Sources within the education community suggest that the challenges at Mbale School for the Deaf run much deeper than inflated student numbers. "It's a situation that goes beyond what's immediately apparent. There are hidden influences at play here. To give you an example, the headteacher has wielded considerable power, almost as if the school were her personal domain. She has significant connections," noted one source.
Mbale School for the Deaf.
The State House Anti-Corruption Unit has initiated a
comprehensive investigation into reports of capitation grant fraud within
educational institutions in Mbale District with the expectation to scale it up to other
areas across the country. The catalyst for this extensive inquiry stems from Mbale
School for the Deaf, situated in Mbale District, which has recently been
embroiled in allegations of corruption involving school administrators
manipulating student enrollment figures to secure increased funding.
Mbale School for the Deaf, one of only two secondary schools
for the deaf in Uganda, has grappled with internal turmoil over the past year,
with tensions among current and former students, staff, and parents centering
on their dissatisfaction with the headteacher, Rev. Sister Rose
Nelima. Mariam Natasha, the spokesperson for the State House
Anti-Corruption Unit, confirmed to URN that they received information highlighting
irregularities in student enrollment figures at this school and several others
in Mbale District, prompting their interest in this matter.
"The investigations have commenced, and Mbale School for
the Deaf is just the tip of the iceberg. We possess information indicating a
more extensive issue of inflated figures within this school and throughout the
entire district." Natasha told our reporter. She further emphasized that the investigation will not be
limited to the school alone but will extend to officials within the district
education office "How can a school inflate learner figures without the
district officers being aware?" Natasha questioned.
On Tuesday, there were rumors circulating that the State
House Anti-Corruption Unit was investigating the Permanent Secretary at the
Ministry of Education for the same reason. However, it's worth clarifying that
these rumors have been officially denied. Nonetheless, Natasha did highlight that the Commissioner of
Special Needs, Sarah Bugosi, and the Commissioner of Secondary Schools, Sam
Kuloba, are persons of interest in the ongoing investigations.
The problem of inflating the numbers of learners in schools
is not a new issue in Uganda. This phenomenon has been labeled as "ghosts,"
encompassing ghost teachers, ghost learners, and even ghost schools. These
ghost entities have been a significant drain on taxpayer funds, costing the
government billions. The government has been grappling with this issue since the
early days of programs like UPE (Universal Primary Education) and USE
(Universal Secondary Education).
Various measures have been implemented to
address this problem, one of the most well-known being the headcount. As far back as 2004, the Internal Security Organisation (ISO)
conducted an operation that revealed the existence of over 300,000 suspected
ghost pupils and students in government-aided schools. There have been unconfirmed reports of a syndicate within the
education system involving headteachers, school management committee members,
district officials, and ministry officials, which perpetuates the issue.
To combat this, the Ministry of Education recently introduced
the Education Management Information System (EMIS). In a recent interview,
Vincent Ssozi, the Assistant Commissioner for Statistics, Monitoring, and
Evaluation at the Ministry of Education, explained that the revamped system
will replace the headcount in public schools by assigning a unique
identification number to each learner.
Ssozi further noted that for years, the ministry has
struggled to obtain accurate learner data, as the old EMIS tracker relied on
school census questionnaires, which presented challenges such as schools
inflating or under-declaring the number of learners.
“Government schools have been giving us ghost learners by
inflating the number of learners in their respective schools so as to get more
capitation grants. That's a form of corruption and it is going to be checked
with the new system. We will not need headcounts anymore,” he said.
Despite the system being rolled out, it has not been fully
utilized due to various challenges, including limited internet access and
untrained users, among others. There are suspicions within the ministry that
the delay in inputting learner data might be related to the discrepancy between
the number of learners claimed by schools and the actual number.
As of August this year, data from the system indicates that a
total of 11.5 million learners have been registered. Out of this figure, 10.2
million learners were enrolled by December 2022. Since the beginning of this
year, an additional 1.3 million new learners have been introduced into the
system, resulting in a cumulative total of 11.5 million learners.
Deeper Issues Plague
Mbale School Beyond Capitation Troubles
Sources within the education community suggest that the
challenges at Mbale School for the Deaf run much deeper than inflated student
numbers. "It's a situation that goes beyond what's immediately
apparent. There are hidden influences at play here. To give you an example, the
headteacher has wielded considerable power, almost as if the school were her
personal domain. She has significant connections," noted one source.
Alumni of Mbale Secondary School for the Deaf have resorted to
repeated demonstrations at the Ministry of Education headquarters in a bid to
draw them to what they perceive as severe mismanagement within the school. One
of their primary concerns revolves around the admission of non-disabled
children into the school, a move that has deeply upset them. The situation at the school has triggered other investigations
by the Ministry itself, the Equal Opportunities Committee, and the
Parliamentary Committee on Education, underscoring the complexity and depth of
the issues faced by the institution.
The Ministry of Education had attempted to carry out
transfers at the school, notably appointing Dismus Wandulu to replace Rev Sister
Rose Nelima, despite ongoing investigations. However, this transfer faced
strong opposition, particularly from Obed Mwiri, the LCIII Chairperson of
Busoba Sub County in Mbale district, who lodged a petition with Parliament,
alleging political interference by Sarah Bugoosi, the Commissioner of Special
Needs at the Ministry of Education.
As a result, the Ministry of Education and Sports decided to
suspend the controversial transfer. Officials from the Ministry appeared before
the Parliamentary Committee on Education on August 30, revealing that the
transfer had been put on hold until the investigations were concluded. During the same meeting, Minister John Chrysostom Muyingo disclosed that they were also investigating allegations against the
Commissioner of Special Needs Education. She was accused of exacerbating
conflicts between deaf students and those who can hear.
Furthermore, Muyingo revealed that the Ministry had engaged
with various stakeholders, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, and
preliminary findings indicated simmering tensions among the school
administration, the Board of Governors, and other Ministry officials.
"The Commissioner of Special Needs Education and the
former Chairperson of the Board of Governors were identified as key instigators
of disputes within the school," he said as reported on the parliament news
site. At the time of publishing this story, our reporter was unable
to obtain comments from the implicated officers and the headteacher.