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Parents sue Aga Khan schools over fees hikes

A High court lawsuit brought by parents against the international division of the Aga Khan Schools accuses the multicultural institution of increasing tuition fees arbitrarily every year.According to the suit, the parents sayd the school does not consult them or giving sound reasons before hiking tuition fees. The Aga Khan parents have also vowed not to pay the school fees for the new term, which began on Monday, August 28, saying they are very high.Represented by Eng Danish Dulo and Florence Obua, the parents filed their case on August 18 through Kavuma Kabenge and Company advocates.They are suing the board of directors of the Aga Khan Education Services. They are also suing the commissioner for Private Schools and Institutions at the ministry of Education, Ismael Mulindwa, for licensing the school without performing his statutory mandate of monitoring its activities. Pupils at Aga Khan primary schoolAccording to court documents, parents say the board is improperly constituted and is, therefore, exercising its mandate illegally. The Education Act, 2008 provides that private schools must have a board comprising of 12 members, two of whom must be parents. The Aga Khan Schools have no parent on the board.The board must also have two teachers and an old student and local council member. The Aga Khan has none of these. Parents also want an order removing the record and decision of[the school board] made on the 23rd day of June 2017 to increase the termly school fees.“A declaration that all decisions made by the 1st respondent to increase its school fees are illegal, null and void and of no effect,” court documents read.“An order of prohibition doth issue prohibiting the 1st Respondent from implementing its illegal increase of school fees and charges and continuing with the illegal increase in school fees and illegal management of the school in non-compliance with the Education (Pre-Primary, Primary and Post-Primary) Act, 2008 and the regulations thereunder.”Aga Khan Schools have no parents and teachers association (PTA), as is the norm in most schools. In the suit, parents want court to declare that a lack of a PTA is illegal. However, the school management claims a parents association is unnecessary.The biggest complaint from parents is the arbitrary increment of school fees, which they say is done annually. In a circular to parents dated June 23, 2017, the school said it was “increasing the school fees to cater for the welfare of staff and purchase resources.”Year 1 and year 2 students would then pay Shs 3,739,000; year 3 to year 6, they would pay Shs 4,740,000 per term. The parents argue that despite the high fees, the school hygiene is unsuitable for children. They said there is no water in washrooms and that dirty sinks pose a health risk to their children.The Aga Khan runs two curriculums – the national and international curriculum. Parents choose what they want their children to study. Those who choose the international curriculum pay higher fees.A parent who spoke to The Observer, whose son is in the A-level international curriculum side, said he is required to pay Shs 8.5m per term. Last month, parents petitioned the Aga Khan Education Services Uganda. They said the school should “cancel all the tuition increments that have been introduced at the beginning of the academic year 2016/17.“We have resolved to pay neither the new nor the old tuition fees and demand to meet the school board to discuss and arrive at a consensus on a new fees structure and other matters concerning the administration and welfare of the students,” the petition said. The board declined to meet them, according to court documents.In its defence, Mahmood Manji, the school’s chairman, board of directors, said: “The parents’ application is manifestly defective, brought in bad faith, improper, frivolous, and vexatious, has been overtaken by events and lacks merit and the same ought to be struck out.”“I am further informed that the judicial review is not a suitable proceeding for the matter highlighted therein,” read the defence filed through Shonubi, Musoke and Company Advocates.Manji added that parents who have elected to pursue an international curriculum for their children are aware that the option is ordinarily more expensive than the local curriculum.Kavuma Kabenge, the lawyer for the parents, told The Observer on Tuesday that Manji’s arguments are hollow and that it’s not about affordability but regulation of schools.“Schools can’t be left to businessmen,” he said. “It’s not the market but the ministry of education to regulate the fees,” he said.Kabenge said the suit is about parental involvement in the running of the school. Parents argue in court documents that they have seen the same teachers teach both international and local curriculum. They also argue in court documents that they have seen one teacher teach four subjects alone.That, they said, affects the quality of teaching. Parents add that students in international and local curriculum use the same facilities, which makes no difference.They argue that they are charged Shs 70,000 to Shs 100,000 per student per hour for extra support to make their children competitive – meaning the quality of teaching is wanting.Manji says if the remedies parents are asking for are upheld, they will adversely and detrimentally affect the school.“Parents are “best placed to apply for and request for installment payments or other financial accommodation, which has been proposed and enable their children learn,” Manji said.When The Observer visited the school yesterday, we found that most of the facilities including the washrooms for the all classes had been freshly refurbished. Also, the basketball court had been refurbished.A top official who took us around the school, but declined to be named as he isn’t authorized to speak on this issue, said parents were right to complain in June, but most of their grievances had been addressed.“I will not say that we are perfect, but we’ve tried our best,” he said.On the school fees, he said Aga Khan was by far the cheapest when compared with other international schools in the country.He showed The Observer documents indicating that, for instance, their nursery section pays $2,253 (about Shs 8.1 million) a year, yet their peers in other international schools pay between $4,000 (Shs 14.4m) and $17,000 (Shs 61m).The Observer could not independently verify the figures. The official also refuted claims that they used the same facilities for the national curriculum section and the international system.