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By Alex Balimwikungu

It is early January, but we are battling two major fevers – Omicron and school fees. I’ve just shaken off the former and I can authoritatively say it is ‘nothing’ compared to the latter.

It is just a few days to the official opening of schools after a two-year hiatus. The fever and frustration is palpable. Whereas there are boosters for omicron, for the schools there seems to be none.

I had a momentary sigh of relief when I woke up to the headline:  “All Schools to Open on January 24, 2022 – Govt.” The story detailed how the Government had postponed the reopening of primary and secondary schools scheduled for January 10 to January 24 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Whereas the story is true, it is in Zambia and not Uganda!

If you thought edupreneurs were still the meek and humble type that begged the Government for relief during the time schools were closed, they have drastically changed with just a few days to school re-opening.

Look at their revised school fees structures ahead of re-opening and you know many are annoyed and merciless. Some are as shrewd as moneylenders. When you read their letter to parents and the requirements therein, it is as if they are accusing parents of bringing COVID-19 two years ago. Circulars to parents are coming with “top up fees”.

Some of these revised fees for primary and secondary school are way above the tuition fees for students pursuing medicine and surgery degrees at institutions like Gulu University.  You wonder where Afande Nakalema is when we need her.  What is more frustrating is that there seems to be no law regulating school fees structures following the privatisation of the education sector.

For some people, two years of not paying school fees felt like a holiday of sorts. Whereas it felt cool to lament the closure of schools in pubs, deep down the feeling of knowing you had some extra ka-money on you to indulge felt sweet. They only promised to pay for “Zoom” classes in terms where the pupils could be promoted. That fad also died.

It was the case for the second lockdown and lasted until last week. Now we have to face up to the financial realities of the New Year.

Venture to your local kafunda, if they are kind enough to extend credit facilities and you will think being broke during such times is a competition.  Bars, at least those I’ve been to, are a collection hapless faces and sad tales.  All blame hiked school fees.

Tell that pal, who weeks ago made it rain in the festive season that you are broke, and the response is standard. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

The situation is so worrying; even Ugandans on Twitter this time have not found time to joke about the impending school fees burden. Many parents cite lack of resources to have their children back to school due to the harsh economy that has rendered many jobless.

Wondering why I compared school fees to Omicron, I can confess that after battling Omicron, I managed to regain my manhood. With school fees fever, I wake up to no morning salute!

Whereas birth control pills and condoms have been touted as the most effective methods of controlling population growth, they have been overtaken by school fees!

“This economy has not been so friendly because some of us have lost jobs that we depended on since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. We are wondering whether our children will ever complete their studies,” a parent let out his frustration.  We could only empathise.

Business owners have also raised their concerns over schools reopening, with bookshops experiencing low purchases compared to previous years where January was usually characterised by a beehive of activities.

Whereas COVID-19 has taught us terms like “phased manner”, where opening the sectors of the economy is in phases, schools are not willing to borrow the phrase and allow the parents to pay school fees in a phased manner. They want payment in full and often by bank draft!

There was even a circular from some prominent school in Kampala which asked for school fees before December 23, 2021!  Such schools should consider aligning their school mottos to reflect their greed.  Something like: “In school fees we trust” could come in handy.

The panic is real. Imagine hailing from a family that prides in generations of attending certain prominent historical schools and you are the one to break the chain by not having your children there?  How do you live with yourself?

Wondering why I compared school fees to Omicron, I can confess that after battling Omicron, I managed to regain my manhood. With school fees fever, I wake up to no morning salute!

Whereas birth control pills and condoms have been touted as the most effective methods of controlling population growth, they have been overtaken by school fees!

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