Uganda: Private Schools Condition Government On Reopening Schools

Private school owners have set pre-conditions for the government ahead of partial school reopening, demanding relief food and exemption from paying local taxes and candidates' registration fees for national examinations.

They also want their learners to be tested for coronavirus before reporting and also ensure government meet the water bills.

The proprietors, under their umbrella body National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA), said their teachers were excluded from government's food aid to vulnerable groups yet they have persevered without pay after schools were abruptly closed in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Hasadu Kirabira, the chairperson of Kampala private schools, yesterday told Daily Monitor that they want government to consider their concerns before schools partially reopen on June 4.

In their proposal, they want government to meet utility bills and support them with sanitisers since they will be required to spray many times to keep the school environment free from the virus.

Mr Kirabira said the proposed four-metre social distancing might not be possible among learners as it will mean recruitment of more teachers, matrons and school nurses, which money, they don't have.

"We are looking at expenses which are exceeding the income we are going to get from one candidate class. It is going to constrain the school administration. We want the Ministry of Education to come up with practical measures which work within a school setting. It is going to be difficult to manage the four-metre social distancing in our classrooms, dormitories, dining halls where children line up. When you follow the guidelines, it calls for more matrons because each dormitory has to be catered for. This calls for extra cost," Mr Kirabira said.

He added: "There are some fixed utilities like water and electricity that the schools will incur in spite of the few students. We know on return, parents might not have money to pay fees on time because they have not been working. It is not easy to keep social distancing as required. We want the team dealing with the guidelines in the ministry to look at this."

Although President Museveni earlier announced schools not to subject their learners to examinations, Mr Kirabira said it is one way to measure their progress as they prepare for their final papers.

The school owners pleaded to government to reinstate first term to catch up on the lost time when they were closed to enable them complete the term and recover tuition from parents who hadn't cleared.

"We are looking at schools which closed when some learners hadn't paid or paid half. The government should assist schools with sanitisers, temperature monitors, facemasks and food relief. Pay registration fees for all candidates because parents have not been working. But also help schools to recover what they didn't receive from some parents in first term to enable us sort out teachers' salaries. We also ask government to waive local taxes," Mr Kirabira said.

In the event that government doesn't respond positively to their requests, Mr Kirabira said they will engage parents to foot the bills. This will mean increasing fees.

"Water is very expensive for the school. How much water can one child use?" he asked.

Meanwhile, university guild presidents have also appealed to government to allow finalists in institutions of higher learning who hadn't cleared their tuition to sit their exams and clear before graduation.

"The President allowed finalists to return to university and complete their studies. We request for a tuition waiver for those who hadn't finished their fees to be allowed to sit for exams and at least clear before graduation. This is to reduce on dropout. Most parents can hardly put bread on the table because they have not been working," Mr Romulus Tusingwire, the Makerere University Business School guild president, said.

But Mr Patrick Muinda, the Ministry of Education spokesperson, called for calm among the stakeholders insisting they are already working on the guidelines which they hope will be issued out next week.

"The guidelines are going to be out next week. It will be preemptive now to say anything because our bosses are working on them," Mr Muinda said.

Hurdle. Mr Filbert Baguma, the general secretary of the Uganda National Teachers Union, this week said most schools lack teachers' accommodation and wondered how the learners from border districts will be taken care of in the absence of public transport. "Learners from the border districts are scattered everywhere. Even if you say you are going to put joint means of transport, it will be practically impossible. There is a lot to be done," Mr Baguma said.

pahimbisibwe@ug.nationmedia.com

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