By Moses Byaruhanga
This is the last of the three-part series I have written about education in Uganda. Among the problems imposed on Universal Primary Education (UPE) by the teachers and head teachers in some schools is the issue of using black books.
The teachers argue that the black books are stronger and not easy to lose as opposed to say, the 32 or 48 pages exercise books, so they recommend that pupils use the black books. Because of the cost, some pupils from poor families cannot afford the black books and as a result, they are penalized. This and many other issues I have raised in the previous two articles are a hindrance to UPE. Universal education was meant to help children from poor families access education.
To use Hon. Amanya Mushega's words when he was education minister, UPE was meant to benefit those children who had no hope of seeing an inside of a classroom. Therefore, any imposition of fees in any form – be it for lunch, buying a water tank, etc, by the head teachers or Parents – Teachers Association (PTA), is injurious to poor families. When you ask who decided on those fees that make the children of the poor sent away from the school, the answer is PTA. In our society, it is the most powerful in the localities that chair the PTA.
When they sit in a PTA meeting where the extra fees are decided, the poor are not listened to and even if they are given a chance, the most powerful, like the most prosperous farmers in the area, will ignore the poor. So, decisions taken in most PTA meetings are views of the economically able and not necessarily the views of the poor. It becomes a problem when those who fail to pay the fees imposed by the PTA are sent away.
Under the Education Act, it is illegal for a head teacher of a UPE school to send away pupils who fail to pay fees imposed by the PTA. Unfortunately this law is never enforced. So I call upon the Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) and the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to fight for the poor and make sure that their children are not sent away. The councillors and even Members of Parliament as political leaders should ensure that the poor are not disadvantaged in any way.
One of the most talked about issue affecting UPE and Universal Secondary Education (USE) today is lunch. In my last article I wrote that when I was in primary, we used to go back home for lunch. Those from far would carry their packed lunch.
That arrangement seems to be fading out. It is said that children do not want to carry packed food for lunch. How true this is I don't know because all the middle class parents in Kampala pack a snack for their children especially those in lower classes. If the Kampala middle class are packing for their children a majority of whom are in private schools, why then are the parents in the villages failing to pack for their children? Or is it the children refusing to carry packed food or is it that they don't like the food they pack?
There is a school of thought that since UPE brought on board the poorest of the poor, some of the families don't have what to pack for their children. There is sense in this argument as some families have one meal a day, not because of choice, but because of poverty. Even for that one meal, the food is not quite enough, hence, nothing to pack for the children.
My view is that such families should be identified and helped to be food secure through Operation Wealth Creation. If each family in Uganda has food security then lack of food to pack for children shouldn't be an issue.
The other issue we need to address is why our children should stay at school from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm? What are these children learning all those hours? When you look at international schools where the children of the rich and the diplomats go, studies start at 8:00 am and end at around 2:00 pm including about an hour for lunch. Some break off for lunch at school at around midday for an hour and resume at one o'clock and end at 2:00 pm. This means that if there is no lunch offered at school, they can end at one o'clock.
The afternoon at some of the international schools is used for extra curriculum activities which are optional. The question to ask is that if at international schools studies end by one o'clock if you remove the lunch break, why should the local schools end their day at 5:00 pm? What is it that we teach our children in the local schools that those in international schools miss? Is the child in an international school in Uganda less educated than the one in the local schools? Is a child who has gone through an international school in Uganda or elsewhere when s/he becomes a lawyer or doctor, will that child be a less educated doctor than the one who went through the local system? The answer is no.
In fact if the two are to look for a similar job, chances are that the one who went through an international system will be considered first.
Therefore, we need to re-examine what we teach our children in the local schools. If the studies in our local schools can end by one o'clock and the children go home, then you will have sorted out the question of lunch at school and the argument that pupils don't comprehend well on empty stomachs. Remember the international schools here follow either the system in the U.S. or the UK, and these are the countries we look up to on many things. Why can't we learn and borrow from them on the education system?
After all their education system has produced better research and technological advancement than ours. This wouldn't be reinventing the wheel. During colonial times, we used to follow the British education system. What went wrong? Were the people educated under that system (those above 60 years today) less educated? For the secondary schools, until recently, the day schools in Kampala used to operate two systems.
Some would start at 8:00 am and end at one o'clock and another group would enter at 1:30 pm ending classes at around six o'clock. So lunch was never an issue as those in the morning session would go and have lunch at home and the ones in the afternoon session would be expected to have had lunch before coming in.
The other thing we can learn from the international school system is the method of assessment. In our local system we aim at getting a distinction and grade the children from grade one to the last one, which is failure. In the international system, a child is graded in three ways.
One is the child is above expectation the other is that the child's performance is within expectation or a child is below expectation. Where a child is assessed as below expectation, then the child needs to pull up. It's like at our universities where the degree assessment is in classes and not in marks.
So in the international system the child is not under pressure to get a distinction. Even the teaching is not about passing but learning.
All in all our education system needs to be reviewed.
The writer is a senior presidential advisor
Studying half day could solve lunch problem in UPE schools