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11 years of UPE: Have pioneer graduates got the best deal?

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th February 2008 03:00 AM

WHEN the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme kicked off 11 years ago, Joan Christine Nabbumba was also preparing to join Primary One. And together with about 80 other pupils, she enrolled at one of the many UPE schools — Bishop’s Central Primary School in Mukono. Today, Nabbumba is among

WHEN the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme kicked off 11 years ago, Joan Christine Nabbumba was also preparing to join Primary One. And together with about 80 other pupils, she enrolled at one of the many UPE schools — Bishop’s Central Primary School in Mukono. Today, Nabbumba is among

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

WHEN the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme kicked off 11 years ago, Joan Christine Nabbumba was also preparing to join Primary One. And together with about 80 other pupils, she enrolled at one of the many UPE schools — Bishop’s Central Primary School in Mukono. Today, Nabbumba is among 190,960 pupils who sat O’level examinations last year and their results came out last week.

As she looks back on her days in primary school, Nabbumba has mixed feelings about her experience. “Part of me feels happy to have come this far, especially after attending a UPE school. However, I also feel that perhaps I should have performed better...”

At Primary Seven, Nabbumba obtained aggregate nine and missed joining Trinity College, Nabbingo, her school of first choice. While she was not good at Mathematics, she thinks that the wanting conditions in her primary school did not help matters. “Studying in a class of 80 students was not easy,” she says. “Eight pupils shared a textbook and often, those who were not lucky to sit nearest to the teacher’s table always struggled to hear the teacher’s words,” she says.
Nabbumba remembers how teachers struggled to manage the huge classes with little success. “We had one teacher for every subject but our big numbers made it difficult for them to pay attention to our needs,” she says.

Overcrowding was a persistent problem at Nabbumba’s school, but it was not the only threat to the education of many youngsters in her class. “Students that did not have money for lunch always went hungry and those without uniform skipped school,” she says, adding: “And when things did not go right, teachers always had an explanation: “We have not received money from the Government. We, therefore, cannot provide all the facilities needed,” Nabbumba recalls.
UPE was introduced in Uganda in January 1997 as part of a Government policy to provide free primary education to four children in every family, including orphaned and disabled children. Since then, enrolment in primary schools has shot up tremendously from 2.5 million in 1997 to 6.8 million in 2002. To date, 7.4 million pupils, including 3.71 million boys and 3.69 million girls, are enrolled in primary schools under the programme.

Over this period, Government funding to primary education has also tremendously increased. To date, the sub-sector takes at least 60% of the total budget of the education sector. Despite the huge expenditure on the programme, UPE continues to grapple with enormous drop-out rates, lack of facilities and ever falling standards in education. The disturbing question is whether the programme is living up to the huge sums of money being injected into it.

“The mere fact that enrolment has increased and that more children have attained basic education indicates some progress. Therefore, one cannot dismiss the programme as not having lived up to its billing. The Government should step up its efforts in ensuring retention of pupils and facilitating the programme,” says Fagil Mandy, an education consultant.

Mandy urges the Government to sensitise all stakeholders, including the pupils, to ensure a positive response towards the programme. He said without immediate action, the current problems plaguing UPE will soon spill over to the just initiated Universal Secondary Education programme and undermine it.

However, Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, argues that the question is not so much whether value for money has been attained as whether all stakeholders have done their part.

Kibenge explained that some of the problems affecting the UPE programme stem from failure of other stakeholders, such as parents, local leaders and school management committees, to perform their duties. “What do you expect the Government to do when some parents do not buy books for their children or even when they do not monitor whether their children go to school or not. Local governments also need to be more vigilant in supervising the programme at their levels.”

He said as long as stakeholders abandon their roles and wait to blame the Government, more money will be spent without much success.

Charles Kigozi, a parent, says that while the Government could do more to improve provision of facilities, parents have not done their role to the detriment of the system. “As parents, we share the blame of not following up our children and supporting them in school,” he said.
The situation on the ground supports Kigozi’s submission. A survey in a few UPE schools showed that more than half of the pupils were sent to school without lunch. A good number of pupils were also found to have neither uniforms nor pens and other scholastic materials.

Last year’s O’level examinations results have focused renewed attention to the Universal Primary Education programme. After 10 years of implementation, many of Nabbumba’s classmates dropped out of school. She could have followed suit had it not been for her father’s active support of her education needs.
“Unlike other children, I had shoes, books and money for lunch,” she says.

Even though she is confident about her abilities, Nabbumba still feels she could have performed better if she had gone to a better primary school. She scored aggregate 23 in the best eight O’level subjects. She is happy to have obtained a first grade but sad that she still will not be admitted to Trinity College, Nabbingo, her school of first choice. She is determined to pursue a career in sciences and she is certain her grades will enable her pursue her desired combination of Biology, Agriculture and Geography. But with these subjects, she may never realise her dream of becoming a doctor.

As one of the UPE pioneer pupils, she believes she has offered her best. But has the system helped her become the best she could have been?

11 years of UPE: Have pioneer graduates got the best deal?

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