DESPITE the universalisation of basic education and several interventions by the Government to ensure children remain in school, the drop out rate is still alarmingly high
The latest study on retention under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) by TERP Consult Limited has come up with startling findings on why children still leave school despite basic education being free since 1997.
This year, of the 1.6m pupils who joined primary one in 1998, the second year of UPE, only 433,010 have registered for Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) that starts in two daysâ€™ time.
This reflects a 70% drop out rate, raising questions as to where the over 1.5m others went. Last year, although over a million pupils were expected to sit PLE, but only 480,000 registered and just 406,000 actually sat. This meant 1.4m pupils dropped off along the way. This scenario, according to the education ministry officials is alarming and must be addressed.
The September 2004 TERP report to the ministry of education indicates as Arua as the worst hit district with 36,960 or 10.2% of the total enrolment dropping. It was followed by Nebbi with a drop out rate of 14,215 (9.8%), Katakwi 7.7%, Pader 6.3%, Gulu 6.1%, Lira 5.0%, Kabale 4.9%, Tororo 4.6%, Apac, Mukono and Mbale 4.5% and Mubende 4.3%.
In a desperate move to ensure at least half of the number completes the primary school cycle, the ministry of education has launched a countrywide advocacy campaign to mobilise support for the programme.
The campaign aims at improving the completion rate from he current 22% to at least 25%, according to he assistant commissioner for education planning, Albert Byamugisha.
â€œThe issue of school dropouts, especially for the girls and irregular attendance, is a major challenge to UPE. We must work hard to rid the hindrances that lead to dropping out of schools,â€ the Director of Education, Dr Richard Akankwasa said.
The state minister for primary education, Namirembe Bitamazire, took part in a countrywide advocacy programme to sensitise the masses about UPE. â€œWe realise without popular support, the UPE programme will not achieve the intended targets. We are, therefore, trying to get all the stakeholders on board. We went out to the field and held public rallies, what we found down there was amazing,â€ she says.
Odrek Rwabwogo, whose communications consultancy is doing the advocacy says the â€˜retention campaign focuses on seeking views from all the UPE stakeholders.
â€œFor the first time ever since the launch of UPE, various education stakeholders got together to discuss the salient issues surrounding UPE.
â€œIt was obvious that although UPE was good for everyone in Uganda, there were bigger issues that needed to be discussed and solved if there were to be desired results,â€ he says.
In the 37-page report, TERP found out: â€œThe main reasons for drop out are economic and social-cultural. Pupils dropout for economic reasons like selling goods in the market, lack of meals and lack of scholastic materials like books, uniforms and pens.
â€œSocio-cultural reasons include underage enrolment, pregnancy and early marriages, lack of interest, family problems and lack of community appreciation of benefits of education.â€
In addition to the above, TERP singled out certain drop-out reasons unique to particular regions.
In the western region, for instance, it was found out that many drop out due to early pregnancy and early marriages was a result of traditional practices of encouraging adolescents, especially girls (13-18 years) to get male partners before they become barren.
In the central district of Mukono, the report blamed fishing and the money-spinning vanilla and aloe vera business as the major reasons for dropping out. â€œThe children end up getting money and abandoning school,â€ it read.
In some regions, the survey found that lack of role models was the major cause of lack of interest in education. Shyness was also identified as preventing re-entry into the school system by dropouts.
The survey also did not spare automatic promotion system as encouraging drop-out.
â€œThere is high rate of absenteeism, irregular attendance and later complete drop-out because the automatic promotion allows the passing of those who study even for one week. This means that children can afford to study alongside other economic activities as long as they are assured of passing,â€ the report read.
On lunch, the study found that both pupils and teachers usually break off before time to get food at home and do not bother to return to school. This absenteeism and irregular attendance as a result of lack of meals escalates into permanent drop-out, the report said.
The other issues cited include too much homework, harsh teachers, domestic chores, lack of parental guidance, insecurity, defilement, peer pressure, poverty, illness, family problems, menstruation and parental neglect. For example, in Mbarara, the survey pointed out that parents do not send their children because they do not believe in education and instead prefer their children to look after cattle.
â€œThe number of children dropping out of school for whatever reason can reduce slightly. Something can be done about the ones that drop out because of reasons less than fundamental to their health and the health of those in their communities. Its unfortunate that many of these reasons for drop out are indemnifiable,â€ the report reads.
A shocking 70% drop out of UPE