Thousands of pupils, mainly from vulnerable families, may drop out of school as public schools are struggling to make ends meet as a result of reduced government funding and rising food prices.
Some schools are already counting losses one month into the academic year and could be grounded if they don'' get additional funding.
Some public school administrators who spoke to Rwanda Today said their expenditure on food have risen sharply in recent months attributed to skyrocketing cost of living, yet the schools are required to provide meals to pupils.
This comes as the government starts implementing a series of reforms aimed at making education affordable and accessible to more Rwanda including capping school fees.
Among the changes in budget adjustments, was the setting of standard school fees of a maximum of Rwf85,000 in boarding secondary schools and Rwf19,500 for day schools per trimester.
The fees were reduced from a maximum of Rwf190,000 that parents were paying for some boarding schools and Rwf20,000-Rwf70,000 for some day schools. While this came as a relief to parents, schools say the current fees are insufficient to sustain them until the end of the trimester in December.
“We were already struggling before last academic year before the regulations. Not because the school fees were higher but because parents struggled to pay. Currently, less than 30 percent of parents have paid the standard Rwf19,500,” said Jean de Dieu Nsigayehe, headteacher of Groupe Scolaire Mafurebo based in Gicumbi district.
Groupe Scolaire Mafurebo feeds over 1,200 students at primary and ordinary levels.
The school needs at least Rwf17 million to cater for food and other expenses for the first trimester. The school has collected less than half of the funds. Mr Nsigayehe said the schools have cut costs on some expenses and have reduced the quantity of some essential foods such as beans, sugar and cooking oil to make available funds last until December.
The national guidelines for the School Feeding Programme stipulate that for a student to have a healthy meal, they should take fortified maize, beans, amaranth with oil and salt, avocado and 60 grammes of milk. None of the schools Rwanda Today spoke to was providing avocado, milk, or any fruit or animal-based food.
The School Feeding Programme aims to expand access to educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, particularly learners from poor families. The programme was rolled out in 2017.
According to the guidelines, the cost of the base meal is Rwf150 per day. The government contributes Rwf60 per child and parents pay the rest. However, schools argue that food prices today are much higher than they were when the program was set in 2017.
For a l day-scholar, school offers one meal per day. Most served food items include beans, rice, maize flour, and oil. The current prices of this item have more than doubled since the last academic year.
On the market, a kilogramme of beans has shot up to Rwf1400 from less than Rwf600 last year. Locally produced rice, which tends to be cheaper now costs Rwf1200 per kilogramme from Rwf800 last year at the same time. Cooking oil costs Rwf2500- 3500 per liter depending on the type of oil.
Although schools source their food supply from local producers at a cheaper price, they argue that if funds are not increased, the coming school trimesters will be more expensive.
In February, the government increased the budget allocated to schools to Rwf38 billion from the Rwf8 billion annual subsidy for meals. The cost would cover other expenses such as kitchen materials and workforce.
The budget would cover 9-12-year education schools with over 700, 000 student population. The program was expanded this year to include over 2.5 million learners across all levels of primary.