Parents protest 'unreasonable' cost of distance learning

Sparrow School students during ICT practice before COVID-19 outbreak .Parents whose students have been allowed to further their studies online during the COVID-19 pandemic are protesting new fees structures. File

Parents whose students have been allowed to further their studies online during the COVID-19 pandemic are protesting new fees structures international schools have set up, raising concerns over lack of harmonized charges.

When the lockdown was eased on April 30, the Government directed that all schools be closed until September, but international schools were allowed to continue with their programmes through distance learning.

 

Following this directive, many international schools migrated to online teaching and learning, and revised fees structures to allow students to continue their studies while the pandemic rages on.

 

However, parents who educate their students at different international schools have contested the move by schools that have set up what many call “unreasonable” fees to allow their children to continue schooling.

 

The New Times has accessed a series of letters and notices that different international schools in Rwanda have sent out and issued to parents and guardians, showing revision of fees structures for online learning.

At Sparrow Parents’ School, all classes (Grade 1 to Grade 5) should pay Rwf200,000 for students to access the ‘Microsoft 365 and Teams for Education’ e-learning platform.

Excella School has asked parents to pay Rwf100, 000, Rwf135,000 and Rwf157,000 for nursery and primary sections, ordinary level, and advanced level students, respectively.

Nu Vision High School is insisting that parents and guardians pay Rwf200,000 for nursery students, Rwf400,000 for secondary students (ordinary students) and Rwf500,000 for advanced level students.

Path to Success International School, on the other hand, is requesting parents to pay between Rwf200,000 and Rwf250,000 for nursery school students, and Rwf275,000 for primary students.

These schools insist that those who will have accepted and allowed to pay to let their students take on online learning will be promoted to the next level without having to repeat classes.

A parent who has a primary two Cambridge student at Nu Vision High School says this is unreasonable given the challenges that come with adopting this new approach.

“My seven-year who’s in nursery has to pay Rwf200,000 just to be able to pursue online learning, a slight difference between what they have been paying. This is not only expensive but problematic because it drives the costs of learning up,” a parent who preferred anonymity told this paper.

“Distance learning will start from nursery to senior six. For a grown up kid, this makes sense but training a nursery student without a supervisor and computer skills makes it very complicated for the whole system,” he adds.

Online learning expensive

At Path To Success, more than 180 parents contested the new fees structure for online learning, saying it is unreasonable for a school to ask parents to pay such a huge amount of money.

A letter dated May 7 sent to the school management by parents indicates that while it may be quite expensive to establish online learning infrastructure, it is unfair to set costs that ignore basic factors such as the adoption of the new concept, home schooling, and acquisition of new gadgets.

“The impact of COVID has affected all of us, students being educated from home means you are now shifting the entire burden to us (parents). If you have four students at home, you have to buy gadgets for all of them, good internet, etc,” another parent said.

Parents have asked the school to conduct a brief pilot to establish whether it will be practical since online learning is totally a new concept to both parents and children.

This, they said, will help the school management to provide guidance on the minimum requirement to start online home-schooling, determine the basic level of computer literacy that kids and parents should have, even plan computer skills course to be offered to kids in the beginning to equip them with necessary knowledge to make online learning a success.

The Minister of Education, Valentine Uwamariya told this paper that they have been informed about the concerns parents are raising, and that a quick assessment will be conducted to inform a next decision.

“I have heard these concerns, and this is not about all international schools or programmes, it is more specific about the Cambridge programme. That is because the different schools offering this programme are charging different fees,” she said.

“We have decided to do a quick survey to figure out how these schools are conducting online teaching activities, which will determine the next decision. We’ll inform the parents and it will be up to parents to wait for September or not,” she added.

Proposed regulation

The Ministry of Education does not regulate normally schools that offer Cambridge programmes, rather they are accredited by international educational institutions.

However, Uwamariya said the lockdown has exposed underlying challenges they face.

“We realized that what we thought was wrong, and so we should have guidelines on how to evaluate the quality of teaching of these international programmes,” she noted.

Usually, students at school physically interact with teachers and their fellow students, participate in co-curricular activities, and collaborate on projects, all of which are believed to contribute to the knowledge that a student acquires through his education journey.

These are some of the things considered when schools’ management and administrations consider when setting up fees structures.

However, with home schooling, parents will have to take up the burden of taking care of their schools at home – something that many cannot afford since they are busy.

Theoneste Turatsinze, a Director at Excella School dismissed the idea that private schools should have harmonized fees structure, saying it is more about “free entry, free exit.”

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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