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Africa News of Friday, 19 February 2021

Source: monitor.co.ug

Ugandan school owners set conditions to continue operations

Owners of private schools in Uganda have threatened to stop operating under current conditions saying the government's decision to maintain the partial operation of schools is financially unsustainable and could lead to some of them losing their property.

Under their umbrella organization, Proprietors of Private Education Institutions’ Association in Uganda, private schools said they acquired loans from different financial institutions that they are failing to service following the closure of educational institutions in March last year.

Even with the opening of education institutions for candidate classes last year, the funds collected, they say, are insufficient to adequately run their businesses and service the loans acquired from financial institutions.

As such, they have set conditions that they say must be met by the government if they are to continue operating under the current circumstances.

The conditions include; offering them a stimulus package to salvage their low earnings, government engagement with financial institutions to ease pressure on schools, and returning schools to normal operations.

The government last week released the timetable revealing a plan to reopen schools in a phased manner as a way of managing learner numbers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the ministry’s schedule, the sub candidate classes of Primary Six, Senior Three, and Senior Five will report on March 1 and study for 14 weeks, breaking off on May 21.

Primary Four and Five classes will study for eight weeks starting on April 6 after Primary Leaving Examinations and end on June 4 to create space for lower primary pupils in Primary 1, 2, and 3 to come in on June 7.

“Primary 1, 2, and 3 will study for eight weeks which end on July 24,” the ministry’s permanent secretary, Mr Alex Kakooza, said in a statement to owners of private schools on reopening schools.

Kirokya Parents Secondary School Mityana proprietor, Mr Christopher Kiwanuka, explained that revenue generated through such phased opening of schools is not enough to meet the financial obligations needed to run a school.

“Even with candidate classes open as it is, a school generally remains operating on about 85 - 90 per cent of their normal expenses yet collecting only about 10 per cent of their earnings. The only reductions in expenses are seen in food and teachers’ salaries,” Mr Kiwanuka said while addressing journalists in Kampala on Thursday.

There are about 30,000 private education institutions employing over 700,000 workers each with a dependency burden of three or four people, according to Mike Kironde, the association chairman and owner of Janan schools.

Kironde said if schools are not supported, they risk not opening for more learners under the proposed phased manner.

“All other industries have received stimulus packages. We are currently struggling with the burden of candidates. We have loans and obligations. When we open without the support from the government, we risk the wrath of banks that can take over our businesses,” he said.

Education institutions were some of the businesses that were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Survey findings released in July last year indicated that a number of private school owners had put their premises up for sale while others rethought their next line of business.

The Federation for Non-State Education Institutions (Fenei) national secretary, Mr Patrick Kaboyo said in July that these owners had outstanding loans and had given commercial banks their buildings as collateral.

“It is clear every school has an outstanding loan to address. We did a survey and 95 per cent of our schools have loans. We received this information from schools to request a fund from the government to support us to offset these loans. If this fund is not there, we anticipate the commercial banks will take over our schools. We are going to petition all offices to make sure our issues are addressed,” Mr Kaboyo said last year.

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