IF UPE is one of the best things that ever happened to Uganda â€” and it has been â€” then universal secondary education (USE) will be the next. USE is not a strange idea or a mere election pledge. It is part of a worldwide trend.
â€œCountries must work towards universalising secondary education,â€ says UNESCO.
â€œBasic education has evolved. It is no longer simply primary education. It includes universal secondary.â€
Today Africa is where Latin America was 30 years ago. Since the 1970s Latin America has tripled the percentage of children who go to secondary school. Today even poor countries like Bolivia have over 80% of secondary school-aged children enrolled in school.
But in Africa less than a third of this age group is in secondary school and in Uganda only about 20% (16% for girls).
To give some perspective, Uganda is better than Mozambique or Niger, just a fraction worse than Pakistan, and about the same as Cambodia. But the world average is 65% for boys and 59% for girls, and Uganda is a third of that. So President Museveni is right. We must have USE.
Since President Museveniâ€™s announcement, the Ministry of Education and Sports has worked around the clock to find a model for USE. It defines USE as â€œthe provision of secondary education to all Ugandan students who have successfully completed the PLE.â€
Roughly speaking less than half of children who begin P1 reach P7. Of those that complete P7, about 70% pass the primary leaving exam. And of those that pass, 50% are able to go on to secondary school. The main obstacle is cost.
The ministry estimates that the average school fees in the countryâ€™s 2500 or so secondary schools is sh34,000 a term. This may sound low but it is true. To take examples from New Visionâ€™s Secondary School Directory, Kitatya SSS in Kayunga charges sh30,000 a term; Nankoma HS in Bugiri sh27,000; Agojo SS in Adjumani sh35,000; and Sironko Standard SS sh35,000.
A second problem is that some areas simply do not have secondary schools: 271 sub-counties have at least one of the countryâ€™s 800 government secondary schools.
But 327 sub-counties have only a privately-owned school, and 60 sub-counties have no secondary school at all.
So like UPE, USE will require new schools or at least government aiding community schools. Under UPE over 30,000 classrooms were built, equivalent to 3000 entirely new schools. A seed secondary school costs about sh300 million.
A third problem is how to pay teachers. At present government pays salaries for 14,000 teachers in government secondary schools. But another 10,000 teachers in those schools are not yet on the government payroll. So the schools charge school fees to pay them. If secondary school education is to be free, government will have to pick up the bill for those 10,000 teachers. At sh400,000 a month per teacher, this is also a lot of money.
So what does the ministry propose? It plans to roll in USE for the S1 class that starts in 2007. Any child who has passed the PLE since 2004 can enroll. Tuition will be free. But parents will have to accommodate, feed, clothe and provide stationery and medical care to their children. So boarding costs will not be met.
Government will provide books, libraries and laboratories. A library costs sh85 million: currently 42% of government secondary schools do not have one. A multipurpose laboratory, lacking in 31% of government secondary schools, costs sh59 million. All this will cost about sh90 billion a year for the first four years. Not surprisingly, everyone is worried. Where will the money come from? How much more of the national budget can education consume? It is already the biggest sector at 20% up from 7% in 1990.
As if this were not enough, the secondary curriculum desperately needs reform. It is too focused on the acquisition of knowledge. And it is not focused enough on what UNESCO calls â€œthe skills for dealing with changing economicsâ€ such as initiative and entrepreneurship.
So yes, USE is daunting. But it has to be done. Every year a child stays in school translates into higher agricultural productivity. Resources spent on secondary education have direct benefits on health: a child who is in secondary school is a child who is not married and starting a family too young.
The writer is the Communications Director of Straight Talk
Free secondary education great