By Vicky Wandawa and Daniel Edyegu
They reported for first term and only returned in the third term, to sit for Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). They had gone to earn money from sugarcane plantations. In Busoga, some farmers abandon food production for sugarcane growing, but the recent high PLE failure rate is evidence that pupils are also abandoning school to work as casual labourers in sugarcane plantations.
George Tigawalana, the Iganga district inspector of schools, said 3,030, out of the 11,796 pupils who sat for last years’ PLE in the district, obtained division U, which implies they are not eligible to join secondary school. They are part of the 86,604 pupils in the country who were graded in divisions U and X.
According to the Uganda National Examinations Board, 581,586 candidates sat for PLE in November.Eighty five percent of them (494,839) passed, with 9% (52,786) in first division, 42.5% (247,507) in second division, 21.5% (125,292) in third division and 11.4% (68,554) in the fourth division. As had been the case before, schools in urban districts performed better than those in rural areas. According to the results, Fort Portal, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Kabarole, Entebbe, Kabale, Masaka, Jinja, Rukungiri and Gulu districts had the lowest failure rates, ranging from 0% to 1.8%.
On the other hand, Kween had a failure rate of 34.6%, Bulambuli had 30.3% and Bukwo’s was 29.6%. Other districts that registered a high failure rate included Kaliro (28.1%), Luuka (27.3%), Iganga (26.7%), Buyende (25.5%), Bugiri (24.5%), Bududa (24.6%) and Namutumba (24.6%), all from eastern Uganda.
Tigawalana says most of the pupils who failed in Iganga were from Nabitende, Makutu and Nawaningi sub-counties. These are areas with the highest number of sugarcane plantations, where pupils offer casual labour during class hours.
“Some pupils performed poorly because their parents failed to provide them with lunch or scholastic items like pens and books,” he said.
Pupils in Kamuli district are either involved in rice growing or fishing, instead of attending classes, according to Joseph Musoke, the district education officer. Out of a total of 110,101 pupils who sat for PLE last year, Kamuli registered 580 first grades, while 1,956 pupils failed, while 341 registered, but did not sit the examinations.
“Teachers and parents force children to sit for exams after being out of school the whole year. You cannot expect miracles from such children,” says Musoke. He faults some parents who marry off their daughters while they are still at school. “Girls usually fail to sit for PLE because they are married off by their parents, while others get pregnant.” However, he adds that the low number of teachers is also to blame.
Kamuli district needs 102 more teachers to meet the national standards.
There were 38 primary schools that had examination centres in the district last year. Out of 2,674 candidates who sat PLE in the 38 primary schools, only 14 scored Division One. Not even Kere Primary School, with a total of 281 candidates, got a candidate in Division One. The district scored 1% overall in Division One.
Lydia Chekwel, the district’s Woman Member of Parliament, says she was not surprised because the performance of the district had always been poor. She notes that most of the schools are under UPE and that most of the pupils who passed were from private schools. Chekwel says teachers in UPE schools do not reside at the schools.
“They, therefore, report to work late and leave earlier than they should because they walk long distances back home. So when will they ever cover the syllabus?” Paul Machinjath Kapthemaiko, the Kween LC5 chairperson, concurs: “A head teacher can afford to rent anywhere and perform well, but not a teacher, because they earn peanuts. So, teachers have to travel long distances from their homes and in the process, they waste a lot of time in transit,” Kapthemaiko said.Chekwel also blames the failure on the poor attitude of both parents and pupils towards school.
“When the term opened, there were barely students in school. Sometimes they report after a month and end up failing exams,” she says. She also blames the high failure rate on hunger. “How do you expect a child to study on an empty stomach? There is no excuse because there is a lot of food in Sebei,” she said. In addition, Chekwel blames teachers for simply registering children to sit for PLE, even though their previous report cards show that they are not knowledgeable enough to sit. “These schools follow the policy that no pupil should repeat under UPE, but in some cases, the pupils are too weak,” says Chekwel.
Chekwel believes a meeting with stakeholders would help them achieve positive results. Kapthemaiko attributes the poor performance to irregular transfer of head teachers, failure by parents to avail their children with lunch at school and the absence of a substantive district education officer. “If the head teacher is a non-performer, the teachers and pupils cannot perform a miracle. We had a meeting shortly after the release of the results and resolved to reshuffle all the head teachers and teachers in the district,” Kapthemaiko said on Wednesday.
After Kween was carved out of Kapchorwa district in July 2010, Joyce Kibone took over as the acting district education officer, as well as district inspector of schools. However, Kapthemaiko says Kibone rarely visits schools. “You seldom see her name in schools’ visitors’ books. We resolved that the chief administrative officer advertises the position of district education officer so that Kibone goes back to her position of district inspector of schools,” she explained.
A teacher in Akisim Primary School, Soroti district. Absenteeism is one of the factors hindering performance of pupils
In Bulambuli district, out of 2,961 pupils who sat PLE in 52 schools last year, only 34 (1%) scored Division One. Busulani Primary School, with the highest number of candidates, (121) did not get any in Division One.
Simon Peter Wananzofu, the district LC5 chairman, explained that the low performance is a cross-cutting challenge. “It ranges from leadership, teachers, parents and politicians. We held a meeting and resolved to identify critical areas that require immediate attention to improve our performance this year,” Wananzofu said.
Just like for the case of Kween, in Namayingo, the Bukooli Islands MP, Peter Okeyoh, faults non-resident teachers for the high failure rate. He says the district recruits teachers from other areas. Lolwe Islands Primary School, found in Bukooli Islands, was the worst performing school in the country, with their best two pupils passing in Division Four. “I know many qualified teachers on the islands, but the commission always appoints teachers from Busia and Kamuli districts.
Such teachers hardly stay at school and they eventually run away,” he says. Okeyoh says the school has only four classrooms and five teachers, including the headmaster. Additional reporting by Abdulkarim Ssengendo and Moses Bikala
What is special in the west?
Unlike the east, where districts had a considerable number of failures, those in the west, such as Fort Portal, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Kabarole and Kabale, excelled. Julius Begumya, the director of Bright Future Primary School, Kyabahesi, one of the schools that excelled in western Uganda, says unlike in Universal Primary Education schools, where teachers report late to work due to long distances from the schools and salary delays, teachers in private schools are committed to their work. “We hire well-trained teachers and pay them handsomely, so we are assured of their commitment,” says Begumya.
Godwin Byekwaso, a Uganda National Examinations Board examiner and director of a school, says in private schools like his, parents motivate teachers by putting up a large sum of money to be won, should the students score highly in the final examinations. He says in addition, teachers are accommodated at the schools where they teach.
In 1996, Uganda became one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce Universal Primary Education (UPE). Under the scheme, all school-age children are expected to study for free in public schools. The Government pays the schools a grant per student, per term, although parents have to provide the pupils with uniforms, stationery and meals. However, the scheme, is facing many challenges, especially in rural areas.
A pupil in Iganga district, for instance, has to go to the sugarcane plantation in the morning, before heading to school, where they often arrive late. Sometimes, if the workload is enormous, they end up missing classes all day. Consequently, they miss whatever is taught that day. Even when they copy notes, they will miss out on the explanations, so they cannot fully understand what they copied. But arriving early is not enough in rural schools. Some teachers attend to their private businesses before going to school because they do not consider their salary enough for survival.
In Kampala, primary school-going children from about six years are already up by 6:00am, getting ready for school. The first lesson usually begins at 8:00am. A report on schools in Teso and Bunyoro by Build Africa, a non-governmental organisation, revealed that 19% of the teachers who were absent gave long distances from home to school as the excuse for their failure to report to work on time.
About 23% of the teachers in the schools sampled reside more than 5km from the schools. However, George Sempangi, the manager for Build Africa Teso region, told New Vision recently teachers’ absenteeism was even common in schools where Build Africa had provided staff houses. He agrees, though, of the need for teachers’ houses in most of the schools.
In rural schools, children do domestic chores, like fetching water, before reporting to school in the morning
Could poor nutrition have a hand?
Dr. Sylvia Baluka, a lecturer at Makerere University, says nutrition, health and education are closely linked. “The damaging effects of malnutrition occur within the first two years of a child’s life. Malnutrition can damage a child’s health, deter brain development, intelligence and productivity,” she explains.
She says the first two years of a child’s life are considered a window of opportunity because it is a critical period in the human life cycle and malnutrition has irreversible effects. “Growth failure in this period is responsible for short heights in some adults, low human capital and poor performance in school.
“Malnutrition and diseases affect the cognitive development of children. Also, parents may delay enrolment of a sick or malnourished child,” says Baluka. During the dry season, Baluka adds, rural communities lack water and food. As a result, the children travel long distances looking for water for domestic use or for cattle.
Rural schools struggle to get results out of farming pupils