UPE underfunding: Who is telling the truth?
Publish Date: Aug 22, 2014
UPE underfunding: Who is telling the truth?
Such UPE pupils need more support to excel in their studies
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On average UPE schools have been receiving sh5,516 as capitation grant per pupil annually, instead of sh7,506. However, the finance ministry disputes the sh5,516 figure. But who is telling the truth?

By Pascal Kwesiga

When Hajji Swaibu Kawooya joined Police Children’s School in Kampala as the head teacher in February this year, he found an enrollment total of 1,116 pupils, a number which has increased by 100 pupils.

However, this enrollment increase has not been reciprocated with an increase in the capitation grant.

He says for over two years now, most Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools like his, have been receiving the same amount of money regardless of whether their pupil population increases or not. This has left them struggling to survive.

Kawooya adds that over time, as head teachers, they have lost track of the exact amount allocated to each pupil, since the figure changes every year.

“We always submit monthly reports to the district, which should be used when planning for such key issues as capitation grants. But our data provided is of less use, since it never tallies with the amount we receive,” he explains.

But Kawooya hastens to add that as head teachers, they have been deployed in these schools as managers and have to make sure all is well, with or without more capitation, much as the enrollment keeps growing.

Issue at hand

Kawooya’s dilemma is sweeping through thousands of public primary schools all over the country. These schools under the universal primary education programme, are not receiving the right amount of capitation grants to match their growing pupil population.

More so, schools are receiving slightly above half of what they are indeed promised by the Government, according to investigations done by Mwalimu.

When the Government abolished fees for primary education in 1997, it committed itself to paying sh7,506 per pupil each year. Technocrats had proposed sh10,000 for each pupil, but Government did not buy the idea due to inadequate funds.

 Now 17 years later, the Government has not yet fulfilled its commitment of sh7,560 per pupil. The closest they came to this figure was only once in the 2012/2013 financial year when they paid sh7,046 per pupil.

More striking is that indeed, the education ministry plans for sh7,000 and not the agreed sh7,560. Statistics from the education ministry indicate that the Government, since the inception of the programme, has been paying capitation fees for each pupil ranging from sh4,500 to 6,500 per year.

Why schools get grants

The capitation grants are computed based on school enrollment with each pupil getting sh7,560 a year in addition to a block grant of sh100,000 per term.

According to the Capitation Grants expenditure guidelines, 50% of the grant is supposed to be used on instructional materials; 30% on co-curricular activities (sports, clubs etc.).

Fifteen percent is allocated for school management (school maintenance, payment for utilities such as water and electricity) and five per cent on school administration. The funds are released on a quarterly basis in any given financial year.

But, at the end of the financial year, each pupil is supposed to be allocated sh7,560. During these years the Government sent sh4,500 to schools for each pupil, it meant that it paid sh1,500 for each pupil to keep at school per term.

However, this amount of money per pupil may hardly repair just one desk in a school. But part of the problem, emanated from low Government funding for free primary education, allotted to the education ministry.

Statistics show that government has been allocating between sh30b to sh45b as capitation grant for the UPE programme each financial year.

 More statistics show that the education ministry did not receive the money it needed for UPE between 2002 and 2012.

For example, according to the education budget of 2006/2007, over sh46b was required for UPE, but only sh32bn was approved, and only sh30bn was released. The cumulative budget shortfall for UPE between 2002 and 2012 stands at over sh111b.

This means the education ministry has to use the available little money to pay for all children, which creates variability in the unit cost for each pupil because enrollment figures change every year.

 Much as the education ministry is not receiving all the funds it requires for running of free primary education, for the last half a decade, they have been one of those ministries receiving the lion’s share of the national budget.

But there is evidence to show that its percentage off the national budget has been declining in the last two financial years.

Just like other Government programmes, UPE faces funding shortfalls if Uganda Revenue Authority fails to hit its projected tax collections, which inform budgeting processes. As the funding reduces partly due to the reduction in foreign aid to education programmes in the Sub-Saharan Africa, the population is growing much as the drop-out rate is also high.

With foreign aid reducing and the controversy of providing lunch, last year, it became official for schools to charge lunch fees, if parents cannot provide food to their children; but no child should be expelled in case he cannot pay it.

Public reacts to capitation grants' releases

A parent, Michael Musinguzi says the UPE policy should be reviewed to allow the parents contribute toward the education of their children since UPE funding has proved unsustainable. He suggests the programme should be restricted only to slums in urban centres.

“The government should concentrate on paying teachers’ salaries,” Musinguzi explains.

Lawrence Bategeka, an independent principal research fellow said UPE was a brilliant idea that would have gone a long way in eradicating illiteracy, but, was ruined by politics.

The politicisation of UPE, according to Bategeka, created an impression in parents that the duty of educating children had shifted to the state and that their responsibility was reduced to producing babies.

“They took teachers who charged extra fees to RDCs (Resident District Commissioners). Even sh7, 000 is not enough for a pupil for a year,” he said.

But he hastened to add that funding to UPE could be influenced by government priorities. “If the priority of a country is security, it will come first and education will be second.”

An economist, who did not want to be named, says that even the sh7,560 is not enough.

“If somebody promised to educate your child at sh20,000 per year would you be happy? I would be extremely worried about the type of education my child is going to receive,” he said.

A teacher at a city primary school says the delay in sending capitation grant worsens the already bad situation.

“You need money to run a school, but there are times when the school does not have any coin,” he adds.

Much as Government should be credited for constructing classrooms, increasing teachers’ pay, more needs to be done to improve the physical facilities.

Currently, pupils at Kyempisi and Karongo primary schools in Masindi district can hardly take down notes since they place the books on their laps in crowded classrooms due to lack of desks. At Kisanja Primary School in the same district, pupils are currently taking lessons under tree sheds because the roof of the school was blown away by a storm.

In the neighbouring Kiryandongo district, some pupils are studying in grass thatched halls. There are many such cases across the country.

The Government allowed public schools in urban centres to charge sh10,000 per pupil as payment for water, electricity and phones. The amount of money urban schools collect from pupils as utility fees is far higher than capitation grant sent to the schools by the Government.

“We volunteered to pay this money for the learning of our children. You cannot leave the education of your child to the Government alone,” a parent says. A ministry of education official on condition of anonymity proposes that, UPE should be restricted to rural primary schools or communities where parents can hardly afford tuition fees.

He also suggests that the programme be restricted to rural areas and regions with a higher number of people living below the poverty line.

“The current budget for UPE cannot serve the whole country. Just like you can buy a range rover car with a budget of a Premio car, you cannot deliver quality education without money,” he adds.

Abdul Matovu, the head teacher at Biina Muslim Primary School in Kampala, said capitation grant is not consistent.

“The amount of money they send for each pupil keeps changing and this affects planning because you cannot do everything you are supposed to do,” said a head teacher of a school in Luzira, on condition of anonymity.

“We are always stressed and complaining all the time. For example, if I wanted to have mid-term exams, I have to buy them with my money from Kampala Capital City Authority and that is the stress I am talking about.”

The head teacher says they have failed to track the amount of capitation grant the school gets per year because they are not issued with bank payment slips.

“You just find little money on the bank account and there is no way you can know if that is the right amount of money meant for your school or not. We are not doing what we are supposed to do and that is why we are stressed all the time,” the head teacher lamented.

Government reacts

The commissioner for education planning and policy analysis, Godfrey Dhatemwa agrees that the government does not pay sh7, 000 per pupil because it’s small resource envelope.

“That is true because money is not enough. We provide what is available.”

He added that the ministry presents the budget frame work papers at the beginning of each financial year with a list of pupils and money required to pay for them, but capitation funds released to school managers does not correspond with the numbers.

“We even have special inter-ministerial meetings during which we present these issues but the problem that the government resources envelop is small,” Dhatemwa said.

He admitted that the limited capitation grant has serious implications on the learners. “It is capitation that runs the schools and there are a number of activities that have to be done using that money.”

“It’s used to buy supplementary reading materials, repairing and replacing broken desks, fund co-curricular activities and others,” he explains.

In the absence of enough money to fund the schools’ activities, “school managers have to cut on the number of these activities and may be have three supplementary reading materials and one football. Managers have to decide how to use that money”.

However, the secretary to the treasury, Keith Muhakanizi, says the issue of inadequate funding does not arise and denies that Government could provide as low as sh4, 500 as the total cost unit for a pupil for a year in a UPE school.

“There is no little funding. That is in your mind. But apart from that, you are a liar; we have never paid sh4,000,” he added.

He adds that the focus should not be about the amount of money, but how to use the amount that is received.

“The problem is not money. What is failing free primary education by the way is that teachers in government schools are not teaching but teachers in private schools are teaching,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Gloria Nakajubi)

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