Schools in East Africa are going into the new terms this year with a continual headache of finding resources to ensure affordable schooling. From Tanzania to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, the thread of insufficient learning materials, teachers, overcrowding and confusion over the fees charged is going to dominate the early weeks of the new term.
In Kenya, President William Ruto is facing the first test of his credentials as the first full academic year under his tenure begins on January 24, with a focus on implementation of his ambitious school reforms that experts estimate will cost at least Ksh635 billion ($5.12 billion) over five years.
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In the coming week, Kenyan schools open amid confusion around accommodation of the inaugural cohort of junior secondary school (JSS) pupils in the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), which has been marred by confusion and poor planning.
As the Teachers Service Commission hastens to hire teachers to plug the staffing gaps, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu said this week that the government will release funds to facilitate the junior secondary school programme.
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Kenya is allocating Ksh15,000 ($120) to each JSS pupil, giving a huge boost to primary schools that will accommodate them to ramp up construction of laboratories, classrooms and acquire education materials.
“We’ve worked on a figure almost equal to what’s given to secondary schools (Ksh22,240/$180),” Machogu said on Monday while launching Form One selection in Nairobi.
President Ruto, during the launch of the Bottom-up Kenya Kwanza manifesto last year in the run-up to the General Election, recognised education as a key indicator and driver for socioeconomic development.
An immediate task is recruitment of teachers, both for secondary and primary schools, for which the government has committed to bridge the 116,000 shortfall. This will cost at least Ksh238 billion ($1.92 billion). Also urgent is construction of laboratories as the government recommended retention of junior high schools in primary schools.
The government also faces the financial pressure to raise Ksh28.84 billion ($232.6 million) to improve the capacity of day schools, guarantee access to quality education and reduce their costs as congestion worsens in learning institutions.
Recently the president said that junior high school learners who have no laboratories in their schools will be given opportunity to access these in neighbouring schools.
But what poses a major challenge is the revelations by the Parliamentary Budget Office in its audit of the education sector that 50 percent of boarding secondary schools and 70 percent of day secondary schools lack laboratory facilities.
This leaves the government with no choice but to build the facilities, a long-term venture that may take years to complete.
Huge financial requirement
While the previous administration was cagey about the cost of implementing the CBC curriculum, proposals in the Kenya Kwanza manifesto on reforming the education sector offer a glimpse into the huge financial requirement the government faces.
The acid test for the Ruto administration, however, is to ensure a 100 percent transition of the 1,287,597 pioneer Grade Six learners, who sat their Kenya Primary School Education Assessment last year, into junior high school that has Grades Seven, Eight and Nine.
In Tanzania schools have re-opened amid a shortage of teachers, classrooms and learning resources, mostly laboratory equipment and books.
A total of 1,073, 941 children, almost evenly distributed between boys and girls, have been selected to start Form One classes this week under the Tanzania government’s mandatory free education for all children completing primary school.
In Uganda, officials were assuring both parents and schools that a fee cap that had raised controversy will be implemented only after stakeholders agree.
“It has ramifications on universal education coverage targets,” said Dennis Mugimba, spokesperson of the Ministry of Education. “Our hands are tied now. We cannot discuss it before it is decided on by the executive wing of government.”
“As you know education is not provided only by government. There are foundation bodies to consult, private school owners … because simply imposing this fees cap without their input, affects learning,” Mugimba added.
But parents are already agitated, questioning the logic behind the regulation – which leaked to the media before it was discussed by Cabinet. The policy proposal mentions only the maximum fee to be charged, which could now give school owners leeway to hike fees.
For instance, the government caps fees for a child in boarding primary school at Ush1.22 million ($329.4) per term, while day schools are to charge a maximum of Ush650,000 ($175.5).
The regulation caps fees for a student in a boarding secondary school at Ush1.6 million ($432), and Ush960,000 ($259.2) for a day scholar. Fees will be the biggest burden for parents smarting from recent economic hardships.
In Tanzania, a shortage of classrooms, teachers and learning facilities has driven some parents to shift to private schools, seeking better education for their children.
President Samia Suluhu had repeatedly insisted that her government would ensure all selected children join their first year in Ordinary Level (O-Level) studies.
She said in Zanzibar that her government would reduce congestion in schools to ensure no more than 45 children will be in one classroom, as well as ensure a friendly teaching and learning environment.
Data from the Ministry of Regional Administration and Local Government indicates that one teacher in government schools teaches between 65 to 100 students at once in a single classroom.
And the Tanzania Teachers’ Union wanted the government to improve salaries to enable teachers meet the current living costs.
A total of 800 new and furnished classrooms have been constructed in Tanzania and the president said the government is ready to accommodate at least 400,000 students as schools open.
But reports from various regions have indicated a low turnout in student registration. The government has warned parents failing to register their children to join secondary education of heavy penalties.
Dr Charles Msonde, the deputy permanent secretary in the President’s Office, in charge of Regional Administration and Local Government, said that 232 secondary schools have already been built through the Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project.
Other 184 new secondary schools will be constructed before June.
Tanzania in 2016 made primary and Ordinary level secondary educationcompulsory and free.
Under President Samia, the Ministry of Education issued a directive to all government schools forbidding them from asking for fees or contributions from pupils and parents. It also reversed a Magufuli era policy expelling pregnant girls from school, signalling additional numbers of returning learners.
Rwanda, despite revising school levies, is also going through similar problems as its EAC counterparts: schools have begun the second term while grappling with mounting debt and limited resources due to the fee cuts announced last year.
Headteachers who spoke to The EastAfrican are concerned that the sector and students may suffer unless additional support is provided by parents or the government.
The second term of the 2022-2023 academic year kicked off on January 9 with thousands of pre-primary, primary, secondary and vocational students heading back to school after a four-week break.
Some schools that had picked up loans to cater to essential needs in the past term and are now faced with repayment demands.
In September 2022, the Ministry of Education announced school fee cuts due to the state of the economy. But school administrators complained that their budgets were cut too low , leaving them struggling. Andre Nsengiyumva, headteacher of Groupe Scholaire Nzove in Nyarugenge, told The EastAfrican that the school owed suppliers and was likely to take in more credit in the new term.
“There is little hope that we will be able to pay the debt. The second term is the longest in the academic year. We are counting on government assistance and parents’ contributions. Hopefully, food prices will not increase further,” Nsengiyumva said.
The school has 2,712 primary and secondary students who are all beneficiaries of the school feeding programme. The school has a budget of around Rwf27 million ($25,000) per term, of which the government provides Rwf21 million ($19,600) in capitation grants and school feeding assistance, while the rest is raised by parents. Last term, only 54 percent of the parents paid their contribution.
Regulations by the Ministry of Education set school fees for public secondary schools at a maximum of Rwf85,000 per term ($80) and Rwf975 ($0.9) per term for primary schools. Before the regulations, some schools charged as much as Rwf200,000 ($186).
While parents rejoiced over the fee revision, some admit it will be inevitable to increase contributions to keep their children well educated.
“I would understand if it (school fees) was increased again. I pay Rwf19,500 ($18) for my son and that is too little compared to food prices. As long as the government makes sure parents are not taken advantage of by schools, I think it is understandable to increase the school fees,” said Musonera Eustache, a parent.
Late last December, the Ministry of Education announced plans to reassess the applicability of the regulations after many school heads complained.
The new term also began with revised school hours. All schools in Rwanda will now open at 8.30am instead of 7am and end learning at 5pm, as per resolutions of the Cabinet in October.
The new calendar gives one hour for lunch, instead of two hours as before. But headteachers are saying one hour is not enough since some schools take lunch in shifts or use classrooms as refectories due to a lack of dining halls.
Reporting by Apolinari Tairo, David Mwere, Ange Iliza and Julius Barigaba