Persistent extra school charges irk parents

Lycée de Kigali students enter the school gate. File.

In 2016, Lycée de Kigali – a public secondary school – unveiled a Rwf150 million project to fence the school premises as part of a strategy to curb drug abuse among the students.

The school did not have the money to implement the project. Its management turned to parents for their contributions.

Following a Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meeting in 2017, it was agreed that each parent pays Rwf12, 000 per term for a period of two years until the project is completed, according to school authorities.

While the school management claims that it tasked the PTA to communicate the outcomes of the meeting to all parents, some parents are complaining that the decision was not approved by all of them

One of the parents who has a child in boarding at Lycée de Kigali said that, in addition to the Rwf12,000 contribution, he pays Rwf110,000 per term.

“On top of this I have to cater for other expenses like scholastic materials,” said the parent who requested not to be named for fear of possible repercussions on the child.

“This is really hard for me as a single parent,” says the mother who also has other children in secondary schools.

The Head Teacher of Lycée de Kigali, Martin Masabo, told The New Times that the complaints from parents were unfair.

“Based on the location of the school, it neighbours places like Nyamirambo (Biryogo) where drug abuse is very popular,” he said, adding that; “Because the school has many entrances day school children or outsiders would sneak in drugs. At different occasions some students were caught with drugs”.

He added: “As a school we thought this is something that need to be stopped and we agreed with parents to find a long-term solution”.

Masabo argues that government support is not sufficient enough to cater for all the school expenses, and hence public schools are forced to turn to parents in order to bridge funding gaps.

While PTAs are supposed to be the link between parents and the school management, some parents claim that most of the time the association don’t represent the parents’ leading to implementation of school programmes without the necessary input from parents.

Célestin Nyamutamba, the chairman of Lycée de Kigali’s PTA, dismissed claims that the ‘fence fee’ was imposed, saying it was a collective decision.

“The PTA committee stands as mediators between parents and the school management. Even the local authorities are represented in this committee to ensure inclusive decision-making. Things agreed upon are communicated to the district where the school is based for approval before the project is implemented,” he said.

Lycée de Kigali is one of the many public schools in Rwanda where parents have persistently complained about the rising extra school charges.

Parents who have children in GS Gatagara in Huye District have also voiced similar concerns after the school slapped extra charges on parents in order to build a fence.

Oher extra charges usually include fees to incentivise teachers, registration, hygiene and feeding, among others – which are also imposed on students from the poorest families who fall under the first and second social stratification (Ubudehe).

“We held a meeting in the second term and we were told that by the third term we should pay money for constructing the fence. What I’ve noticed is that whenever the decision is taken as parents we must comply,” said Mukamanam a parent.

Simon Bizimana, the GS Gataragara Head Teacher, agrees that the school is building the fence but denied claims that the project was rolled out in the middle of the year.

Head teachers have raised concern over insufficient capitation and feeding grant from the Government, which does not reflect the country’s economic situation.

In 2016 the Government reduced its funding to public boarding schools from Rwf156 to only Rwf56 for each student per day.

“Apart from the fact that the support is little we don’t get it on time.  We receive it in instalments and the first (tranche) comes every end of the term, which finds us already indebted to suppliers of food and other essential supplies,” said Frere Celestin Rwirangira, the Head Teacher of GS of Butare.

Head teachers said that poor funding will continue to affect their operations and are seeking for a reliable and convenient model to fund public schools.

The New Times tried to contact the Ministry of Education for a comment on the matter but, on several occasions, the ministry did not respond.

However, early this year the Rwandan Education Board (REB), released a statement, warning public schools against imposing extra charges on parents.

The REB statement, signed by its Director-General, was prompted by reports that some students were being turned away from school at the opening of the new academic year.

The statement further urged district mayors to follow up and ensure students are not deprived of their right to education because they have not been able to pay for some services.

Although the REB directive encourages parents to make contributions to schools, they did not specify the extent (in terms of money and time) to which parents can make such contributions.