By Justine Nakiwala
Uganda joined the rest of the world on June 16, to commemorate the Day of African Child under the theme “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Uganda”
Beyond the commemoration, the Day of African Child seeks to draw the attention of all actors involved in ensuring that children enjoy their rights; Governments, international institutions, CSOs and communities to reflect on the prevailing situation of children in line with the theme and to design interventions that could alleviate the looming challenges still facing children in education.
The African Children’s Charter, the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Children’s Act; 2000, among others, recognise the right to education for all children and call upon stakeholders to ensure the fulfillment of this right. Education for children should not only be free and compulsory but also child-friendly.
Uganda has remarkably registered success in its efforts towards realising children’s right to education by putting in place a number of interventions including the legal and policy frameworks, plans and programmes, among others.
Pre-primary education is recognised in the Education Act of 2007, as the first level of Education in Uganda under four programmes; day care centres, home-based centres, community centres and nursery schools, however, more than 90% children are not accessing this vital education level.
The greatest achievement of this year’s celebrations is the launch of the Uganda Child Helpline (116) under the brand icon “Sauti. This toll free line will link affected children in need of care and protection, to services and resources including but not limited to counseling, rescue, health and Justice Services.
This helpline comes at a time when there is rampant child abuse in society ranging from rape, defilement, sexual harassment and bodily harm.
Evidently, Uganda has made strides in the education sector particularly in UPE and USE Programmes. However, there are other core aspects of the right to education that need to be addressed ranging from structural, environmental, teacher or children related factors.
The programmes are still characterised by high grade repetition rates, poor completion rates and high drop-out rates, caused by, among others; long distances to schools for small children particularly in rural areas and lack of clear guidelines to school feeding.
Others include cultural and traditional practices, negative attitudes towards education especially from the parents, planting and harvesting seasons, ignorance and acute poverty.
Education laws emphasise community participation in school governance yet head teachers remain main decision-makers. It is not surprising that parents and learners view education as the sole responsibility of the Government and have minimal participation in school budgets, policies, management and monitoring processes.
As we commemorate the Day of African Child, focus on the right to education for children in Uganda is, therefore, timely.
Improving the quality of education should be embraced as a collective responsibility by all stakeholders, if children are to enjoy this right. Meaningful participation of teachers, parents and children should be emphasised so that they are accountable to uplifting education standards in school systems.
This will ultimately help them appreciate individual roles, change of attitude and increase knowledge and practices related to issues pertaining to education.
Approaches like Plan Uganda’s Participatory and School Governance for Children has revealed that the quality of education could significantly be improved, if there is collective responsibility of key stakeholders.
With this system, school administration issues cease to be a responsibility of a few individuals. Everyone becomes accountable towards achieving a common goal.
Education for vulnerable groups of children, those with disabilities, the girl child especially in poverty stricken homesteads, those trapped in emergencies and children in nomadic communities should be emphasised.
Barriers that hinder access to education in these communities like scholastic materials, cultural beliefs and traditions should be addressed.
In line with the African Union Decade, gender inequality issues should be tackled in schools and communities to achieve girls’ and women’s empowerment throughout the education system.
As we commemorate the Day of African Child, let us all ensure that children regardless of sex, age, and race enjoy friendly, quality education. This will only be possible, if we all play our individual roles.
The writer is a communications specialist