By Elvina Nawaguna
AFTER years of battling to increase the literacy level of girls in Uganda, a report indicates some achievements in the area.
Albert Byamugisha, the coordinator of the National Education For All (EFA), while presenting a report on the current status of the EFA in Uganda, revealed that girls are now beating boys in literacy.
This was at a four-day annual consultative meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Nairobi cluster in Kigali, Rwanda last month.
The UNESCO Nairobi cluster serves and monitors the EFA progress in Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea and Somalia.
Uganda is one of the 164 countries that committed to providing quality basic education for all by 2015 under the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action. Emphasis was placed on achieving six EFA goals set at the Jomtien, Thailand World Education For All conference in 1990.
The participating countries agreed on the goals to be achieved by 2000. UNESCO was charged with monitoring the progress of the goals.
In relation to EFA goal number six â€“ improving the quality of education especially in literacy and numeral skills â€“ the report indicates increased literacy rates among girls in P3 from 35.5% in 2003, to 40% in 2005 and 46.9% in 2006 against boysâ€™ 33.1 in 2003, 37% in 2005 and 44.2% in 2006. Among P6 pupils, the girls literacy rate in 2006 is 33.6 against boysâ€™ 33.4.
Byamugisha explains that every year since 2003, a National Assessment for Progress in Education test is carried out among P3 and P6 pupils in numeracy and literacy.
â€œWe set up tests based on the curriculum of these levels,â€ he explains. Those who achieve above 50% in the tests are considered proficient. Even though taught by the same teachers, the girls have consistently beaten the boys in literacy.
However, the report indicates that boys are still beating the girls in numeracy (mathematics).
This explains the fact that boys still beat girls in sciences in secondary schools. â€œIf you canâ€™t do maths well, it affects your ability to do physics,â€ Byamugisha says.
He says as intervention strategy, sciences have been made compulsory at Ordinary Level. He says there is guidance and counselling in schools to tell the girls that there is nothing magical about sciences.
He says as a result of this, the number of girls going for sciences at Makerere University has increased from 10% in 2003 to 45% in 2006.
The report also indicated some improvement in the other five EFA goals monitored by UNESCO, as well as some lags.
The first EFA goal is to expand and improve early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Uganda is still lagging behind in this area. There are very few children enrolling into nursery schools.
The proportion of pupils attending nursery school to the number of children aged three to five in Uganda has remained low, from 3.21% to 2.24% to 2.3% in 2003, 2005 and 2006 respectively.
Byamugisha attributes this to the fact that there are few nursery schools in rural areas, where the majority live. Moreover, nursery schools are private so some parents cannot afford the fees.
The second EFA goal is to ensure that by 2015, all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education.
Since the start of Universal Primary Education in 1997, the Net Enrolment Ratio has been improving.
In 2000, the number of children aged 6-12 in primary schools to the number of children of the same age in the entire population was 85.5%. This has steadily grown to 91.7% in 2006.
However, despite this improvement, the survival rates of children in school have dropped from 88.4% in 2000 to 47.9% in 2006. Byamugisha says that the drop-out rate is highest at P1-P2 and at P6.
He says that while some children drop out because they started when they were underage, others drop out because they have lost interest, because their parents cannot afford extra costs charged by the schools for uniform and food or some stay home to help with chores.
Others drop out because of early pregnancies and marriage or have been orphaned and have to head their homes. The 17 districts in the North effected by the war have the highest dropout rates.
The third goal is to ensure that the learning needs of all children and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills.
Trends indicate an increase in the proportion of students attending secondary school to the number of 13-18-year-olds in Uganda from 13% to 34.2% in 2006.
However, the gender gap in secondary schools is still persistent with girls lagging behind. In business, technical, vocational education and training enrolment has steadily grown from 14,077 students in 2000 to 41,863 in 2006.
Uganda has surpassed the 50% target of achieving adult literacy by 2015 under the fourth goal. Ugandaâ€™s literacy rate now stands at 68%.
However, there is a glaring gap between rural and urban areas in adult literacy with northern Uganda lagging behind at 47% and the highest in the central region at 77%.
In this area, the number of women enrolling for the Functional Adult Literacy classes (956,0000) is way above that of men (224,000). This is the one area where Uganda has been able to achieve the EFA goal even before the deadline.
The report projects that by 2015, at least 75% of adults in Uganda will be literate.
The fifth goal, which required eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 has almost been achieved.
The gender gap has been improving since 2000 and is tending toward 1:1.
In primary schools, the ratio of boys to girlsâ€™ enrolment has improved from 51.8% for boys and 48.2% for girls in 2000 to 50.2% and 49.8% respectively in 2006.
At secondary level, there has been a slight improvement from 55.9% (boys) and 44.1% (girls) in 2000 to 55% and 45% respectively.