Dear Lwanga, my esteemed friend in Bukomansimbi.
As I sit here on my familiar perch at #TheBalcony, my thoughts drift towards the ongoing developments in our cherished Uganda.
While the nation is currently gripped by the fervor of national examinations, I find myself increasingly troubled by the issue of escalating school fees and requirements.
I’ve heard whispers about the government’s intention to implement a no-fee policy for primary and secondary education, and this has seized my attention.
This endeavor signifies a shift in the winds of change blowing through our nation. The concept of free education, although not entirely novel, takes on fresh significance at this juncture in our history.
For quite some time, Uganda has grappled with the burden of school fees. Programs like Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE), while admirable in their goals, have often faced challenges such as inadequate teacher numbers and insufficient capitation grants.
These issues have compelled schools to impose fees on the very students they were designed to assist. Over the years, this financial strain on parents and guardians has become untenable.
The matter of school fees has ignited significant debate and concern, with parents urging the government to regulate the ever-increasing fees and requirements in both public and private educational institutions.
The responsibility to oversee these fees falls squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Education and Sports, as they are tasked with ensuring that education remains accessible and affordable for all.
Despite numerous circulars issued over the years, cautioning schools against unauthorized fee hikes, it seems these directives have fallen on deaf ears.
School operators, including religious institutions and ministers who own schools, have resisted these efforts. Parents, especially those with children in religious-affiliated schools, have voiced their dismay over the soaring fees.
This is indeed a grave concern, and a new chapter in this saga is set to unfold when parents receive circulars outlining the fees for the upcoming academic year.
However, the government has pledged that public and government-funded schools will be entirely fee-free, with a significant investment of over 1.4 trillion shillings in the 2024/2025 financial year.
This investment promises new classrooms, more schools in underserved areas, more teachers, and additional instructional materials.
The government has even issued a stern warning, suggesting that community and faith-founded government-aided schools may lose their support if they fail to comply with this new policy.
This predicament sets the stage for a contentious battle, as faith-based organizations have a significant stake in Uganda’s educational landscape.
The government has demonstrated its authority in the past, notably in 1963 when it nationalized all schools to eliminate the entrenched religious-based education system.
The question now is whether faith organizations will strive to retain control over these schools or cede authority to the government. In the modern era of liberalized economics, the government’s response and the reaction of the faithful to clerical authorities limiting their children’s access to education remain uncertain.
The promise of free education prompts us to question its origins: is it a truly genuine government initiative, a response to parental demands, or a result of external influences? Uganda has long been committed to implementing universal primary and secondary education policies to offer equal access to education, regardless of whether a student attends a public or private institution.
The 200 World Bank report titled “Abolishing School Fees in Africa” provides a global perspective on this issue.
The report highlights how, in the 1960s, many developing nations, including Uganda, embraced the concept of free basic education as they aimed to foster capacity building and promote equitable participation in economic growth and politics upon gaining independence.
However, the policy of free education gradually waned as education systems expanded and economic challenges emerged.
In 2005, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank introduced the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) to remove cost barriers and accelerate progress toward quality education.
Governments were expected to bear the costs through local taxes or securing grants and loans when necessary. This initiative arose from the concern that many Sub-Saharan African countries were at risk of failing to achieve universal primary school completion.
To be successful, fee abolition had to be accompanied by several critical reforms, including ensuring financial sustainability, equitable access, and improved education quality.
Countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique embraced this program, offering valuable lessons for Uganda.
The financial sustainability of fee abolition remains a pressing concern, as seen with Uganda’s UPE program. Government schools struggle with teacher shortages, classroom deficits, and a lack of instructional materials.
The World Bank report emphasizes the importance of strong political leadership, meticulous planning, and thorough analytical work in assessing fees and financing alternatives.
Notably, Uganda’s Education Minister, Janet Kataha Museveni, has mentioned the formation of a committee to study school fees in the country.
While the report remains undisclosed, it raises questions about the government’s commitment to free education and whether it is a well-planned initiative or merely a political promise made without prior planning.
We must also consider the timing of this endeavor, coinciding with the upcoming general election, where such pledges often hold significant political weight.
The promises made by the sitting president deserve close scrutiny, as they have the potential to reshape our educational landscape.
In conclusion, my dear friend, the path to free education in Uganda is fraught with complexities, historical legacies, and political considerations.
It is a journey marked by challenges and aspirations. As the government moves forward with its ambitious plan, let us hope that it is indeed a genuine commitment to provide quality education for all Ugandans and not just a political maneuver. Time will reveal the true intentions behind this bold initiative.
Yours in contemplation,
Yours in contemplation,
14;20p.m. North of Kampala