Students should not be barred from attending class for failure to pay lunch fees, the Ministry of Education has said.
Sylvie Uwimbabazi, the director of the school feeding programme at the ministry, said education is a child’s right and nobody should deprive them of it.
She was responding to reports that over 50 per cent of students at Groupe Scolaire Rubona in Gatsibo District, were turned away twice last week, over failure to pay lunch fees.
Each student is required to pay Rwf12,000 per term.
Patrick Munyurangabo, the head teacher of GS Rubona, told The New Times that the affected students had been sent home after they refused to take their parents to school to meet the school administrators over the matter.
“Some students do not pay for school lunch even when their parents have given them money.
The school directed all the defaulters to come with their parents, but it seems that those who had misused the money did not want to bring parents. Only few parents turned up,” Munyurangabo said last Friday.
He said the district had committed under the 2015/16 performance contracts (Imihigo) to hit 100 per cent contribution to the school feeding programme, a target which, he said, is only possible if all parents were committed and the government only extends support to vulnerable families.
He added that the Ministry of Education asked schools to compile a list of students who are in the first category of Ubudehe social stratification who needed help.
However, Uwimbabazi told The New Times that schools should devise ways of collecting lunch fees without turning away students.
“Schools should negotiate the best way to collect any contribution but students should not be made to miss lessons over lunch fees,” she said.
Uwimbabazi said the ministry has since received a list of vulnerable students across the country requiring support.
Frederic Rutebuka, the district education officer for Gatsibo, advised schools to work with local government authorities to collect funds from parents instead of expelling students.
“We do not have Imihigo (performance contracts) pressure and sending students back home is not among our strategies to raise fees for the school feeding programme. The contributions in the district stood at 85 per cent in July, and the 100 per cent target is realistic,” he said.
He said the district’s strategies include encouraging school farming, more parents’ involvement and fundraising for the programme.
Parents of affected students, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution against their children, said they were equally disturbed by the decision to dismiss students over lunch fees.
“We (parents and school administration) held a meeting early August and agreed that no student would move out of school to buy snacks during lunch time, but they would stay around to attend afternoon lessons. But my son in Senior Six was sent home on Monday and Friday,” a parent said.
The parent claimed the students were caned and bruised before being sent away, a claim the head teacher dismissed as untrue.
Another parent of a Senior Two student said her daughter has stopped going to school until he pays for her an installment of Rwf4,000 for lunch.
“She was sent home and will not go back until I pay the money,” the parent said.
Some of the affected students said they were not asked to take their parents to school as they had been there in a meeting three weeks earlier.
The head teacher insisted that students had to return to school only with money, a student said.
Elsewhere, Télésphore Hatsindintwari, the district education officer of Kirehe, told The New Times that 92 per cent of students had paid lunch fees last month.
“We have mobilised the parents and they have understood the importance of the students having lunch at school. We have eased the payment process by asking parents to pay in installments of Rwf4,000 per month, while others work on the schools’ farms as part of their contribution,” he said.
Hatsindintwari said the education sector works with local government entities and organises sports activities to reach out to parents to discuss education issues, including school feeding.
However, Hatsindintwari added that the recent rise in commodity prices could force them to increase lunch fees.
Diogène Mvuyekure, the head teacher of GS Ntarama, in Musanze District, said 80 per cent of parents paid lunch fees last term, thanks to school-parents collaboration.
“Some students feel happy when they are sent home and they do not return to school. But after classes we normally give students letters inviting parents to come to school to discuss whatever issues,” he said.
The school feeding programme was introduced in 12-year basic education schools countrywide, mid last year. But it has been facing challenges, including failure by vulnerable families to meet the fees.