Mbarara — Authorities in Mbarara have launched a districtwide operation intended to identify and punish head teachers accused of sending away pupils from school over nonpayment of illegal fees.
The operation will be conducted in all government and private primary schools implementing the free education scheme. Reports indicate that some head teachers were blocking students from sitting internal examinations when their parents fail to pay with the alleged illegal fees.
Mbarara Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Clement Kandole on Monday said he oversaw the exercise where sub-county inspectors were dispatched to various schools to investigate the reports.
Mr Kandole warned that whoever is charging the fees will be punished.
The additional fees, now being charged against government's policy on Universal Primary Education, is reportedly a private arrangement between schools and parents, intended to supplement the meagre funds released by government under the scheme.
"If they say the money they are charging is a parent-teacher arrangement, why punish pupils? Let them find other ways of making the parents pay but not punishing pupils," said Mr Kandole on Monday. "I have instructed the District Education Officer to handle this immediately and any school that does not heed our directive is in trouble," he said.
However, in spite of the several warnings by President Museveni and other government officials against charging fees in UPE schools, most schools have continued, saying government funding is inadequate.
Most rural schools in Mbarara charge between Shs15,000 to 20,000 per term for improving teachers' welfare, while in towns the charges go up to Shs100,000. "We are not defying government position on UPE, but the amount demanded is an arrangement between the schools, teachers and parents to improve the welfare of teachers," a head teacher, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said.
However, parents, who talked to Daily Monitor, blamed the government for failure to improve teachers' welfare. Schools do not have enough accommodation for teachers, some teachers are not on pay roll while those paid by government say the pay is poor and have been demanding 100 per cent salary increment.
"They [district officials] are saying we should not pay any money in these schools but the teachers are always complaining that the budget allocations to the schools are not enough. If government is saying no paying any money in UPE schools, let it meet all requirements," said Mr Ambrose Atwiine, a parent. There were reports that some pupils in Kashari District were on Monday sent home over fees.
Mbarara District secretary for social services Tom Karuhanga said the district administration is totally against chasing away pupils. He said he was compiling a list of schools involved in collection of these dues. The DEO, Mr Edward Mbabazi said he was going to talk to head teachers out of the practice.