YOU have to cut through a thicket on a narrow dusty road to get to Buwembe Secondary School.
Though remote, it is one the best schools in Busia district. Permanent buildings welcome you. Several years ago, students in this school studied under a tree whenever it rained and would run to the neighbouring primary school for refuge.
Most of the infrastructure housing hundreds on the universal education programme was constructed by the community and donors. The drive was inspired by a vibrant Parents- Teachers Association and management committee.
What is being done at Buwembe SS used to be done in other schools before Universal Primary and Secondary Education programme started years ago. The school got support from Dalwich University, the American Embassy and the Government, to construct buildings.
"We instilled a spirit of parents' participation in education, on top of external donors to uplift the school. It is one of the best schools in the district today," Moses Mapesa, the former Uganda Wildlife executive secretary says. As a parent he helps the management committee meet his friends and get donor support for the school.
Mapesa believes that it should be mandatory for parents to contribute to their children's education.
According to Mwalimu,the committees, which are non-existent in most schools nowadays were effective in the past.
School management committees are legitimate bodies provided for in Uganda's Education Act. With a maximum composition of 12 members, these committees are supposed to oversee management and also represent the local community and parents' interests in the school.
They supervise the headteacher and know what is going on in the day-to-day running of the school.
School management committees, if strengthened, can be very instrumental.
Another case is in Mbale, in Namayoyo sub-county, where parents and district leaders have passed a by-law to ensure parents are made to contribute to their children's welfare while at school.
Those who fail to contribute sh25,000 for lower primary and sh30,000 for upper primary get their property confiscated and sold off by local council officials. After selling their property, deductions are made for that term and the balance is kept for the coming terms.
"We help sell the goats, cows, or any property confiscated so that we can pay for food," Namanyonyi sub-county LC 3 boss, Kamadi Walusansa says.
As pupils spend afternoons at school on empty stomachs, a report by teachers strongly recommends that the Government takes on the duty to feed them.
If the Government cannot feed children in public schools, the teachers' report recommends that all schools get gardens or parents be allowed to pay lunch fees or contribute food for the pupils.
Various reports show that keeping children hungry at school poses a number of challenges like poor concentration, mental instability, absenteeism and bad behaviour.
Government needs help
Will parents help the Government to promote free education in the country which now starts from Primary One to Senior Six?
Without them reverting to the old system of supporting education, the country's free education programme seems headed for a
big ditch. "There is some level of hopelessness in the Ugandan society. Politics and lack of standards are eating away the great education programmes," the executive director for Centre for Basic Research, Dr. Josephine Ahikire, says.
She explains that politics got in the way of free education. It has been argued that every time parents have been told to contribute to free education, they threaten to take action with their vote in the next election.
In the past, parents used to pay fees and would take part in development projects in schools. That is history today.
Whereas the Education Act 2008 tasks parents to shoulder some responsibilities in the schools for instance, provide lunch for their children, they have failed to do so.
The Government has realised that without provision of lunch to pupils in schools and involvement of parents, the quality of education will continue going down.
The education minister Jessica Alupo says: "When the Government announced free education, parents assumed that it meant they would not buy uniforms and pay for lunch for their children."
"It is only a few parents who understood what free education meant and have been contributing towards improving their children's education," Alupo explains.
She adds that the Government gave communities time to understand the programme and it is high time they got involved in working with Government.
The Government is setting up new guidelines where school management committees will be allowed to collect and manage money for lunch.
This is as long as the parents accept to pay for food instead of packing for their children.
Under free primary education, feeding children is a responsibility of parents. School heads are prohibited from charging parents any extra money.
However, some people say it is too early to celebrate the new move. "The law needs to be amended to ensure that it is mandatory for parents and guardians to pay for lunch," argues Winnie Namata.
A primary teacher in Busia, Mark Musiita, says: "Politics made its way into a good plan for free education. Most of the local Government officials in villages cannot force parents to pay for lunch or buy their children uniforms, just because they fear losing political support."
His arguments are a reminder of the village chiefs who would directly be appointed by Government and would make sure that all Government programmes were implemented at all costs.
"We would even be arrested and later fined in case we failed to contribute to communal work like clearing roads or educating our children," recalls Paul Kusiimwa, a 52-year-old farmer in Masindi..
A number of people are convinced that with government appointees, this will change.
A case in point which always cited in the Kampala City Council Authority with an executive director, instead of having the city headed by politicians.
Fagil Mandy, the Uganda National Examination Board chief, argues that there is need to stop politicians from interfering with the law.
President Yoweri Museveni last year urged the teachers union to find a solution to meals at school.
The report shows that about 17% of primary and 14% of secondary school going children never got lunch at school. It was also revealed that at the primary level, 42% of the school children reported having some form of lunch, irrespective of consistence and quality.
The report, basing on estimates, shows that a child in primary would need about sh30,037 per term and that of secondary sh23,992 to for lunch.