the Parents Teacher Associations were launched.
And yet, Kayondo, a parent himself, is not complaining. “I do not think schools are asking for these things to make money. Presently, there are more private schools, which means there are more demands to keep the schools going; they have to pay teachers, provide good services and cope with the competition elsewhere,” Kayondo says.
“In schools like Greenhill or Kampala Parents, we pay up to sh1m per term. I might feel a pinch, but when I consider the cost of running a school, and the pressure from the competition, I really appreciate,” Kayondo adds.
Francis Atubo, the head teacher of Leo Atubo College, Ngetta, says parents need to look at both sides of the coin. “Look at the universal education schools where children are not asked to bring anything. You find teachers are not motivated because they are poorly paid. Learners do not have adequate resources. To me, these requests are genuine. The only problem is when parents cannot afford them,” Atubo says.
He reveals that in his school, management, teachers and parents always sit together to agree on what should be brought to school. “We make them look at our budget and in most cases, parents volunteer to meet the cost of some requirements,” Atubo says. “If parents are in the know, then they will gladly contribute for the sake of their children,” he adds.
Atubo says they ask for brooms and reams of paper every term.
Many schools are, however, reluctant to discuss this topic. They argue that it is likely to portray them in a negative image, yet they are well intentioned.
“Instead of increasing the fees every term, we keep it constant, but make it clear that you have to foot extra requirements. If the school’s walls need repainting, then bring the paint, simple,” says a head teacher in a prominent girls’ school in Kampala.
Some Parents start it
Some school proprietors cite unrealistic demands from parents as their biggest frustration.
“For instance, during admission time, some parents come with all sorts of bribes, including offering to supply food to your school if you give them a place or meeting the cost of the furniture.
Then the next thing we know, they turn around and say it is the school’s fault,” one proprietor of a prominent school on Entebbe Road complains. “Some rich parents want to show off. Even if you do not ask for anything, they bring chairs and desks,” he says.
And pressure from demanding parents can be overwhelming. Alexandra Bwire, a teacher at Bright Nursery and Primary School, says: “We have parents who send children who are not cultured and they expect you to train them on everything, even using the potty. We translate this into a financial cost.
Give us a dozen toilet rolls instead of two. We also need mattresses so they can take a nap after lunch. And for easy identification, we have no choice, but to make sure that each class has a different uniform.”
Bwire, however, says most parents do not want to attend the meetings in which these things are decided. “When you call them, they do not show up, but when you charge something they whine,” he says.