By Alex Gahima
Private school owners in Kisoro district are now facing an uphill task of paying back accumulated interest rates on school loans they took out from Co-operative Savings and credit Societies (SACCOs) and other commercial institutions from as far back as March 2021.
The education sector in the country was hard hit after Ugandan authorities decided to disrupt learning for two years due to the Coronavirus pandemic, making it the longest break from School in East Africa.
Education Ministry Spokesperson Denis Mugimba says, when the closure went into effect, 15.5 million students had their education disrupted.
First Lady and Minister of Education Janet Museveni, in a statement said, the long closure was necessary to protect children and their families as Uganda tried to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Road to Hell is paved with good intentions
After nearly two years of closed learning institutions, the Government made its pronouncement, finally allowing schools including early childhood centers, Primary and Secondary Schools to reopen on January 10th 2022.
As parents across the country scrapped together whatever funds they could get their hands on, for their children’s back to school shopping, after the festivities of Christmas (2021) and New Year’s, financial institutions were also preparing themselves to go out and demand for their money.
General Manager of Mubuga Co-operative Savings and Credit Society (MUSACCO) Mubanguzi Pacrasiyo says more than 900 million shillings, in loans is demanded from Primary, secondary and other tertiary institutions in the district.
MUSACCO, which has an asset base of 6 billion shillings says the financial institution is in the process of setting up a select loans committee that will engage affected schools, beginning with February 1, 2022.
“We surely understand the plight private schools in the district are experiencing, majority of the parents are sending their children back to school with half or no payments of school fees, however the tough talks need to begin from somewhere”, Mubanguzi said
According to Mubanguzi, the SACCO has been operating under pressure since December 2021 to date because clients have been making more withdrawals and less savings.
“In the month of December 2021, 2.3 billion shillings was collected by the SACCO however in the same month, more than 1.6 billion was withdrawn”, Mubanguzi explained.
He says in the first week of January alone, 430 million shillings was saved however 326 million shillings has since been withdrawn.
“Since December, our clients made withdrawals for Christmas festivities, others withdrew money to buy Irish potato seedlings ahead of the January planting season while others withdrawal heavily when Government announced Schools-reopening”, Mubanguzi explained
Stuck between a Hard Place and a Rock
The Chairperson of Private Primary Schools Association in Kisoro Augustin Mbonigaba says school owners need to brace for hard times ahead.
Mbonigaba explained that the association that has more than 90 schools have committed themselves not to increase a penny to their school fees which should be a relief to parents.
He however anticipates a number of challenges because Government decided to increase the learning time from three months to four.
“The first and most important challenge for schools will be shortage of food because many schools have to outsource it either directly from Kampala or from shops around town but it will be too costly and yet we cannot increase school fees”, Mbonigaba said
The chairperson of Private Secondary Schools Association and director of Kisoro Vision Secondary School Dan Munyambabazi says he was approached by four school owners who said they have been locked out of the buildings they are renting until rent arrears of 2 years are paid up front.
Munyambabazi explained that some of the schools being affected by rent are being demanded up to 22 million shillings.
Schools are too cheap in Kisoro
Munyambabazi, an educator and owner of Kisoro Vision Secondary School, the best performing secondary School in the district for more than a decade now, says School fees stands at 400,000 shillings which is hardly enough to run school affairs.
“When you divide 400,000 per the 100 days, a learner will spend in school, you find each child will use 3,900 per day which is still very little as compared to the services being accessed at the school, Munyambabazi explained.
He says the communities in Kisoro are still very poor and largely ignorant about how Schools operate.
Munyambabazi says, as soon as the Schools reopened, commercial banks begun sending written messages reminding us of the loans we have.
He however notes that the situation is not all dark and gloom as enrolment for senior one has more than doubled which is encouraging.