WHEN the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results were released in February, the best performing schools and pupils received a lot of media coverage. However, a grave and disturbing issue that did not receive as much public attention was the large mass of pupils in the poor and remote communities o
WHEN the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results were released in February, the best performing schools and pupils received a lot of media coverage. However, a grave and disturbing issue that did not receive as much public attention was the large mass of pupils in the poor and remote communities of Uganda whose performance was dismal.
It was reported that about 76,983 pupils (15%) of the PLE candidates from 2009 did not even get an aggregate of 28, and the education ministry stated that the reasons for poor performance were teacher absenteeism and poor inspection of schools.
The New Vision on April 9, 2010 reported that according to UNESCO, Uganda has the highest school dropout rate in East Africa. A follow-up of every 100 pupils who joined Primary One in 1999 showed that only 25 reached Primary Seven in 2006.
Another study by the Uganda Government showed that on average, half the pupils who enroll in Primary One do not complete Primary Seven in the set time-frame.
Records at the education ministry show that only 444,019 pupils out of the 890,997 who enrolled in 2003 sat for the PLE last year. A total of 446,978 (50.16%) either dropped out or repeated classes.
For the last five years the Stromme Foundation, a Norwegian development organisation, has worked with local community-based oganisations and non-governmental organisations to address education inequalities that lead to high dropout rates and poor performance.
Working with 28 schools in the eight districts of Mbale, Sironko, Budadiri, Gulu, Amuria, Kumi, Soroti and Bushenyi, Stromme encourages full participation of the communities in supporting their childrenâ€™s education.
The foundation encourages involvement by local Education authorities, Parent Teacher Associations (PTAâ€™s) and school management committees parents, teachers and pupils themselves.
The communities had to make a commitment to contribute towards addressing the problems and to ensure that no child stays at home. They also ensure the teachers are in class early everyday.
The PTA and school management committees carry out their supervision and governance role and mobilise community participation.
The local governments ensure the availability of capitation grants, while Stromme contributes some funding. The success of this education project is the strong community involvement and ownership that ensures sustainability.
Schools like Bumusamali, Nabiwutulu, Khamoto in Mbale and Sironko districts had very poor performance, and had never had pupils pass with a first grade in their 20-year history.
As a result of the Stromme and community intervention, 143 classrooms have been built, leading to increased space to accommodate more children. The improved infrastructure attracts children to attend school. Twenty eight teachersâ€™ houses have been built improving their motivation which resulted in increased numbers of hours the teachers are in contact with the pupils, due to their proximity to the schools.
In addition, 994 pupilâ€™s desks, 142 chairs and 112 tables for teachers have been provided at these schools. Thirty seven latrines with five stances each have been built and some have showers for girls who would normally drop out of school once puberty sets in.
Community members and parents have been sensitised on the importance of education and the need for girls to be allowed to continue in school and complete the primary cycle.
The communities have been taught that the schools are theirs for posterity and this has encouraged and prompted them to contribute to school development.
They are also empowered to supervise what goes on at the school as well as to lobby the local authorities and education offices for better facilitation.
Attendance by pupils and teachers is now more regular. All the above has resulted in better performance at the primary leaving level. In these schools, second grades were scanty. Today, the schools boast of first grades, numerous second and third grades and enrollment has increased by 30% to 40% in all the schools.
This confirms that schools in poor and hard to reach communities can compete favourably with support. The Government alone may not accomplish the necessary changes, and should work in partnership with civil society and community.
Although grants worth millions of shillings are provided to support education in these areas, the results are never good enough. There are several factors apart from financing which affect childrenâ€™s performance which could easily be addressed by civil society.
Poverty is one major impediment to improved school performance in poor and hard-to-reach communities. For improved and sustainable education results, household poverty cannot be ignored.
It is necessary to develop a link between education programmes and sustainable livelihood programmes to reduce poverty in such communities. Through the self-help group concept, Stromme, through its partners, mobilises communities and sensitises them about pulling savings, small businesses and income generating opportunities to fight poverty.
This has been done in other poor communities of Mwanza (Tanzania) and has been successful. It is also being introduced in Mbale and Sironko. Such models in poor communities should be introduced to support and strengthen basic education.
The writer is the regional director, Stromme Foundation eastern Africa
Communities can address poor quality education