The Ministry of Education has responded to mounting public outcry about the hiking school fees, as highlighted by The Sunrise last week, by convening a high-level meeting to discuss the matter.
The Sunrise has learnt that the Minister of Education Janet Museveni convened a meeting for all commissioners to try to address the runaway expenses imposed on parents by schools. The proceedings of the meeting are yet to be made public. However the spokesperson of the education ministry revealed that it was set to inform the nation about measures to be adopted to address the situation.
We can also confirm that our senior columnist Ramathan Ggoobi was invited in Cabinet this week, the government’s top policy making organ to offer advice on how to address the growing crisis.
Subsequent investigations on the matter by this newspaper reveal that although there exist standing regulations requiring all schools to seek permission from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education before they hiked fees, majority of the schools ignored this rule nor did the ministry try to enforce the regulation.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education Patrick Muyinda, there were old regulations requiring that before any school could raise or introduce new fees, it had to apply to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, who alone can grant or deny a given school the permission to change the fees structure.
The apparently outdated regulations require that the application be accompanied by a letter of approval of the new fees structure endorsed by representatives of the School Management Committee, students and teachers.
But the ministry’s failure to enforce the regulations is not only a wringing indictment on the Education Ministry’s role as a referee in such a vital sector of the country, it also points to the need for reforms in the sector.
For example, the role of Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs) in the management of schools has nearly vanished.
These days, as one well informed teacher, school entrepreneur and parent Isa Senkumba reveals, schools have replaced PTAs with Boards of Directors (owners) and Management, who set new fees and other policies without the input of the parents.
“Private schools do not have PTAs. They disguise directors as the Board of Governors. And mostly they serve the interests of the owners than the parents,” Senkumba adds: “Actually parents no longer have a say in the way schools are managed. Previously, the PTA was the topmost policy making organ of a school and its chairperson was elected by parents.”
“Now, most schools do not engage with parents on why they are raising fees. Parents are simply shocked to find that the school has hiked tuition or introduced new fees and sometimes without any explanation as to why the fees are rising,” noted Senkumba.
Schools abuse rules on admissions
The weaknesses by the Ministry of Education do not stop in fees management but to other areas such as observing regulations on holiday teaching, respecting the minimum cut off points and other requirements for schools to operate.
As Senkumba reveals: “Are you aware that when a school sets minimum cut off points, they are barred from admitting any student with higher points as is so often the case? If a given school had set 5 as its cut off points, and goes ahead to admit a student with 10 points, it means it would have denied many more deserving students with better performance a chance to study in that school.”
Still, Senkumba blames the apparent weaknesses of the Ministry of Education to enforce these regulations on the fact that the ministry officials who are supposed to enforce the regulations turn a blind eye on the regulations as this benefit them more than promoting the public interest.
When it comes to enforcing a ban on teaching during holidays, Senkumba argues that, many urban schools openly defy this ban because they either teach children of highly placed officials or that they can afford to bribe the inspectors. “It is an open secret that children of education ministry officials get coaching at urban schools during the holidays.”
Time for independent authority?
It appears that the transformation that has taken place in the education sector, more so the liberalization of the sector has brought about a need for an independent regulator to reign in excesses by some players.
Sceptics of Uganda government policy on education however argue that the problem is greater than regulation and touches on governance.
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze accused government of neglecting its role of protecting public interest. “All that the government is interested in now is to collect taxes. The sector is rotten and needs overhaul.”