Uganda’s educationists have taken financial buffoonery to new depths. The more prestigious the school, the greater the buffoonery, it seems.
Sampling the Form One admission letters to the so-called top secondary schools that people have been sharing on social media, you get the feeling that four years down the line, every student will pass with a distinction in Drama and proceed to major in comedy arts.
The list of requirements in the letter starts with an item called “Entry Fees”— apparently setting the theatrical mood — Ush350,000 (about $100). Another item is uniform at the same or a higher figure. Then come the reams of paper; toilet paper and the inevitable bag of cement.
None of the admission letters I saw indicated the weight of the cement bag and had I been a parent in the category I wonder would I have dared take a small bag with one kilo of cement in it?
Other items demanded by the “top” schools per pupil include a spade, hoe and similar items that everyone knows will end up in the hardware shops, just like the reams of paper end up in stationery shops. Curiously, some schools now insist on only one brand of detergent.
Of course, every student’s luggage is checked to confirm that s/he has brought the right items. After the checking, the rather unfit parents have to carry the now messed up boxes to the dormitory — fathers to the boys’ dormitory and mothers to the girls’ dorm. That is where the final, unreceipted charge is paid in cash — to the matron.
The school fees, which are completely separate from the above “requirements” and many others, are at least Ush1,800,000 ($500) per child, whether new or continuing students. This is just for one of the three school terms in a year.
It is broken down into interesting items like Parent-Teachers Association; Tuition and Boarding; Old Students Association; Development Fees and so on. In all, each pupil pays at least the equivalent of $770 per term, equal to the country’s annual GDP per capita.
After being subjected to such unreasonable treatment and extortion, the parents victoriously depart from the school compound in celebratory mood, having managed to satisfy all the “requirements’” to have their precious kid admitted to the practical drama incubation centre.
If anyone were concerned enough about the future of the Ugandan nation, they would ask what is to be expected of the products of such institutions, where extortion is exercised blatantly and officially. Fortunately, since nobody is asking the question, expect peace to prevail in the “great” schools.
You may wonder why intelligent, rational beings accept being subjected to such exploitation. The answer may lie in the concept of keeping up with the Joneses: The desire to spend and imitate the lifestyle of those perceived to be a society’s elite.
If the odd parent gathers the courage to challenge the unreasonable charges, they are shut up with misplaced clichés like “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
They will also be reminded that this is a free market economy where nobody is compelled to take their child to a particular school, and that cheap government schools are available.
Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]