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A MEANS OF PREPARING STUDENTS FOR EXAMS OR A PLOY TO RIP PARENTS OFF?

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th August 2008 03:00 AM

AFTER paying schools fees for his two sons, the last thing Joba Kiak (not real name) expected was a request from the school for more fees. But at the end of first term, he received a letter from the headteacher of Uphill College Mbuya, where his two children will soon sit their S4 and S6 exams, requ

AFTER paying schools fees for his two sons, the last thing Joba Kiak (not real name) expected was a request from the school for more fees. But at the end of first term, he received a letter from the headteacher of Uphill College Mbuya, where his two children will soon sit their S4 and S6 exams, requ

BY STEPHEN SSENKAABA

AFTER paying schools fees for his two sons, the last thing Joba Kiak (not real name) expected was a request from the school for more fees. But at the end of first term, he received a letter from the headteacher of Uphill College Mbuya, where his two children will soon sit their S4 and S6 exams, requesting for extra money for remedial lessons and external mock exams.

The old man had just paid sh156,000 Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) registration fees for the boys. When he delayed to pay, his children were sent home. “As a parent struggling to keep my children in school, I am frustrated by the way this school is imposing prohibitive charges on us,” he said.

Mzee Kiak’s concern reflects a growing trend in many secondary schools today — of charging unsanctioned extra fees and inflating the official UNEB registration fees. It is a practice that has gone on for years, unabated, perhaps even unnoticed by the Government and UNEB; one that has ripped off many parents.

It all starts in the last two terms preceding the registration period (February to April). This practice, which targets S6 and S4 candidates scheduled to sit the following year’s exams, takes different forms. In some cases schools institute compulsory remedial academic programmes, coaching sessions and “special academic” projects, for which they ask parents to contribute money. This is usually done in writing.

Uphill College conducted compulsory remedial classes for S4 and S6 candidates during the first term holiday. An April 25 circular from the school to the parents, a copy of which Education Vision has, says: “You are required to contribute sh70,000 for boarding students and sh30,000 for day students. This is to enable teachers complete the syllabus on time and also help students with specific problems.”

The circular goes on: “You will be asked to pay whether your daughter/son attended or not…” The school charged sh83,000 and sh73,000 in registration fees for S4 and S6 candidates respectively. Besides, it imposed a compulsory external mock fee of sh22,500 per candidate. This, according to Evelyn Etochu, the headteacher, would help them prepare well for final exams. All this is in addition to sh144,000(O’ Level) and 154,000(A’ Level) and 257,000(O’ Level) and 269,000 A’ Level) school fees for day and boarding students respectively. Etochu, however, denies knowledge of these charges.

As of April last year, Crane High School in Kitintale was charging sh70,000 and sh30,000 holiday lesson fees per student in boarding and day sections respectively, for S4, S5 and S6 students. When contacted recently, Peter Birungi, the headteacher, said the programme was a private arrangement between teachers and willing students. He said it would not resume this holiday.

Fearing for their children to be left behind, parents have had to squeeze the last coin out of their pockets to ensure that the children attend. “We have no choice but to find the money,” said a parent.

At St. Peter’s SS Naalya, S4 and S6 candidates pay an extra sh50,000 each for what the school calls “resource fees”. The administrators say the money pays expert UNEB examiners employed by the school to offer “remedial lessons and tests” to the candidates in third term and was officially endorsed by parents.

Inflated registration fees?
A mini survey reveals that on average, schools (especially private ones) charge between sh60,000 and sh100,000 in registration fees. This is a lot higher than the official UNEB registration rate. According to UNEB, the official registration fees for A’ Level candidates is sh50,900 for those who take four principal subjects and sh41,900 for three principals. (This includes sh9,000 charged for every principal subject per candidate, added to sh9,000 basic fee paid by each candidate and sh9,000 charged per subsidiary subject per candidate). O’ Level candidates pay sh56,000 for 10 subjects and sh46,300 for eight subjects (this includes sh4,850 charged for each subject per candidate, plus sh7,500 basic fee by each candidate).

These rates apply under “normal registration”, (where students register within the designated period.) According to a UNEB source, students pay slightly more than the official fees only when they miss the April 30 deadline or when, for lack of UNEB centres, they register as private candidates. The officer, who preferred anonymity, said anything contrary to the above is against UNEB rules.

Getting down to numbers
A school that charges sh70,000 registration fees makes a sh19,000 profit off each candidate. With average classes of 200 candidates (including A’ and O’ Level), an ordinary school obtains about sh3.8m off this extra charge, enough to buy 100 textbooks. It is not clear where the money goes.

Some headteachers have, however, tried to justify this extra levy. “In the process of organising registration and UNEB exams, the school incurs lots of expenses in photocopying and producing various documents as well as other administrative costs,” says Birungi. He says the schools have to offset such costs.

George Ssemivule, the Mengo SS headteacher, says charges may vary from school to school, depending on the circumstances under which they operate. “While some may decide to mobilise collective services (like taking passport-size photos) whose payment might be reflected as part of registration fees, other schools may not,” he explained.

Dr. JC Muyingo, the director of Seeta High School, says: “Schools subscribe to different exam bodies to which they have to pay money. This makes it inevitable for us to levy fees to cater for such expenses.”

But the education ministry disputes this approach: “Schools which charge more than what UNEB stipulates are taking advantage of the situation,” says John Agaba, a commissioner. He says only UNEB charges must be collected by schools and remitted to the exam body. “We even banned payment for joint mock exams.”

Talking of extra charges in the name of remedial academic programmes, Agaba said some such programmes could be acceptable in cases where the schools consult parents and agree on the need for particular fees to be charged.

He says while the ministry and UNEB have put in place standards to check unsanctioned levies in schools, parents need to be more vigilant in checking with UNEB and schools to ascertain the right fees and always hold schools accountable.

It is clear that schools have taken advantage of parents’ unquestioning nature and perhaps desperate state to inflate registration fees and impose a host of other unrealistic charges.

A MEANS OF PREPARING STUDENTS FOR EXAMS OR A PLOY TO RIP PARENTS OFF?

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