By Taddeo Bwambale
The ministry of education is proposing a regulation to restrict spontaneous increment on school fees in government and private schools.
Dr Daniel Nkaada, the commissioner for primary education, during an interview with New Vision, said a proposal was still being discussed by experts in the ministry.
“We are debating a regulation that will control the practice of schools coming up with arbitrary fees because this instead punishes students. If we agree to halt exorbitant fees, we will communicate to schools,” Nkaada said.
Circulars sent to parents at the end of term or year often feature new charges introduced by schools. In some schools, students are denied access to class if the charges are not paid.
The charges are often presented as building fee, development fund, uniform or clothing, examination, books and supplies, PTA fees, transportation and coaching.
Nkaada said the need to control increment in school fees was based on the fact that majority of pupils who complete school under free primary education end up in private schools.
He said spontaneous increment in schools fees charges was keeping children out of school, and hurting the Government policy on free education in primary and secondary school.
Whereas school fees increment in government schools is approved by the education ministry, private schools are not restrained and any attempt to do so will be a daunting prospect.
Patrick Muinda, the ministry’s assistant commissioner for communications and ICT said the ministry receives ‘numerous complaints and concerns’ on arbitrary school fees charges.
He said the ministry had not yet come up with a position on the matter, but that policy.
“Concerns about school fees charges come to our attention very often, but we have no formal position on it at the moment. It is a complex and sensitive issue that requires consultation with many stakeholders,” Muinda said.
He, however, said the ministry regularly appeals to schools, especially government-aided private ones, not to raise fees.
In 2012, education minister, Jessica Alupo said the ministry would start regulating school fees charges. Efforts to reach the minister on the matter yesterday were in vain, as she was reportedly out of the country.
Regulating school fees charges is seen as a move to curb the high school drop-out rates under the universal primary education (UPE) and universal secondary education (USE) programmes.
High school fees charges are cited among reasons behind high drop-out rates, in a new report commissioned by several child-based organisations.
The Out of School Children Study in Uganda released last week was commissioned by Strømme Foundation, Save the Children, ERIKS Development Partners, UNHCR and UNICEF.
According to the report, only 33% of primary school children complete Primary Seven and 8% of school-going children (7 to 15 years) have never attended school.
The report is based on a survey conducted in 16 districts and four refugee sites where 3,138 households were interviewed.
Dr Christine Mpyangu, a consultant says most households said their children were no longer in school because of school fees charges.
“58 percent of the households surveyed reported that their children had never joined school because they lack school fees,” Mpyangu said.
But experts blame increment on school fees charges on low funding to school and the rising cost of living.
Government pays an average of sh7,000 and sh41,000 annually for every student of UPE and USE student, respectively.
Besides, the share of education in the national budget has declined to between 15% and 16% in the last four years, compared to a rise from 7% in 1990 to 24% in 2003.
Experts speak out
Prof Edward Edward Kirumira, lecturer Makerere University
“Government should review the policy on free education so that it captures the exact cost of primary and secondary education. Otherwise, most parents are told that education is free.”
Fagil Mandy, education consultant
“The regulation on school fees charges would best apply in government schools. There is report of a commission of inquiry that also recommended uniform charges. However, I don’t support regulating private schools because we are in a free market and it would be difficult to enforce.”