Robert Mafabi, 14, is a student of Nkoma Secondary School, located a half a kilometer from the heart of Mbale City. He on a daily basis however trek from their home found in Nabweya Top (approximately 8km) to the school. As if this is not enough, Mafabi on a daily basis interface another pressing challenge -hunger.
His father Paul Nagimesi is a peasant, and a casual laborer, he works on other people’s farms to earn a living, he earns less than $5 a day which makes it difficult for him to attend to all his family’s needs.
“We are five children at school level me in senior three, my immediate young sister in senior two. We have the rest in primary five, three and one,” he says.
“At first our father used give us money for breakfast but now things are worsening,” he added.
At Nkoma SS alone, Nagimesi has to raise a minimum of Shs210,000 per term (Shs105000) each and a minimum of Shs50,000 to the rest of the pupils.
With an addition of buying other scholastic materials, providing health funding, Nagimesi has to buy food that his family feeds on, on a daily basis.
“I spend a minimum of Shs10,000 per day on food only, the situation is becoming worse as time goes on, even if you plant maize and beans, it doesn’t last long,” he adds.
A kilogram of maize flour now costs between Shs3500 and Shs4000, up from between Shs1200 and Shs1800 in December, 2021.
To ensure that his two children gets at least a meal at school, Nagimesi pays Shs40,000 for each child, but this is yet to stop as the school can’t manage any more due to sky rocketing food prices.
“They are being given porridge during lunch time,” he said
Mafabi is among the 6700 students that have been enrolled at Nkoma SS.
The school have 1200 who sat for their Uganda Certificate of Education examination and and the 432 who sat for Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education candidates.
Being among the most affordable government schools, the school attracts students from struggling families especially those leaving in the up skirts of the town, trekking between 8 and 10 kilometers on a daily basis.
This can be well evidenced on the school dues payment time, documents reviewed by DaParrot indicates that less than 10% of students pay their full fees during reporting date, majority constituting over 40% pay their school dues at the end of the term.
Despite of all this, the school administration says operations were still smooth, especially when food was in abundance due to its fair prices.
Now with the negative impact of covid-19 and persistent inflation, it has become hard for the administration to run the school affairs.
“The recent government’s directives of Schools closure on 25th November, 2022 has benefited us as we were failing to maintain due to high feeding costs”,Arut Mudende, the Director of Studies told DaParrot on December 5.
Mudende said the whole school administration is helpless yet worried of the performance of the candidates, since “we all literally failed to provide proper feeding for both students and the staff,”
“The prices has affected the welfare of teachers as most funds are spent on food and taking home less,” he said
Agreeing with Nagimesi and other 5 parents DaParrot spoke to, Arut sad that the persistent rise in Food prices has had a direct impact on parents who have ended up failing to pay their children’s school fees.
“Some parents even failed to pay fees for those in candidate classes but the school had to endure and allow them to so the exams,” he said
The school has despite of this condition not made a single fees increment, but endured with the situation.
Magnitude of the Problem
The skyrocketing food inflation has not affected Nkoma SS alone, but other government non government schools as well.
To better understand the magnitude of the problem, we singled out three schools (Nkoma SS and Mbale High School in Mbale and Musiitwa Seed Secondary School in Nazigo, Kayunga district).
Different media reports indicates that Mbale city has a total enrolment of over 31,000 secondary school students distributed across 5 government schools and 29 private schools. 60% of these are in government schools while the 29 private schools share 40%.
Three of the five government schools including Mbale SS, Nkoma SS, and Mbale High school account for 46% of the overall enrolment in the city. Others include Bukonde and Nakaloke Secondary Schools.
Nkoma SS in particular is reported to have 6,539 students followed by 4,700 and 3,328 for Mbale SS and Mbale High school respectively, compared to 450 students for an average private school.
Charles Wasukira, is the the Director of Studies at Mbale High School.
Like Mudende, Wasukira says most most parents have continuously failed to meet their children’s school fees obligation in time, leading to the slow movement or activities of the school, where by most students couldn’t make it to come to school due to lack of some necessities.
He says that the increasing food prices have also affected the school as it cannot manage to meet the meals obligation hold for staff.
“We had a budget for maize flour at Shs1500 but shifted Shs3500 and sugar having been budgeted at Shs3000 per kilogram but rose to Shs5000 which has affected in that teachers who used to be given tea in at break and evening are now given only break tea due to rise in sugar costs,” he told DaParrot in an Exclusive interview on December 10.
“This has has demotivated the teachers and the effects is felt by the students as teachers couldn’t deliver what could be expected especially in the evening times,” Wasukira added.
According to Wasukira, there has been lack of concentration among students residing in the hostels since “they were sent home frequently to pick the hostel fee which was due due to increase in food prices,”
Abdul Nafi Musiitwa, the Principle of Musiitwa Seed Secondary School in Nazigo, Kayunga said that the capitation grant from government may seem to be a good idea but offers little solution especially in times of hardship like this
He said that for example government contributes Shs58,000 for each O’level student and Shs90,000 for each A’level student, which may have seemed right procedure, only that it was a mismatch since the students welfare can never be detached from effective learning and that if only the grant could cater for the students meals as well.
“There is inflation in the country and we are talking about a biting economy, even the prices of the cost centers on which the grant money has to be spent have nearly doubled and has had an implication on our service delivery,” he emphasized.
He notes that even the teaching process has been compromised in a way that the consolidated funds have not been enhanced, and the administration has to constrain and reduce on the teachers’ students contact hours to “what is practically within their means,”
This, he said is done in the wake of promoting sciences required more practical studies, equipment and apparatus and not to mention ample time.
“In the past one would supplement the work force by recruiting and paying Parents Teachers’ Association (PTAs) but now due to constraints the teachers are overwhelmed by their work and end up doing effective occupation of classes rather than effective teaching,” the principle told DaParrot
He added that unfortunately, even the few lessons that are rendered to the students, their performance is on a slump given that many have also been halted by the increasing food prices thus can’t manage to concentrate in class on a hungry stomach.
“Many were forced to skip afternoon lessons, registered increased absenteeism since many got involved in other economic activities and also cases of diverting their fees to meals,” he said
The Evolving Unending Inflation
Few months after the lockdown and commencement of the Russia-Ukraine war, the prices of essential commodities, especially fuel rose from Shs3000 to Shs4500. This shot the inflation from less than 1% in December, 2021 to 4% in July, 2022.
Inflation later on rose drastically to the current 10.9%, according to the November Consumer Price Index of the UBOS.
“Rice inflation increased by 12.3% in September 2022 from the 0.3% rise recorded in August 2022. Dried Mukene inflation increased by 19.6% in September 2022 from the 17.4% rise of August 2022,” it reads.
To respond to the problem, Bank of Uganda rose the Central Bank Rates from 6.5% to 7% in July and kept on increasing to current 10%.
The increment has since made commercial banks to be reluctant in giving loans to defaulting customers hence reducing the amount of money in circulation.
This has made the schools to operate on hardships since even the capitation grants are delayed.
Schools literally depends on maize flour, beans and sugar, which have been subjected and hit hard.
Mbale in particular is among the most affected districts when it comes to inflation.
According to the CPI, inflation in November was highest in Arua at 14.4% from 10.4% in October. Mbale ranked second highest with 12.5%, October was 11.8%. Kampala High Income registered 8.3% inflation for October.
Globally world bank states that domestic food price inflation remained high around the world. Information between July to October 2022.
An independent reports from plan international also suggest that at least 1 person is estimated to be dying of hunger every 4 seconds.
Gov’t Policy on Food in Schools
In bid to reduce on the issue of hunger that was leading to high school dropouts, government drafted the policy that allows students to always bring food in kind (5kgs-30kgs) of both maize and beans or pay a little amount of fee to cater for their meals while at school.
Parents, whom DaParrot spoke to both in Kayunga and Mbale said that there is no way children can take food yet they even sometimes lack what to eat due to the negative impact of climate change that has turned them into hand-to-mouth workers.
Before covid-19 ravaged everything, the UBOS 2021 report indicates that the production of the staple food had increased from 437,000kgs of beans in 2019 to 786000 kgs of beans in 2020 and from that of maize from 2.7 tonnes in 2019 to 4.56 tonnes in 2020.
In an exclusive interview with DaParrot, Robert Mugambwa, an education expert from UWEZO Uganda said that the only way of harmonizing is for government to sit with stakeholders and draw a new strategy.
He says that there must be a way of helping schools as an entity to shock absorb their pressures and leverage on what they have so that schools are not looked at as enterprises that are here for business but rather as those meant to help society.
“Whenever we have schools with greater school management commitees, they can always look around for what to leverage on and build enterprises that can shock absorb some of the pressures, forexample those in urban areas can alawys lease land in rural areas for agricultural purposes,” Mugambwa said.
Adding that he knew of schools that tried to come up with some solutions helping their teachers by ensuring that they nolonger buy food but have where to dig and that these may have seemed as small things but they created an environment where teachers don’t push everything back to the learner.
Mugambwa notes however that the school managements need to be helped by the parents through the able bodied management PTAs, that will enable d the involvement of the community in the schools management
With both management and parents on board mugambwa notes that it was incumbet that government also stepped up and provided the much needed quality education to its citizens.
Mugambwa noted that this could be done by also supporting the private sector which also been effected by the economic shockers.
He as well weigh on the possibility of more investment more in public schools to enchance quality and affordable education for the disrupted and franchised learners and also looking forward to adapting to the new forms of learning provide for in the new curriculum.
Schools Raise Fees
To counter the inflationary pressure, majority of government schools especially those in Cities have resorted to increasing fees.
Habiibu Sseruwagi, a board member of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) told reporters at the Uganda Media Centre last week that their latest findings show government schools have increased fees by up to 28.
The commission he said further found out that at least 35% of the parents have pending school fees balances for the last academic year.
He expressed concern over schools which have increased fees amid the economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and other social challenges occasioned by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“In order to cope with the rising operational cost caused by Covid- 19, many schools increased fees at the beginning to the last academic year. However, these increments were still unfair since the parents’ incomes had not changed,”Sseruwagi said.
Gov’t Speaks Out
Timothy Musoke Sejjoba, the Ag. Commissioner University Education and Training at the Ministry of Education and Sports told DaParrot that government is working on a policy that will help in harmonizing fees in all schools.
He noted that food and fees were variables in the inflationary pressures and that it was true that partly schools increased their dues due to the food prices.
“However as ministry the entire issue about fees in government schools has been revised and that a draft on regulation and consultations under way and that hence forth there will be guidelines to follow,” he said
He also hopes that the food becomes more available and with out escalation of external factors like fuel they were optimistic about the future of the education sector in terms of food security
Is USE Still of Relevance to the Poor
In 1992, with the adaption of the late Proffessor Ssenteza Kajjubi report, government introduced the Universial Primary Education (UPE) and later the Universal Secondary Education in 1997.
Data from the 2017 Education Abstract from the ministry of education and sports indicates that there are there are 2995 secondary schools in Uganda, of which 1,058 are government.
The abstract further reveals that 1487 schools receive aid from government in form of grants.
“This includes all government schools (916) and the 571 Public Private Partnership schools,” reads part of the abstract.
Of the 64,966 total secondary teachers, the abstract states that there are 26,796 (19,753 male & 7,043 female) teachers in government schools.
The dropout report in USE schools 2012, for example suggests that 14% continue to drop out for search for full sponsorship, 22% lack of scholastic materials and 25% students are involved in business activities.
This Story was Published by DaParrot with Support from MCI