THE first day of the new academic year at one of Ugandaâ€™s best government schools was enough to test the nerves of the most seasoned educator. More than 2,000 new pupils showed up at Buganda Road Primary School in Kampala to meet President Yoweri Museveniâ€™s election campaign promise: Universal P
THE first day of the new academic year at one of Ugandaâ€™s best government schools was enough to test the nerves of the most seasoned educator. More than 2,000 new pupils showed up at Buganda Road Primary School in Kampala to meet President Yoweri Museveniâ€™s election campaign promise: Universal Primary Education (UPE).
According to the UPE policy launched in 1997, four children per family were entitled to free education in government and government-aided schools. But because many parents with more than four children allocated the rest to relatives or pleaded with the programme implementers to register them (the extra choldren), the Government announced free primary education to all school going children.
Sometimes parents shouted at teachers and some threatened to burn down school offices when they were told classes were already full and could not admit more children. Other parents protested to the President.
â€œThe Government relieved me of the burden of paying school fees,â€ says Moses Katende, a parent and banana farmer in Kisaasi, who was unable to pay school fees for all his 10 sons.
Museveniâ€™s idea of UPE may have become a foster programme for global activists for Education For All (EFA). In 2000, the United Nations adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Goal 2 aims at achieving UPE by all nations by 2015. This is to make sure all children complete a full course of primary education.
MDG 3 aims at eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education.
Ugandaâ€™s progress in EFA
It is 10 years since EFA was adopted. This poses a question: Where is Uganda in EFA?
The Ministry of Education statistics indicate that because of UPE, gross enrolment increased by 73% in one year from 3,068,625 pupils in 1996 to 5,303,564 in 1997. And by 2003, gross enrolment in primary schools was 7,633,314, an increase of 149%.
Namirembe Bitamazire, the minister of education, says: â€œEducation quality as measured by standard indicators such as pupil to teacher ratio, pupil to classroom ratio and pupil to textbook ratio has improved since UPE started. UPE has also addressed gender disparity.â€ For example, to address access, the Ministry of Education statistics indicate that there was an increase in the number of primary schools from 8,531 in 1996 to 13,353 in 2003.
By 2003, there were 10,460 government owned primary schools compared to 1,705 private primary schools, and 1,121 community schools. Currently, there are over 15,000 primary schools in Uganda (private, government and community schools).
The number of primary school teachers doubled from 81,564 in 1996 to 145,587 in 2003 representing a 78% increase, yet in the decade preceding the introduction of UPE, the number of teachers increased by only 8,594 or 12%. The pupil to teacher ratio has risen from one to 100 in 1996 to one to 50.
The UN education for all encouraged nations to dedicate at least 20% of their national budgets to education. The share of Ugandaâ€™s national budget to education increased from 13.7% in 1990 to 24.7% in 1998. Expenditure rose from sh44b in 1996 to sh136b in 1998.
Funding to the sector increased significantly from 2.1% of GDP in 1995 to 4.8% in 2000. In the 2009/2010 budget, funds to the education sector increased from over sh800b to sh1trillion. UPE took sh451b of the 2008/09 budget.
Namirembe explains that UPE reduced gender disparities. The enrolment of boys to girls in all primary schools stands at 50.6% to 49.4%.
At secondary school level, an equal number of girls and boys has been achieved, even at university, partly because of the affirmative action policy launched in the 1990s. All female students applying for admission in government institutions of learning are entitled to an additional 1.5 points.
The United Nations Development Programme notes that women in Uganda occupy over 31% of the positions in politics compared to 5% in the 1990s.
The challenges are immense
In launching UPE, Uganda was conscious of the need to provide basic quality education. The awesome response for UPE poses a test in staffing, teaching and learning materials.
At North Road Primary school in Mbale, Rose Wanyenze struggles to teach the alphabet and basic counting to P.6 pupils, yet it should be mastered by P.2. Wanyenze who only knows half of the pupilsâ€™ names says about 100 of the pupils should repeat P.6 but her superiors directed her to promote everyone, regardless of their performance.
She adds that in the 2008 Primary Leaving Examinations, 20 pupils out of 400 passed in First Grade compared to 80 First Grades out of 99 pupils in 1995.
Prof. Eliab Gumisiriza, an education consultant, says quality is lacking in UPE pupils. â€œMany of the pupils cannot read and write and there is evidence to show that there is a high dropout rate,â€ he adds.
According to Dr. Kamanda Bataringaya, the state minister for education, about 60% of UPE pupils who start primary school complete P.7. However, out of 1,712,420 pupils who started P.1 in 2002, only 516,890 pupils sat PLE in 2009, representing only 30.1% of the pupils. This is an improvement from 463,631 pupils who sat PLE in 2008 and an average of 450,000 pupils in the previous years, representing only 27% and 26% pupils respectively. The ministry statistics indicate that the rest repeat or drop out, yet the same ministry insists on automatic promotion.
While launching the automatic promotion exercise in 2007, Bitamazire said the exercise aimed at addressing low completion rates in primary.
She added that there was a high wastage in primary schools which she attributed to poor supervision, conflict, high repetition of classes and low marks. But three years after the automatic promotion exercise was launched, many pupils still drop out of school.
According to the Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2005/06, an estimated 422,000 children of school-going age did not complete primary school. The report also reveals that 165,000 pupils aged between nine and 17 have never attended primary school.
In 2004, the Ministry of Education noted that enrolment of pupils in primary schools reduced from 7,633,314 in 2003 to 7,377,292 in 2004.
The education ministryâ€™s statistics reveal that the percentage distribution of pupils by class is 25% for P.1, 16% for P.2, 16% for P.3, 14% for P.4, 13% for P.5, 10%
for P.6 and 6% for P.7. There is drastic decline in enrolment between P.1 and P.2, and P.6 and P.7.
But the ministry says the high drop out rate is because of lack of interest 46%, family responsibilities 15%, sickness 12%, employment 4%, marriage 4%, school fees 3%, pregnancy 2%, dismissal 1%, and others 13%.
According to the UNHS report, over 2.5 million children in Uganda are involved in child labour. Of these, 35% work and attend school at the same time, while 3% work without going to school. About 4.7% of them are neither involved in work nor attend school.
Gaston Byamugisha, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Education at Kyambogo University, blames the high drop out rates on poverty.
â€œUganda will not achieve education for all as long as poverty persists. A child comes from home on an empty stomach and stays at school on an empty stomach. How do you expect such a child to learn? Some schools are still charging school fees and some parents cannot afford uniform and learning materials,â€ he says.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Ugandaâ€™s poverty levels stand at 31%, down from over 60% when UPE was launched in the year 1997.
However, Bataringaya disagrees and blames teacher absenteeism and parent negligence in providing food for hindering UPE.
While contact time is one of the key factors in ensuring quality in education, statistics from the ministry indicate that rates of teacher absenteeism are estimated at 20% to 30%.
â€œTeacher absenteeism is being addressed by constant inspection of the schools and disciplining errant teachers. We are also sensitising parents on the benefits of UPE.â€
Bataringaya says the Education Act 2008 which makes primary education compulsory, will be enforced vigorously. He calls on district councils to make by-laws making primary education compulsory.
Bataringaya says the Government has secured sh80b from the Saudi Arabian government to equip eight of the 15 technical schools in the country to absorb UPE graduates.
Whether education for all will be achieved, Byamugishaâ€™s doubts are as many as the shortage of teachers in rural schools in shining buildings without scholastic materials.
Byamugisha says most worrying is the countryâ€™s escalating population growth rate of 3.2% annually. With a population of 30 million already, there will be 50 million people in 2050. It is predicted the number of pupils will double, posing a challenge to the education sector.
Policy suggestions to improve the quality of UPE include the textbook policy intended to increase accessibility of textbooks and other supplementary reading materials to children to address the low literacy rates. Analysts also call for a robust legal policy framework to combat corruption and mechanisms to enforce a strict regime of penalties for embezzlement and mismanagement of UPE funds. The Government also needs to introduce a school meal programme in primary schools.
Will Uganda beat education for all deadline?