By Francis Kagolo
Over one million pupils who enrolled for Primary One under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2006 did not reach Primary Seven.
This indicates a whopping 71% drop-out rate, much higher than the 40% usually quoted.
According to statistics from the Ministry Of Education, 1,598,636 pupils enrolled for Primary one in government-aided schools in 2006.
But the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) figures for pupils who sat Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) this week are 463,332, which is only 29% of those who enrolled in 2006.
So, what happened to the 71%? Did they all drop-out, die or could it be evidence of the alleged existence of ghost pupils in UPE?
The commissioner of primary education, Dr. Daniel Nkaada, says a scientific research is needed to find out what happens to the enrolled pupils.
Could they be ghost?
A report by the Judicial Service Commission instituted by President Yoweri Museveni to probe fraud in UPE and USE confirmed existence of ghosts in schools.
The commission compared the official enrollment given by the school administrators, with the headcount results and found a variance of about 21.6%.
The report also estimates that the Government lost about sh400b under UPE and USE last year alone, due to shoddy construction works and absenteeism among pupils, teachers and head teachers.
Nkaada notes, “The issue of ghost pupils is real. But you cannot confirm it until you have probed it.”
He blames head teachers and local governments for the ghosts saying they are the ones directly responsible for recording enrollment.
He adds that the ministry of education is fighting ghosts through conducting routine head counts of UPE and USE students.
The finance ministry revealed last year that the Government loses sh28b annually to ghost teachers, pupils and schools.
Did they drop out?
UPE is credited for increasing enrollment. If indeed threefold drop out before P.7, this important programme will come to naught.
In East Africa, Uganda has the lowest proportion of children staying in school up to P7, according to a 2010 report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In Kenya, the completion rate is 84%, Tanzania 81% and Rwanda 74%.
Moses Kyambadde, the head teacher of Natyole Primary School in Luweero district said: “After 15 years of UPE, Uganda should have achieved a significant increase in literacy levels.
But this seems not the case because most children drop out before they even learn how to read and write.”
The health ministry’s HIV/AIDS report of 2011 showed that children are exposed to sex very early. About 71% of teenagers have risky sex, yet, according to the report, less than half use condoms.
The earlier 2006 Uganda demographic and Health Survey (UDHS), put the teenage pregnancy rate at 25%. Data from the education ministry shows that dropouts are highest among girls than boys due to early pregnancies.
How expensive is UPE?
Critics also attribute the high school drop-out in Uganda to the hidden cost of universal education on the parents. Under UPE, parents still have to contribute towards school meals, scholastic materials and uniforms.
Many children from poor families may find it hard to complete the seven-year cycle.
James Male Kiwalabye, the programme manager at the Uganda NGO Forum, cite overcrowding in classrooms poor conditions at schools as the other factors fueling high drop-outs rates.
“I studied at St. Tereza primary school in Mitala-Maria, Mpigi in the early 1990s, we were 40 in class. Today, the same classroom accommodates over 150 pupils.
UPE: Staggering 71% drop-out rate so far