By tomorrow, most primary and secondary schools in Rwanda will have closed for their second term holidays. Yes I know how hard it can be to keep track of some of these developments especially when you are out of the formal school system and have no school children under your care.
Several people only realise that the school term has ended when they find themselves sharing public transport with teenagers armed with mattresses, heavy bags and heavy slang talk. The excitement on the student’s faces is hard to miss. They speak loudly in the taxi as they relive funny moments at school or examination questions.
On this particular occasion, the end of the school term seems to have come at a rather tough time. I am not talking about the dry season although it is a problem too. However, I am talking about the harsh economic times that are no longer a secret.
The rising cost of living not only in Rwanda but also in the neighbouring countries has really complicated things. I have always condemned the tendency for schools to close before the official designated day. My reasoning has always been that such a move is day light robbery since students pay school fees to cover the whole term.
For once I feel the urge to hold back on my perennial condemnation. The reason for my ‘leniency’ is pegged to the harsh economic times that affect all of us including schools.
The rising costs certainly affect the way schools are run especially boarding schools. The school fees charged today were most likely set at the beginning of the year and have not changed to take into account the rising costs.
What all this means is that schools have been pushed to a tight corner where they had to figure out how to spend the money they charged at the beginning of the term as prices continued to shoot up. Such measures included cutting out some things from their budgets to ensure that essentials are met.
In Uganda schools have promised to close before the due date over the same reason while in Kenya some schools have already resorted to reducing the quantity of food they give their students. To put yourselves in their shoes, just imagine if you had set aside some money for sugar in January using the January price. Now compare that with the current price of sugar at your local grocery.
With all that put into consideration, for once I do understand when schools decide to send children home before the official closing day of the academic term. It is better to send them home instead of starving them.
Do not get me wrong, I am not talking about sending the students home simply because a school has run out of money. I am talking about sending them home after their end of term exams. Considering the tough economic times it is understandable for the students to be let go only to return to pick their report cards.
I am sure that even if the school inspectors will understand in case they find schools in this position. For many schools, the choice over how to endure the last week of the term may be a thin line between starving the children and sinking in debt with the school suppliers.
Before the new term starts, some schools may consider raising school fees they charge based on the same argument of rising food costs. I suggest that this be done in consultation with the Ministry of Education. On the other hand, the Government could find ways of assisting schools probably through subsidies so that the scenario of increasing the school dues is avoided.
Now that students are home, parents and guardians need to devise ways of keeping them constructive and productive instead of simply idling before the television set. Next week I will offer some suggestions. Happy holidays.