School fees in Uganda and how they work (or don’t)!
School fees in Uganda and how they work (or don’t)!
School fees is a term you will hear a lot if you visit Uganda, and a lot of other African countries for that matter. When I first heard it I didn’t know what it meant, why were families who couldn’t afford it sending their kids to private school?! Well they’re not – everyone pays for school from day one in reception class in Uganda!
A big problem
As I was interviewing families as part of the volunteer work I was doing, and making friends, I started to realise how big of a problem this is in Uganda. It is literally starving families of life, driving them to desperation every term just to be able to offer their kids an opportunity for a better future – something every parent innately desires, and should be able to do. In the UK we don’t even have to think twice about whether our child will get an education through supported home schooling or attending school. Can you imagine if we had to make the choice of which child to send to school? Or to have to send our children out to work instead? This is a reality in Uganda, and one that is made even worse by high-mortality rates from HIV, other illnesses (and lack of medical fees – another blog post all together), the previous war and accidents. These mean that children are often left with one parent, or none, making paying school fees near impossible. There is no infrastructure such as social services to ensure the child is catered for, so for these children, the future becomes even bleaker on top of their loss.
Could we help?
In the rural areas of Uganda that I had the pleasure of staying in, I watched the communities and families deal with death and difficult situations in admirable ways; families that already had nothing rallying around to ensure that no-one went without and no child was left homeless or alone. Watching this, and after many long conversations with the headmasters of the schools, we decided to create groups where we could address some of these issues and see how a charity, that could potentially support positive change, would really need to operate and what they would benefit from – and thus Be The Change was created!
Different types of schools
The ‘Government schools’ are deemed as less successful and less desirable by parents, but they do charge lower fees. If a child takes the cheaper option and attends a government school however, this then means that they may not be able to attend certain high schools and universities (if they manage to get this far) due to them specifying certain previous schools. This obviously encourages parents to strive to raise the more expensive fees for the ‘better’ schools, but almost always this means getting deep into debt, and with family sizes traditionally large, the problem is exacerbated and results in family debt being unmanageable, or children missing out on education altogether. There is then on top of all this, the strict ‘requirements’ they need when attending school, such as reams of paper, exercise books, pens, chairs, shoes, uniform…and this gets worse if its a boarding school, which the majority of secondary schools are, (or offer the option for), so then add on trunks for their belongings, brooms, mattresses, sheets, meal costs, sanitary products. This is all added expense, a lot of which we would take for granted as included in schooling – see the issue?
Be The Change is working with several schools, to keep the conversation going about school fees with the government. The Ugandan government wishes for a future for the country, and so needs to invest into its’ children and their education – and it is not as if it cannot afford it! In the meantime though, we are also providing support to families in need, which is essential. Those who cannot provide school fees for their children’s education due to lack of employment opportunities, the obscene size of fees in comparison to wages, or the fact that they are a single-parent, or no parent family, need help in any form it comes. We also support former-child soldiers who have been left with no family at all and missed out on education for years whilst being forced to be a child-soldier. We link kind people like yourselves as sponsors to children and young-adults who need it the most so that they can get back into school. We also provide workshops for the care-givers of these vulnerable children (predominantly orphans) and single parents, so that they have the opportunity to train in a vocation; creating employment opportunities. Another avenue we create is selling their crafts to provide fees for the children they care for. Some of these care-givers are also former child-soldiers themselves, so the support is multi-functional, giving as much opportunity all round to everyone involved. If one life is better-ed, the reverberation of this positive change can be felt all over the community.
If you would like to be part of the Be The Change family please do sign-up to donate monthly or sponsor a child.
Author: Suzie FordSuzie achieved her BSc in Zoology at the University of Leeds, and studied online for a Diploma in International Environmental Law from the United Nations Development Programme. She is passionate about volunteering and conservation work.
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