Nothing has preoccupied the airwaves lately more than the dismal performance of our children in the 2008 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). During last weekâ€™s graduation ceremony at Gulu University, the education minister, namirembe bitamazire, also added her voice to the chorus of lamentation that followed the results.
Everybody is debating the causes of the poor performance. Politicians, school children, teachers and parents have spoken on the subject. They have given various reasons for the worst PLE performance nationwide in 10 years.
For the war-torn areas of northern Uganda the performance was appalling with the districts of Acholiland coming at the tail of the nation. To be more direct, the new district of Amuru took the position of worst performing district with only one pupil managing to secure a first grade! In rural Gulu, only three pupils got first grade.
If the reputation of Gulu was not entirely diminished it is thanks to the schools in the municipality.
The context of war is partly to blame but there are other things to be considered as well. All suspects try to point out who is to blame. The finger-pointing starts in earnest. The politicians blame the teachers and the teachers blame the politicians.
The government blames the parents and the parents blame the government. But these horrible results should lead not to finger-pointing but soul searching. Some tough questions need to be asked and answers sought.
The blame game will not suffice. Excuses are not enough.
During my weekly radio address I asked callers to give me their feel of the problem. The result was quite a revelation. I was told that a major problem is that the policy of UPE does not adequately emphasise the role of the parent.
Parents think sending a child to school absolves them of any responsibility. True, the parent is expected to ensure that the child has a school uniform, is clean, has exercise books and has something to eat. Parents are also expected to show an interest in the childâ€™s school work.
Many parents treat the school as a day-care centre where the children stay incarcerated while the parents go about their own business. The school is seen as a place that allows parents to do other things without the distraction of children. But parenthood cannot be a part-time thing. Parenthood to be meaningful has to be full-time.
Indeed due to the large numbers in most of our schools the children try to spend as little time as possible in school. They spend most of the time loafing on the way to and from school. A few weeks ago we had to disperse some children who, instead of going to school, gathered in the townâ€™s open spaces doing things, which would shock their parents.
Other children find their way into the numerous makeshift video halls watching x-rated films. Others simply play along the road all day until the time comes to return home. After all they are sure no one will ask them about what they learnt at school!
Others blamed the system of automatic promotion of pupils from class to class. Some callers blamed the parents for colluding with politicians to frustrate any attempt by the schools to impose and collect nominal extra charges on the parents.
These extra charges range from sh5000 to sh30,000 per term. The decision to impose them is normally taken by the Parents Teachers Association (PTA). That is as well.
The controversy is about the penalty to impose upon defaulters. Most school heads find it easier to send the children of defaulting parents back home.
This leads to a collision with government policy, which states that since the government has already paid for the childâ€™s tuition and also pays the teacherâ€™s salary the child should not be punished. The argument is that other penalties should be devised, for instance withholding the report cards of the child.
Some parents claim that they are too poor to pay these extra charges. The irony is that some of these parents are faithful members of malwa-drinking clubs and never default in their membership contributions!
The question is how much of a priority is education to these parents? Do they really think their children are getting anything of value? When their children are sent home some parents celebrate this as an opportunity to get an extra hand to work in the fields.
In the case of female pupils some parents force them into a marriage, the tender age notwithstanding!
Teachers also complain that the school heads seem contented and do not strive to improve the lot of ordinary teachers. Teachers do not have enough incentives to work and have no morale. The pay is poor. They do not have houses near the premises of the school and have to commute daily to work.
What then is to be done? In general terms an answer to this question must start with a call for all those who are involved in the education of the child to play their proper roles. The child, the parent, the teacher, the government (local and national) should all play their roles.
We at the local government will enact the necessary by- laws and ordinances to shut down the makeshift video halls that lure children. We will regulate drinking hours. We will also ensure that schools are well led. This is not a time for apportioning blame but responsibility.
Part-time parenting has led to dismal PLE results