When Mzee Simon Peter Ssendikaddiwa enrolled his 13-year-old grandson at St Mary's Kiryowa Primary School in Njeru Municipality, Buikwe District in 2013, he thought he had been relieved of the burden of paying school fees.
The school is under government's free education scheme commonly known as Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was introduced in 1997 to enable pupils from impecunious families enrol in tuition-free schools.
To his surprise though, Mzee Ssendikaddiwa was asked to pay Shs50,000 to cater for both his grandson's meals and teachers' salaries.
"For the Shs50,000 I pay per term, my grandson is only given porridge during break time. I was told to pay another Shs40,000 if I want him to get meals during lunch time, which I cannot afford," he says
Although government meets expenses for scholastic materials, operational costs and teachers salaries, in some schools such as St Mary's Kiryowa Primary School, the administrators say the money they receive from government is too little to meet all the urgent school expences, which prompts them to ask for extra fees from parents.
According to a 2017 Sauti wa Wananchi survey by Twaweza, a non-overnmental organisation, majority of parents said the biggest challenge they face in educating their children is the excessive financial contributions required both in primary and secondary schools.
Daily Monitor survey
A snap survey by Daily Monitor team across the country reveals that many UPE schools charge different fees for different purposes.
Ms Margaret Nalukwago, the head teacher of St Mary's Kiryowa Primary School, says of 665 pupils in her school, only 50 can afford lunch.
She says the school receives Shs900, 000 from government per term which cannot cater for extra costs that are unavoidable.
"We have only seven teachers on government payroll and given our enrolment, they cannot do much. So, we were forced to ask parents to contribute Shs25,000 each to facilitate six other teachers we recruited on private arrangement," she says.
At Bujjo Primary School in Mpigi Town Council, parents were compelled to contribute Shs5,000 each to facilitate the construction of a pit-latrine at the school. The school needs at least Shs7m to erect a new pit-latrine, but so far, only Shs290, 000 has been realised.
Currently, both pupils and teachers are sharing one pit-latrine.
However, parents in Nkozi Sub-county, Mpigi District and their counterparts in Budde and Kalamba in Butambala District are questioning why they are paying fees for pit-latrines, construction of classrooms and meals when there are some non-governmental organisations supporting the schools.
Ms Rosemary Byabasaija, the Mpigi Resident District Commissioner, said if UPE schools agree with parents on any extra fees, there is no way local leaders can stop them.
"If school heads agree with parents over these fees for a cause, it's okay. But those fees shouldn't be diverted to teachers' pockets. Let the money do the work it is solicited for. Secondly, these fees should not be hiked because we don't want to see our children being affected. At times, hiked fees chase away children from school. Parents should agree basing on their incomes and leaders should help them in making decisions," she says.
Ms Byabasaija has since ordered head teachers in schools where World Vision and other Non-governmental Organisations are providing financial support to provide accountabilities.
For two decades now, there has been lack of a clear feeding programme in UPE schools which has negatively impacted on the scheme, causing massive drop-outs and absenteeism as many pupils cannot stand the biting hunger at school.
On many occasions, efforts by head teachers to have parents pay some little money to cater for their children's lunch have been frustrated by President Museveni, who viewed it as an extra burden to his voters.
The President threatened to arrest head teachers who pester parents to pay lunch fees.
This, according to head teachers, who wanted their names not to be disclosed has continued to make parents reject paying for lunch rendering learners spend days without lunch at school.
Ms Janet Museveni, the Minister of Education, insists government cannot shoulder this responsibility or subsidise lunch, saying the ministry has a lot of responsibilities including, building classrooms, training more teachers, buying instructional materials, which she says consume a lot of money.
Mr Grace Twinomujuni, the head teacher of Nyaburiza Primary School in Ntungamo District, says they reached an understanding with parents where each pays Shs12,000 per term to provide meals for the pupils.
"We have a project based on the school feeding programme where parents are asked to pay some money to have at least some milk mixed with maize porridge for the pupils. We are supported by the Netherlands government," he says.
At Rutoto Primary School in Bunyaruguru, Rubirizi District, which runs a boarding section, pupils pay fees ranging between Shs300,000 and Shs340,000.
Those who are not in the boarding section contribute money ranging between Shs27,000 and Shs90,000 which also covers meals. By the time the school came up with this arrangement, Mr Adonia Mutongore, the school head teacher, says government was only giving them Shs1.6m every term to cover all school needs including feeding pupils.
'For us to stop asking parents to pay this money, we need things such as teachers' houses, pit-latrines, the whole infrastructure for the school should be in place, but most of these things are left to parents," Mr Mutongore says.
At Hill Road Public Primary School in Masaka Municipality, the head teacher, Mr Benedict Nkaata, says members of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) passed a resolution compelling all parents to contribute Shs10,000 for porridge for breakfast and another Shs30,000 for lunch for those who can afford.
He says the school also charge an additional Shs45,000 from each pupil to cater for the general operations of the school.
Masaka Municipality principal education officer, Stephen Kakeeto, says UPE guidelines allow schools to charge Shs 12,000 to pay for utility bills.
He says parents are also supposed to contribute for their children's lunch by either paying hard cash or taking food to the school.
"In case of emergencies such as death of a teacher and the school needs to replace him or when the school pit-latrine collapses and the school management cannot raise funds, parents can pay an agreed amount of money, but collections have to stop immediately after solving such problems," he adds.
Mr John Baptist Ahimbisibwe, the head teacher Rugazi Central Primary School in Rubirizi Town Council, says his school charges some little money to supplement the meagre funds they get from government. Day scholars from Primary One to Primary Six pay Shs25,000 per term, while those in Primary Seven pay Shs52,000. Those in boarding section pay between Shs187,000 and Shs270,000.
The school has an enrolment of 683 pupils with 12 teachers on pay roll. Another seven teachers and five support staff are paid by parents.
In Gulu District, school authorities claim they charge extra fees to effectively compete with private schools. Some of the sampled schools include; Gulu Public Primary School, Kirombe Primary School, Gulu Primary School, Christ the King Demonstration Primary School, Obiya West Primary School and Will Aworanga Primary School.
"Many parents are willing to pay high fees in private schools than our UPE schools simply because they are sure of value for their money, so we have to charge some money if we are to compete with them," One of the head teachers, who preferred anonymity to speak freely about extra charges, told Daily Monitor.
Another head teacher said the new waterborne -toilets donated to schools in the area are forcing them to charge extra fees to keep them clean.
"These toilets donated to us by the municipal council require a lot of water and we do not have any other source of money apart from increasing school fees. We had to call the parents and we resolved to increase fees by Shs5, 000," he says
Gulu District Education Officer, Mr Caesar Akena, says enforcing government policies in schools had proved difficult due to ever increasing enrolment amid meager resources.
"Take the example of UPE, it was an excellent idea, but we are facing excess enrolment amid inadequate facilities to accommodate all the learners, which is affecting the quality of education provided," Mr Akena says.
Currently, only 19 of the 55 government-aided schools in Gulu District are offering compulsory meals which are majorly posho and beans to its learners. Statistics from Gulu District Education Department indicate that of more than 40,000 pupils enrolled in 55 government aided primary schools, only 15 per cent are able to come to school with packed lunch.
Bugisu and Bukedi Sub-region
Some sampled schools in the sub-regions of Bugisu and Bukedi charge between Shs30,000 and Shs50,000 every term as an extra fee to support the running of the schools.
Mr Jackson Wangwe, the head teacher of Nabuyonga Primary School in Mbale District, says parents contribute Shs45,000 per term and the money is used to cater for meals for both pupils and staff and paying for water and electricity bills.
Mr Fred Bulitya, the deputy head teacher of Namatala Primary School, in Mbale says there is need for government to increase UPE capitation grants allocated to each pupil from 7,000 per term to at least Shs10,000 so that they stop charging extra fees from parents.
Mr Sam Paddy Khaukha, the inspector of schools in Mbale District, says some schools administrators take advantage of government's delay to release funds to dupe parents.
In Tororo, Ms Anne Rose Akongo, the head teacher Oriyoi Primary School says the extra fees are voluntary.
"We arrived at that after thoroughly sensitising parents about what the money is meant to do, many embraced it and we are moving on well," she says.
In Jinja District, some pupils are forced to engage in petty businesses to raise money to pay for extra fees at school.
Ms Gertrude Naigaga, a mother of three and a resident of Masese 1 Village, Walukuba- Masese Division, in Jinja says, she cannot afford the extra fees because she is financially unstable.
Some parents happy
However, Ms Justine Nakitende, a parent at Victoria Nile Primary school says she supports levying extra fees because it is very expensive to run a school on a small budget.
"I do not have any problem with that money, schools have to pay utility bills such as water, electricity, security and teachers' welfare and this enables our children to perform well in class," She says.
Ms Nakitende says both parents and school administration agreed on certain amount of fees to charge before it was fixed.
Jinja Resident District Commissioner Eric Sakwa says he sees no problem with parents supporting schools to offer quality education.
"But it [fees] should not be exorbitant because it might force parents to withdraw their children which can lead to school dropouts," he says.
In Kabarole District, some schools such as Kyebambe Model Parents charge fees for lunch separately at Shs 50,000 per term while others pack cooked food for their children.
Mr Henry Lukyamuzi, the head teacher St Alex Kirowooza Primary School in Kalungu District says rural schools such as his, which lack staff quarters, pit-latrines have to continue collecting extra fees as they wait for any government intervention.
The Kalungu District chairperson, Mr Richard Kyabaggu, says: "On our part, we have managed to crackdown on school administrators who illegally charge extra fees from parents," he says.
Mr David Bbaale, the Kalungu District education officer, says head teachers should focus on increasing enrolment and be able to get more UPE capitation grants instead of charging extra fees from parents.
"When the number of pupils is high, the more money they will get from government, but some head teachers simply inflate the figures and when we carry out head count, we fail to trace the pupils," he says.
In Mbarara Municipal Council, pupils pay fees ranging between Shs80,000 and Shs 100,000. This comes in form of payment of development fund, church fund, reams of papers, among others.
Mr John Bosco Kamujuni, the head teacher of Uganda Martyrs Primary School, Mbarara, says pupils pay Shs165,000 per term of which Shs60,000 caters for lunch.
In Soroti District, head teachers defended the extra fees they charge, saying UPE capitation grants are so inadequate and strictly caters for specific activities outside key priority areas.
Mr John Achetu, the head teacher Akisim Primary School, says they are conditioned to spend 70 per cent of the UPE funds on co-curricular activities and scholastic materials, 10 per cent for contingencies and another 20 per cent on school management.
In Mityana District, pupils in rural UPE schools pay between Shs 15,000 and Shs 25,000 while those in the municipality are charged between Shs 35,000 and Shs50,000.
At Mityana Public School, pupils in Primary One to Primary Six pay Shs35,000 for both lunch and development fees while those in Primary Seven pay Shs85,000.
In Kabale, Mr Brichards Turyaijuka, the head teacher of Kabale Preparatory School, says paying extra fees by pupils has been a blessing to the school's academic performance and motivating teachers and learners. The school has nine teachers on government pay out of the 24. Day scholars at the school pay about shs400, 000 while those in boarding section pay Shs600,000.
Mr Keneth Tusingwire, the former head teacher of Kihiihi Primary School in Kanungu District says charging extra fees had helped him renovate the school's dilapidated structures, paying remedial teaching for pupils and providing meals for both pupils and teachers.
Resolution. When government realised that parents had relegated their responsibility to feed their children at school, Cabinet in 2012 came up with three ways through which pupils can be helped get lunch at school.
These include allowing parents in urban areas to pay cash for meals to a sum agreed by school management, board of governors and the parents' teacher associations.
For parents in rural areas, Cabinet recommended that contributions be made in kind say maize, beans and thereafter parents mobilise themselves to prepare meals and the third approved method is feeding the vulnerable children like it is done in Karamoja with assistance from World Food Programme.
However, in most primary schools under UPE, the move to provide meals hit a snag as parents maintained that the government told them that education is free.
Allocation. On average, government earmarks Shs100 billion for basic education annually and a big portion goes to paying teachers' salaries and infrastructure.
This coming financial year (2019/2020), the ministry budget will significantly increase from the current Shs2.781 trillion (2018/2019) to Shs3.074 trillion.
A total of Shs1.6 trillion, which is more than half of the total budget allocated to the sector will be spent on paying salaries, and the biggest portion goes to teachers.
In 2016 /17 and 2017/118 fiscal years, the sector enjoyed the biggest share of the national cake with an allocation of Shs2.4 trillion and Shs2.5 trillion, respectively.
Compiled by Robert Muhereza, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Denis Edema,Sadat Mbogo, Muzafaru Nsubuga, Rumanzi Perez ,Felix Ainebyoona, Polycap Kalokwera, Olivier Mukaaya ,Joseph Omollo George Muron Barbra Nalweyiso &Wilson Kutamba