Christine Umumararungu, 17, born in Ngororero District dropped out of school after completing Senior Three. She had been studying for free for the past nine years after explaining to the authorities that she could not afford school fees being an orphan. Unfortunately, the school did not have A-Level, implying that she had to move to another school for further education. But with the school charges of up to Rwf10,000 per term, she knew she wouldn’t afford feeding and she decided to drop out and moved to Kigali, where she now works as a house help.
She says everyone in her neighbourhood knows that the 12-year basic education is supposed to be free but they don’t understand why there are always some charges slapped on students even in day schools. Like Umumararungu, many children from poor families fail to complete their studies due to such school charges.
In a recent statement released by the Rwandan Education Board (REB), public schools have been warned against extra charges levied on parents, which ends up inhibiting students from attending school.
The statement, signed by the REB director-general, follows reports that some students were being turned away from school at the opening of the new academic year earlier this week.
The levies that are being imposed on students include incentive fees for teachers, registration, hygiene, scholarship materials and feeding, among others, which are even being imposed on students from the poorest households in the 1 and 2 of the social stratification programme, Ubudehe.
The statement further urged district mayors to follow up and ensure children are not deprived of their right to education because they have not been able to pay for these services.
Referring to the statement, Isaac Munyakazi, the Minister of State in Charge of Primary and Secondary Education, told Education Times that the government is doing everything possible to ensure all children stay in schools.
He says all the necessities of schools are catered for under the capitation grant and teachers are paid respectively. Therefore, no student’s should be expelled from school over extra charges, he adds.
“We have issued new guidelines schools must follow with regards to students in the lowest Ubudehe categories. Be it for boarding or day schools, students who show their justification that they are from these ubudehe categories should be allowed to learn without any single Charge,” he says.
However, Munyakazi explains that though education is free, the Government cannot shun completely the parents’ contributions where necessary provided that it is done with respect to individual economic capacity.
He adds that even charges regarding school feeding, incentive fees for teachers or any other extra charges must be discussed and agreed on in parents-teachers’ associations and should not be applicable to children who come from the first and second categories of Ubudehe.
On the other hand, Bellancille Mukamwezi, the head teacher of GS Mpungwe, says they receive everything they need for the school to function under the capitation grants which covers books, chalk, school rehabilitation and other basic school needs.
She said the only contribution they ask parents to make is for school feeding, where they are supposed to pay Rwf4,500 per term.
“Thanks to the Government support on this programme of Rwf56 for each student per day, no one misses food. We make sure that the available food is shared accordingly. Some parents even choose to contribute beans or other necessary vegetables as an exchange for money. For us no student is expelled,” she said.
Jean Damascene Nizeyimana, the head teacher of ES St Jean Bosco Isimbi, says they used to ask for charges of teacher incentives and school feeding but at a certain point the school decided to remove the teacher’s incentives after realising that it was generating many complaints from parents that even those who could afford did not want to pay.
“Now the only remaining charge goes to school feeding. Each family is required to pay Rwf3,000 per term, but, as of last year, the government started supporting this programme and we are thinking of reducing to Rwf1,000 and those who want to give to the school.
“Normally, during school-parents’ meetings, we agree on the amount each one has to contribute depending on their means. However, a minority pay it without waiting for reminders, he says.
Felicite Mukeshimana, the head teacher of GS Gisagara A, says the majority of parents misunderstand ‘free education’ by thinking that they don’t have to make any contribution to the school, saying the government has covered it all.
She says even when they agree on paying some contribution in meetings it is hard to get some of them to pay without extra reminders.
“We tell the students to remind their parents to fulfill their duties but some fear to come back before their parents pay, which is a misinterpretation. No school official can deliberately make students miss lessons because of this,” she says.
Mukeshimana advises schools to create platforms where they can discuss with parents issues affecting their children’s education without using students as the intermediaries.
Esperance Mukakimenyi, teacher at Sainte Famille Primary School
Teachers’ incentives are usually not well understood by parents. Even in urban areas, the majority agree to pay it but in the end teachers get a small amount. To avoid issues, I think teachers should rely on their salaries and forget about incentives. Parents who are able to contribute can pay and those who can’t afford should be tolerated.
Jean Paul Habarurema , father of five and Nyamirambo sector resident
If school heads were able to let the parental instinct guide them in their decision-making they would not interfere with the students welfare making them miss lessons. Every person can get into crisis. May be the parents have failed to pay due to certain problems. If the school authorities take time to understand them they can find the solutions together without sending children home.
Jean Marie Nsengiyumva , parent of two and resident of Kicukiro
In the past, schools used to have parents communication books which were used to inform parents of all issues concerning their children or school-related issues. I think schools should adopt the same method other than bothering students and making them miss lessons.
Jeanne Umuhoza , S3 student
Some children drop out of school not because they don’t want to study. The majority get overwhelmed about missing classes and having to deal with other day-to-day family issues. When their parents have failed to make the contribution, they fear that when they go back to school the authorities will not let them in.