Pawns in the bigger game .....
Elspeth Dugdale | May 10, 2022
Talking to one of my ‘tutor’ group: What are the challenges of school life at the moment?
Joshua: The school needs the remainder of the school fees due from my dad, so they are going to send me home to collect the fees.
E: But you’ve spent 3 weeks on holiday programme for only 50,000 shillings (about £11) & now you have to pay for next term. Remind your dad that WTA is so cheap compared to schools in Kampala & Gulu, plus you're expected to get very good results. Besides, the transport alone costs 50k to go and get the fees....!
Joshua: Yes, I know. But my father is not answering his phone – so they are going to still send me home for fees.
This conversation sums up the endless predicament and ongoing conversation between WTA and the parent/guardian. As a school providing a good service at a very affordable rate, WTA needs school fees, first and foremost to pay teachers and provide food. Parents are often, (but not always), genuinely short of cash, they may plead poverty and want to delay paying 100 % of fees until they absolutely have to.
WTA is known for its compassion and patience. This is widely known by parents and even in the outside world. But it's impossible to run a school without teachers or food. So the issue of full fee collection becomes a painful ‘’stand off” between school and parents – who will give in first? What's the strategy?
If the parent continues to avoid paying, the next step is to send the student back home to collect the fees, or to deny them meals in school. Which all sounds very tough to our ears. Of course just sending a student home, for example to Northern Uganda, costs money that could/should be used towards settling the outstanding debt in the first class. Fees can also be paid by the mobile phone system and via the bank, so none of the above really makes sense.
What's clear to the observer, is that the student is the one caught in the middle of the stand-off between WTA and the parents. Often while the discussion is ongoing, the student is barred from entering lessons and this, in itself is a real waste of time and money - and in the case of a good student can cause their performance to suffer and definitely raises stress levels.
Although the parents’ situation may genuinely be difficult, WTA is probably the best and most affordable option they have. And to be the best and most affordable option, the school must be able to pay good teachers, have good facilities, provide textbooks, accommodation and offer good food.. and so it goes on. But the school has no choice but to take a more extreme step. Checkmate.
And even if you can see both sides of the chessboard or strategy debate, I tend to side with the pawns themselves. Whether you feel like a pawn or a pig in the middle, it can be stressful, waiting to see if the parent will (most likely) have to 'give in' first.
Recently, the students have started to learn to play other board games: Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, both are great metaphors for student life in Uganda...