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Friday,September 25,2020 04:34 AM

Over 4,300 private schools risk closure

By Henry Sekanjako

Added 26th June 2020 12:56 PM

Closure of over 4,300 private schools would affect about 1.5 million primary school children and over 390,000 secondary school learners.

Closure of over 4,300 private schools would affect about 1.5 million primary school children and over 390,000 secondary school learners.

EDUCATION  COVID-19

Over 4,300 private primary and secondary schools across the country risk closure thanks to COVID-19 lockdown, according to the National Planning Authority (NPA).

Appearing before Parliament's committee on the national economy yesterday, Rogers Maate, the director macro-economic planning, at the NPA, said the anticipated closure of over 4,300 private schools would affect about 1.5

[image_library_tag 56ea8354-6e62-4d8e-9429-91d9df43f805 720x382 height="382" width="720" alt="Pecos Kuteesa (left), the UPDF representative, chats with Maate after he appeared before the national economy committee of Parliament. Photo by (Miriam Namutebi)" ]
Pecos Kuteesa (left), the UPDF representative, chats with Maate after he appeared before the national economy committee of Parliament. Photo by (Miriam Namutebi)

million primary school children and over 390,000 secondary school learners.

He explained that the organization has carried out a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the different sectors, which showed that many schools are at risk of closure.

At least 3,500 private primary schools and about 830 secondary schools face closure due to financial distress.

"The situation is more precarious for higher education as 80% of the private universities have already communicated financial distress to their staff," Maate said.

The National Private Educational Institutions Association has a membership of 18,000, out of which 7,211 are kindergarten/nursery schools, 8,430 primary schools and 2,196 secondary schools. A total of 161 are tertiary institutions and 23 international schools.

According to Maate, about 1,131 full-time staff in private universities are at risk of losing their jobs or get suspended contracts.

About 106,336 students attending private universities are also at risk of dropping out and or taking dead years should the institutions close, while the pre-school sub-sector, which is 100% privately owned, is at higher risk than the rest of the sectors, according to NPA.

DRASTIC MEASURES

As part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda, the Government closed all educational institutions in March this year. Many educational institutions, including universities, have suspended staff contracts or announced drastic pay cuts.

While there has been relaxation of the lockdown on certain activities, educations institutions remain closed as they are considered high-risk in the fight against COVID-19.

However, according to NPA, the continued COVID-19 preventive measures are likely to have adverse effects on the private schools.

"Due to loss of revenue arising from the containment measures, it is anticipated that without significant support, poor primary and secondary schools are at risk of forced closure," Maate said.

He also told the MPs that the COVID-19 lockdown had affected the small-scale businesses and many are failing to repay loans.

According to NPA, about 65% of the businesses have reported a decline in their ability to repay loans, about 42% have reported a moderate decline, while 24% faced severe decline.

"The decline is largely registered in micro-businesses at 69%, small businesses at 72% and medium businesses 88%," Maate said.

POVERTY LEVELS

Maate told the committee, chaired by Nakaseke North MP Syda Bbumba, that COVID-19 would lead to an increase in the country's poverty levels.

According to Maate, the current COVID-19 containment measures have affected many incomes for many households, who can no longer pay for education services due to loss of jobs.

"It is projected that the COVID-19 coping measures will push poverty levels from 21% to 24% and also increase the likelihood of 40.6% of non-poor households becoming poor.

Consequently, about 64.6% of the parents will struggle or even fail to pay tuition. This will increase non-enrollment, school dropout and dead years," Maate argued.

Responding to NPA's submission, Bbumba expressed concern that the closure of schools would greatly result in increased unemployment in the country.

"One of the biggest employers in the education sector and we know that over 60% of the education sector is in the private hands," Bbumba said.

She also wondered what plan the Government is putting in place to deal with the problem.

 PLANNING AUTHORITY RECOMMENDATIONS

To deal with the impact of COVID-19, the National Planning Authority (NPA) experts suggested that the Government review and prioritize its budget towards mitigating the expected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NPA also proposed that businesses should be allowed to operate, subject to compliance with health regulations, including disinfection arrangements and social distancing.

"The smaller companies, which are the backbone of any economy, are particularly a matter of concern. Bigger companies are easy to refinance to start operation, but once small companies are out of business, they may never recover for various reasons," Maate said.

 The NPA proposed that the government considers suspension of NSSF deductions for at least six months to improve liquidity for employees (5% contribution) and for employers (10% contribution).

NPA also recommended that the Government considers waiving the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) tax on salaries during this time to reduce the employment costs on the employers and increase PAYE threshold to at least sh500,000.

"Consider downward revision of tax rates, especially the Value Added Tax (VAT) by at least 2-4 % to 16 or 14% from the present 18% and the exercise duty," Maate said.

The authority further recommended that the government considers providing access to concessional government loans at minimal or no interest rates, with a two to three-year grace period, waiving the land collateral requirement, which many companies cannot afford.

NPA recommended that the Government considers the provision of direct financial support to companies employing the youth.

"The Government projects should be open to the youth after the pandemic, especially the Operation Wealth Creation, Youth Livelihood Programme, NUSAF and the rest. All industries should be considered in this platform of government support," Maate noted.

Among other recommendations, NPA also asked the Government to consider paying all government suppliers outstanding bills to stimulate the economy through a trickle-down effect.

"All government domestic arrears should be paid as part of the relief package," NPA stated in its statement to the committee.

Recently, while appearing before the same committee, the private school owners and operators, under their body, National Private Educational Institutions Association, asked the Government to consider paying salaries of private school teachers for at least one year.

The private schools explained that only 65% of the schools own their premises and that 35% are on rented premises. But the landlords have not waived rent.

Hasadu Kirabira, the national researcher in charge private schools, argued that some schools could be displaced as premises owners look for alternative income-generating activities.

The private schools' owners proposed that the government should adjust the academic year cycle to August-October as the second term and November- January as the third term to enable students to complete their academic year.

They proposed that the government subsidize on personal protective gear, such as temperature guns, masks and sanitizers, to all the schools, regardless of ownership.

They expressed fear that private schools would register low turn up of learners as many parents will be worried about the safety of their children in schools.

Private school owners proposed that the Government sets up a COVID-19 task force at the school, zonal, sub-county and district levels to coordinate and work with the national task force.

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