Parents in East Africa are staring at another season of high levies as learning institutions reopen in the next two weeks to a packed academic calendar necessitated by Covid lockdowns.
In Kenya, where schools begin the first term of the 2022 school year on April 25, parents are groaning under a heavy burden of school fees, uniforms and books, amid a skyrocketing cost of living and loss of incomes.
Parents who spoke to The EastAfrican said prices of all school items have nearly doubled.
The scenario is similar in Rwanda and Uganda. Schools in Uganda reopened in January after shutting down for almost two years.
Parents facing an increasing cost of living have to make tough choices, including keeping some learners out of school.
Parents across Uganda are decrying an unprecedented increase in school fees from kindergarten all the way up to university.
At the end of the school term on April 15, most schools communicated to parents about the increase in school fees by between $14.17 and $42.51.
Dr Dennis Mugimba, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, said the government is not opposed to the fee increment, citing the need for funds to finance operations.
"The commodities we use at school are bought from the same markets where all other Ugandans are buying. So in anticipation of these increased prices, we have to increase fees to sustain us," said Emmanuel Mweebe, a headteacher at a Kampala school.
But the ministry has vowed to crack down on schools charging parents non-academic fees. Some schools have notoriously levied money for renovation of buildings and building access roads.
Next month, the Minister for Education Janet Museveni is expected to table before Parliament a proposed regulatory framework for school charges.
The guidelines provide for longer academic terms and shorter holidays to make up for lost time.
That, however, has put pressure on parents who now have to contend with higher fees within short periods.
Dismas Kironde, a resident of Wakiso in central Uganda and father of four school-going children, said most parents who cannot afford fees are opting to let children attend school intermittently, signalling a further disruption for the learners.
"Of my four children, one is in a candidate class (Senior Four) and another is in the final year at university.
‘‘The other two are in primary school. So, with the little I can afford, my wife and I decided that the two in primary school wait for a year as those in critical classes finish," he said.
Kenya has had to condense three academic years into two calendar years.
Nicholas Maiyo, chairman of the Kenya Parents Association, said schools have demanded that learners clear fees on or before the opening day.
"Parents are heavily burdened," he told The EastAfrican on the sidelines of a teachers’ conference in Mombasa this week. "I want school heads to stop demanding extra levies."
Mr Maiyo said some parents are opting to transfer their children from boarding schools to day secondary schools.
In some schools, parents are required to pay for two new pairs of uniforms for their children, two reams of printing papers, exercise books, pens and revision books.
There are extra levies for remedial classes, teacher motivation programmes, infrastructure and other activities.
Although the government is providing free textbooks in public schools, parents are being pushed to buy reference materials such as dictionaries, maps, Bibles, Korans, geometrical sets, mathematics formulae booklets and English and Kiswahili setbooks.
For parents with learners in private schools, the burden is higher as they have to bear with exorbitant fees, buy textbooks and exercise books, among other charges.
Those joining Form One are expected to pay a minimum of Ksh20,000 ($173) extra for uniforms, mattresses, bed covers, uniform labelling, fleece jackets, blazers and Physical Education kits. Form Ones will be admitted to schools starting May 3.
Faustine Musila, who has a son joining Form One this term and a daughter in Form Four, said the financial burden is overwhelming.
"I have to buy new uniforms and I am under financial stress to prepare my son from whom the school requires full fees," he said.
Since schools resumed in October 2020, Kenyan parents have been paying fees four times a year due to the crash academic calendar.
Yet secondary school heads have threatened to increase fees citing the tough economic times.
Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha) chair Kahi Indimuli said the cost of running schools has risen and the fees paid by parents and capitation by the government is not enough as the cost of food has gone up.
"Schools are highly indebted and immediately we open, our suppliers will be at our doors demanding payment," he told The EastAfrican on Wednesday.
The heads have proposed an increment of Ksh8,000 ($69) to fees paid by parents and are asking the government to consider reviewing capitation from the Ksh22, 244 ($192) to 30,000 ($259.5). But the parents’ association has opposed the proposal.
But Dr Julius Jwan, Principal Secretary in the State Department of Basic Education, ruled out any possibility of increasing levies.
Joseph Wasikhongo, coordinator for Elimu Yetu Coalition, an education rights lobby, said parents are too stressed to pay more levies.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Collins Oyuu criticised the government for not improving allocations per student.
"We wish to very strongly propose that Ministry of Education sees it necessary to have these capitations revised because the standards of life have extremely sky-rocketed," he said.
Mr Oyuu said programmes in schools cannot be restricted to tuition responsibilities.
But all is not gloomy in Tanzania, where the government has increased funding for basic education.
The Minister of State in the President’s Office for Regional Administration and Local Government Innocent Bashungwa proposed to Parliament this week to spend Tsh346.5 billion ($149 million) in 2022/23 to fund basic education. This is an increase from the Tsh312 billion ($134 million) allocated in the current budget ending June.
Mr Bashungwa said some 809 teachers’ houses will be built with a budget of Tshs 55.6 billion ($ 24 million) while Tshs 34 billion ($ 15 million) has been allocated for construction of 1,700 classrooms in primary schools. Tshs 15.6 billion ($ 6.6 million) will be set aside to build 39 new primary schools.
Deputy Minister for Education Science and Technology Omary Kipanga said that the government had provided Tsh570 ($245 million) for higher education student loans in the 2021/2022 budget.