Milk a ‘priority’ as ‘schools reopen amidst unclear directives by govt’

(Last Updated On: 25 January 2023)

Hundreds of thousands or even millions of ‘poor parents’ in Uganda may soon start paying for milk, a mandatory requirement issued by the NRM government last year. 

As per the compulsory milk policy, parents whose children learn from both private and government schools are expected to pay for milk to boost the nutrition of their children. 

This policy has since received criticism from members of the public, with many wanting to know the “potential suppliers of the milk” to schools. According to the Dairy  Development Authority (DDA), milk production in Uganda increased to 2.81 billion liters.

It’s also worth noting that “we export our milk” meaning we “do not consume it all locally”. The country’s revenue from the export of dairy products rose from $131.5m (shs 480bn) in 2018 to $205m (750bn) in 2020, DDA data shows.

With “enough milk to be supplied” as per the above data, TND News has, however, learned that the government, after noticing that this policy might fail, is thinking of withdrawing it.

“First of all, it’s very expensive, school fees are expensive and poor parents are many,” a source in the government asked for protection, told this publication on Wednesday. 

“There is a possibility it won’t work and the First Lady and the President are aware,” added the same source.

Since Ugandan schools and other learning institutions were fully reopened after almost two years of closure due to Covid-19, parents have struggled to pay or complete school fees and tuition for their children.

Some learners have left schooling due to several factors. Some have gotten married off at a young age. 

As schools reopen early next month, a message has been conveyed. Addressing a weekly press conference on Wednesday, UPC Spokesperson Arach Oyat Sharon said, “Early next month, schools are reopening for the first term of the year 2023, amidst unclear directives and recommendations by the government to schools, head teachers, teachers, pupils/students, and parents.”

For instance, she said the government announced recently that pre-primary and primary school teachers need a minimum qualification of a degree from grade III, adding that whoever was to sponsor this type of program remained unclear, and it is most likely to fall on the shoulders of the affected teachers or those intending to enroll.

It is not easy to raise funds for such an expensive degree course by our teachers whose salaries are meager. UPC, therefore appeals to the government to come in and fund this in-service upgrading program for pre-primary and primary teachers as a minimum standard.”

“Similarly, the facilities, in-take, and manpower for teacher training institutions should be upgraded to accommodate the big expected number to enroll and be in a position to produce the required skilled degree teachers. At the tail end, the government through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Service should plan early enough the conditions of service and salaries as the recommended upgrading for teachers has far-reaching cost implication upon their graduation.”

The schools were recommended to add milk to their menu daily. This is a very important recommendation. Based on our diet, our children need healthy bodies and healthy minds to concentrate on their studies effectively and indeed milk is highly nutritious!” said Arach.

“However, UPC is concerned about the state of our livestock/dairy farms! And before we consider the cost implications, it may not be easy to secure the demanded quantities of milk for supply.”

UPC is advising the government that for a start let her move in and assist both in the short and medium term with milk subsidies. Where local supplies are not enough, the government should make provisions for the importation of milk as measures to increase milk production are put in place. 

According to her, these can involve rearing high-yielding milk breeds, good veterinary services, and research. “In the early 1980s this program was run in secondary schools, colleges, and universities but broader covering a wider range of food items,” UPC recalled.

The school fees structure debate for both public and private schools has been reignited when the government made recommendations for both minimum and maximum charges of school fees, the party noted, further stating that much as it is still at a proposal stage, there is serious concern by all stakeholders in the education sector. 

“UPC all along has advocated for direct government participation in key sectors like health, education, and agriculture as guided by the model of a mixed economy. However, the government has fast-tracked private sector investment in education since the early 1990s to date. This has had an instant negative impact on the education sector.”

This cut-throat competition in the private sector affects government-aided schools and public schools who go on increasing school fees and other school requirements from time to time to deliver. This situation extends to both public and private colleges and universities. 

Further, UPC is convinced that the more the government gets involved, the more it will pave a way for solving the challenges and predicaments affecting our education sector, which have been evolving since the 1990s to date. As UPC, we hope that the ongoing Education Review Commission (ERC) will help to bridge the gaps in the education sector and raise its standard.

In the same spirit, UPC is urging the government to fulfill its promise and consider equitably enhancing salaries for Primary school teachers and those of Arts and Humanities in the post-primary institutions in the budget for the financial year 2023/2024 to avoid any industrial actions.

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