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OpEd

Why Kampala’s government primary schools are ‘dying out’

A primary school teacher guides a pupils in a language class in one of the primary schools in Kampala surburbs (FILE PHOTO)

By Fortunate Ahimbisibwe

For many years now, Kampala’s Government Primary schools have been struggling and the situation gets worse by the day. While poor performance, poor management and low funding have almost crippled the former glorious schools, private schools are thriving.
The once powerful schools that attracted children of Presidents, Government ministers and even diplomats are now shadows.

What happened? The problem started when people who matter started taking their children to private schools or abroad.
Former President Amin did many unthinkable things, but he also got some things right, he sent some of his children to Kabale Preparatory School.

I will give a common scenario: A driver of a Government bureaucrat will drop his boss’s kids at Kampala Parents School or Kampala Junior or Kabojja, name it. The driver will then rush to drop his children at Buganda Road, Nakasero or Kitante Primary school and they will be late because he had to drop his boss’s children first.

Naturally, when there is a meeting at Kampala Junior school, half of the Government top technocrats will be in attendance to address any challenges the school maybe facing. In the same way, when there is a problem at Kitante, Buganda Road, Nakasero, the meeting will be full of drivers, cleaners, office messengers.

While the chairman of the Parents association at Kampala Parents will be a Minister or Commissioner in Government or a powerful businessman, the chairman of the Parents association in a Government school will be some low-key individual who can’t even get access to relevant government organs when the school has a problem.

The two sets of people determine the success and performance of any school.

When Kabojja School had a land wrangle threatening some portion of the school, the management rushed to a certain commissioner who stepped in and the matter was resolved immediately in their interest. When Buganda Road’s land was grabbed, it was no one’s business, none of the parents could call the shots. That’s where the problem lies.

In the early 1980s, Prof. Kirya was the chairman of Board of Governors of Nakasero Primary School, when he visited the school teachers were on the edge, and he turned up unannounced, went straight to the classrooms, and his own children went to the same school. In my primary school, my father was a chairman of the board, when he visited the school, teachers who would be smelling booze had to jump through windows to escape.

This kind of practice has since changed with people taking their children to international schools both at home and abroad. A fair number of Kampala’s rich people, in fact, Government people are taking their children to Kenya’s Turi International School.

While poor parents are enduring the collapsing Government schools, civil servants’ kids are busking in the comfort of private schools are funded by high fees paid by Government employees who are forced to steal Government money in order to afford the expensive schools where school fees is nearly Ugx2m. If the Government schools were improved, maybe, just maybe, people wouldn’t have to steal in order to pay fees.

This situation should be unacceptable. Hypocrisy in Government circles is killing the schools, everyone knows this, but no one wants to address it. Private schools are surviving because of the ‘support’ they enjoy from Government officials mainly Ministry of Education and Sports. Private schools are thriving at the expense of Government schools. Whose interests does Government serve? What does it take to improve the standards in these schools? In my view, only commitment and emphasis. Everything else is in place, infrastructure is there, teachers are there.

If the Ministry of Education wanted to turn around this trend by setting the standards straight, proper management and abit of more funding. This transformation would happen in a few years and people would start scrambling for these schools again.

Technically, primary schools are under local Government but the Ministry of Education still has control and can determine the future of these schools. But again, this seems to be trend even in health. Lets put Government to task.

And the poor Ugandans have resorted to praying because in Uganda Everything happens or does not happen by ‘the grace of God…even a Government minister who has stolen billion of shillings will donate some to the church and will offered a seat next to the alter.

Underprivileged people survive on hope that when they educate their children, the future may be better, if the affordable schools are allowed to collapse, there will be no hope for many of Kampala’s urban poor.

When Sudhir increased fees for Kampala Parents, some parents tried to complain, and he said those who could not afford should take their kids to Nakasero, that should have been a strong message.

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Mr Fortunate Ahimbisibwe is a seasoned Kampala journalist currently on a sabbatical to the UK

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