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Is primary education getting thorny?Publish Date: Dec 18, 2013
Is primary education getting thorny?
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Pupils in rural primary schools are still struggling with inadequate facilities. Photo by Conan Businge

By Anne Mugisa and Conan Businge

AS the sun rises, hundreds of pupils are seen running to a nearby school in Bukuumi Village in the western part of Uganda.

Although barefooted and a few of them with no uniforms, these pupils look every inch determined to learn and compete at the national level with their counterparts in urban school for the limited places in the best schools in Senior One.

“My dream is not just about Senior One,” says eight-year-old Gideon Kusiima. 

“I want to go to Makerere University and be one of the best professors in the country.”

For Kusiima, this may be just a childhood dream, but who says it cannot be achieved? However, now, with the emerging reports of poor quality of education at the primary level, the hope of youngsters like Kusiima ever living their dreams is shrouded in pessimism.

While there is much reason to celebrate the progress in education that Uganda has made over the past decade, reports show there is a deeper education crisis that needs to be addressed.

Though many people may argue that it is the quality of education in government schools under the Universal Primary Education that is poor, the truth is that both private and Government schools are wanting, if the new Uwezo report is anything to go by.

Overall, the new Uwezo report shows that only three out 10 of all children assessed nationwide, were able to read and understand a Primary Two level text, and correctly solve a Primary Two numeracy question. 

To the researchers’ surprise, most of these skills are barely attained when the learners reach Primary Seven.

To make matters worse, the same report indicates that some of the students complete Primary Seven, before attaining the basic competences.

Due to the new thematic curriculum, where local languages are used as a medium of instruction, children were tested on their level of proficiency in their local languages. The local languages tested included Ateso, Runyoro, Rutooro and Leblango (Lango). 

But still with the use of local language as a medium of instruction, only 30% of the pupils in Primary Seven could correctly read a Primary Two local language story. The number goes down to 10% among the Primary Three children.

The report came months after the Government had released its report about pupils’ proficiency. The report, done by Uganda National Examinations Board, was dubbed the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE).

The NAPE report says from 2011, the proportions of pupils rated proficient dropped to 63% at Primary Three and 45% at Primary Six level. In 2012, it rose to 69% at Primary Three and remained the same at Primary Six level.

The proportion of the pupils who reached the defined proficiency levels in numeracy (counting) and literacy in English (reading, writing and comprehending text) was 45.2% and 40%.

Government’s view on Uwezo report

“What this report says should be taken seriously. This report is factual,” Robinson Nsumba Lyazi, the commissioner for private secondary schools noted, during the launch of the report last week. 

“As the ministry of education, we welcome organisations like Uwezo, which play part in helping us provide quality education.”

In a speech read by Lyazi, the education Permanent Secretary, Dr. Rose Nassali noted that there were several achievements made under free education, but quickly conceded: “As this report reveals, UPE schools across the country are not educating our children to the level we would like.”

“Many pupils, especially at the lower levels, are unable to read and count. The problem is worst in eastern region,” Dr. Nassali added.

But, all hope is not lost. There is a gradual improvement in performance over the years. The report notes that there was a slight improvement in overall competencies in 2012 as three out of 10 (27.6%) children could read and comprehend a Primary Two story compared to two of 10 in 2011.

Is Uganda alone in the mess?

But Uganda is not the only country facing the problem. Other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are grappling with the same problem. 

Of Africa’s nearly 128 million children of school-going age, 17 million will never attend school, according to Africa’s Learning Barometer.

Africa’s Learning Barometer gives a fairer picture, showing that about 29.9% of all children in Uganda are not learning; and that it is the girls, children from poor families and the rural children who are most affected.

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that another 37 million African children will learn so little in school that they will not be any better than those who never attended school. Consequently, the future for Africa’s future economic growth and social development is hazy.

The Africa Learning Barometer is the first region-wide survey of learning and education covering 28 sub-Saharan African countries.

Action points

Dr. Nassali appeals to all parents to take their parenting responsibility seriously and demand accountability from teachers if the quality of education is to improve. She also promises that the Government will do its best to improve the quality of education.

Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) officials argue that the scrapping free education that is being debated is not a lasting solution since pupils in private schools are not any better.

Filbert Baguma, the UNATU labour relations officer, says the Government should consider the fact that the prices of most items have gone up while the funds allocated to pupils remain low as one of the factors affecting the quality of education.

Sekulya Sengendo, the headmistress of St. Andrew Kaggwa Ndejje, says that prior to UPE, parents used to contribute money through the Parents Teachers Association. In urban schools, she says, parents still insist and pay some money.

Yusuf Nsubuga, the director for basic and secondary education at the education ministry, also points out that the number of teachers is inadequate and sometimes there is a problem with the school environment.

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