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Education Ministry Yet to Regulate Dissolution of Private Schools

With the COVID-19 induced financial stress, institutions that have been out of business are limping, and in fact, many schools have closed shop turning classrooms into rentals, bars, and poultry houses, among others. But for all these institutions, all it has taken is a pronouncement by the owners and administrators that the school is no more.
20 Jan 2022 16:24
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When East High School Ntinda abruptly closed days after reopening for a new term, many parents and learners questioned how the administration abruptly closed an education institution without notifying them.

With the COVID-19 induced financial stress, institutions that have been out of business are limping, and in fact, many schools have closed shop turning classrooms into rentals, bars, and poultry houses, among others. But for all these institutions, all it has taken is a pronouncement by the owners and administrators that the school is no more.

Christopher Lwanga, one of the parents affected by the closure of East High School, wondered whether the education ministry couldn’t help the desperate learners. To him, the act by the proprietors was inappropriate and needed a higher authority to intervene.

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Nakaseke District Education Officer Steven Batanudde says that although it's a rare occurrence; when a public school is closed, its code is shifted to another place and so are its records, teachers and sometimes even the learners.

Referring to Gomero Primary School in Ngoma Town Council which was recently closed due to low enrollment, Batanudde said that its code was given to another school within the same district. He explains that shifting the code means that the teachers and other resources are taken from that school to another.

“...The code carries everything, the payment rolls for teachers, and capitation and the records of the closed school. The process involves discussion among the Public Service Ministry, Education Ministry and the Ministry of Finance,” the education officer explained. He, however, adds that the government or a district cannot abruptly close a public school.

In the case of Gomero Primary School, Batanudde says the school’s enrollment had reduced over the years to only three learners. “In consultation with local leaders, parents and community, it was agreed to close the school and transfer the available teachers to Kirangaazi Chance Primary School, a new school which had been constructed at another village to save the children,” he added.

Unlike public schools, Batanudde says that the indefinite closure of private schools is not clear because it depends entirely on the interests of the proprietor. He, however, adds that there is a situation where the education authorities can force the school to be closed if it fails to comply with the required education standards.

“Private schools are businesses and when the proprietor is making losses, he can choose to close. But, it's humane to inform the parents and education officers before closure. The basic issue is to ensure that the affected learners can access education services from another school,” he added.

His explanation on the matter can be traced to Najjera progressive Primary School, one of the schools which were affected by the first lockdown. Before closing the school, Andrew Timothy Nsamba, its director, sent a notice to parents, and teachers indicating that the school had indefinitely closed.

The school signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Tropical Primary School, Najjeera to take on all the willing staff and learners who meet their standards at the same terms and conditions of services and also made it the point of reference for all former students. A separate communication was sent to parents advising them to find alternative schools for their children.

Although the Education Act cites how a private school can change ownership and reopen after a voluntary temporary closure, it is silent on how a school can indefinitely close. For instance, Section 43 of the Education Act explains how a school voluntarily closed by its owner can be reopened after informing the Permanent Secretary, Chief Administrative Officer or Town Clerk, in writing.

The same section further requires the proprietor to notify education authorities when he or she intends to close the school for a period exceeding 30 working days, other than during normal school holidays.

This section of the Act is key in the case of East High School Ntinda, given the fact that its proprietors claimed that they are closing the school to pave way for renovations.

But, information obtained from the education ministry shows that the school never informed authorities as required before asking parents to pick their learners. The closure was a surprise to education officials at all levels.

Hajj Ismael Mulindwa, the Director of Basic Education told URN that he was green about the happening although his office is among those which should be informed under the law. With this section invoked, the education authorities can stop the proprietor from closing the school and forcefully put the administration under a statutory manager for a period of one year.

“If the Permanent Secretary… is satisfied that the reason given by the school owner and the period during which the school is likely to remain closed is contrary to the national interest, he or she may, after giving the school owner an opportunity of being heard, direct that the school be reopened under the management and control of a statutory manager appointed by the Minister or District Education Officer…” the section reads.

According to the Education Act, the failure to inform the education officials on the intended temporary closure of a school is an offence and on conviction, one is liable to a fine not exceeding 200,000 Shillings or a jail term not exceeding five months or both.

Dr Kedrace Turyagyenda, the Director of Education Standards, says that the current regulations and legal framework do not have provisions guiding on indefinite closure of schools. Turyagyenda says the regulation focused more on registration as the framers didn’t envision that a school can indefinitely close.

After realizing that many schools close in a funny way, affecting learners, parents and other stakeholders, the director notes that they are currently preparing instruments that will guide how and when private schools can close shop.

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The said regulations are part of the National Policy on Private Provision of Education in Uganda whose aim is to enhance advancement in the core principles and values of private provision of education and promote social and financial accountability standards. The policy is also intended to establish an effective system of regulating operations of private schools and institutions, defining the relationship between private schools, state and other key stakeholders.      

However, in absence of guidelines from the ministry of education, experts say that schools that are registered as companies should always follow the Winding up process as required by company laws. A company may wind up for different reasons amongst which are insolvency, upon satisfaction of its objects under the Memorandum, but whatever the reasons, legal procedures need to be undertaken to minimize the risks on the owners’ personal assets, estate, and credit.                                       

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