• Mon Oct 08 2018
  • Counting the successes of UPE program as we celebrate independence

The reduction in prevalence of child labour is in part attributed to the conducive policy environment
Journalist @ New vision
The reduction in prevalence of child labour is in part attributed to the conducive policy environment

By Dr. Mildred Barungi

Today Uganda celebrates 56 years of sovereignty under the theme "standing tall to celebrate 56 years of independence". As we celebrate, I wish to commend Government on the key milestones with respect to provision of basic education, particularly primary education.

Education is a fundamental human right. It should be remembered that among other programmes, Government has heavily invested in the provision of primary education under its national flagship programme - Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was launched in 1997. The purpose of UPE programme is to eradicate illiteracy by giving every child (of primary school going age) the opportunity to receive free primary education.

Counting the successes of UPE policy, Ministry of Education estimated that as of 2016, 92 percent of the total population of children of the official primary school age were enrolled in primary schools. The percent of girls enrolled in primary schools (94.6 percent) is five percentage points higher than that of boys (89.6 percent). Despite the observable fluctuations in primary seven completion rates, in the recent years, at least 6 in every 10 pupils who enter primary school, remain in school until they complete the primary cycle of education.

The overall primary seven (P.7) completion rate for the year 2016 was estimated at 61.5 percent (63.4 percent for girls and 59.7 percent for boys). The small difference (of about 4 percentage points) in PLE completion rates between boys and girls suggests that the UPE program has bridged the gender gap in primary school completion.

More evidence shows that appreciably high PLE pass rates have been maintained for over a decade; for example, 86 percent of primary seven completers qualify to enroll for secondary education. However, there is some small persistent variation across gender in favour of boys. For example, in 2016, the pass rate for girls (85 percent) was four percentage points lower than that of boys (89 percent).

Another achievement attributable to UPE programme is reduced prevalence of child labour. The UPE program is helping children to stay longer in school, and while still schooling, children are less likely to be subjected to hazardous activities that contravene pillars of decent work.

The reduction in prevalence of child labour is in part attributed to the conducive policy environment. Specifically, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) in 2006 developed a National Labour Policy, which provides for collective and sustainable action to combat child labour in Uganda.

Despite the UPE successes mentioned above, one huge challenge still remains in UPE schools. Children study without meals during the day, which surely affects their levels of concentration

and physical development. The failure to provide pupils with meals while at school is on one hand explained by the lack of sufficient funds from which UPE schools can provide lunch; and on the other hand a misunderstanding over who is supposed to provide children with food at school.

While the fact according to the Education Act of 2008 is that parents/guardians are supposed to provide food to their children, some political leaders have lied to them (parents/guardians) that the capitation grant received by UPE schools is also meant to cater for provision of meals to pupils while at school.

Efforts by Government towards fulfilment of the core rights of children are perceived to be the pathways through which the UPE programme has been able to attain sustainable outcomes. According the convention on the rights of the child that was ratified in Uganda in 1990, there are four core rights of children; right to survival, right to protection, right to participation and right to education.

Indeed, a lot of interventions have implemented to ensure fulfilment of children's rights, which ultimately should have contributed to attainment of UPE policy objective.

We highlight some of the notable interventions by state and non-state actors whose purpose is to meet the core rights of children and in the end contribute to successful implementation of the UPE policy:

Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) developed the national orphans and other vulnerable children policy (2004), which seeks to ensure that orphans and other vulnerable children are adequately provided for and that their human rights are fully met.

The policy has a strategy that the MGLSD is operationalizing, and progress has been made towards provision of quality services that minimise vulnerability of children and provide them with the right to live healthy and meaningful lives.

Ministry of Education and Sports developed the National Strategy for Girls' Education in Uganda (2015 - 2019) with the goal of promoting girls' education as an integral part of efforts to create gender equity and equality in the education system. Some key actions in this strategy are to: Train of Senior women teachers on how to identify and respond to specific needs and interests of girls in schools (e.g. on sexual maturation and how to cope with it); and Develop regulations on teenage pregnancy in schools, and provide mechanisms for retention.

Also, due to the negative consequences of violence against children, the Ministry of Education abolished corporal punishment in schools; and together with partners (such as UNICEF and Raising Voices) developed a handbook on "Alternatives to corporal punishment" to promote positive discipline in schools.

Management of menstrual periods, partly being a cause of girls dropping out of school, the Ministry of Education and Sports developed a Reader for pupils titled "Understanding and Managing Menstruation". The Reader has been widely disseminated, especially in rural schools.

Since 1998, Uganda Police established a child and family protection unit (CFPU). The CFPU protects children from being abused; and Probation Officers working under the CFPU are empowering children to ensure that they do not fall victim of early marriages and pregnancies (in the case of girls). Additionally, regional child rehabilitation centres were established and they helping reform unruly and street children.

District local governments have formulated byelaws and ordinances protecting children's rights. For example, in Kabale district, there is an ordinance on education that requires parents to take their children to school or else they be jailed. Also, there is an ordinance on alcoholism that requires bars to open at 4:00Pm and close by 10:00pm - the purpose is to limit excessive consumption of alcohol and thus protect children from violence associated with heavy drinking.

Related to child survival, some districts with support from Development partners have established District Nutrition Coordination Committees, whose role is to sensitise masses about effects of nutritional deficiencies (e.g. stunted growth, wasting and obesity), and how these can be avoided or reversed through proper food preparation methods and ensuring a balanced diet using foods that are locally available.

Save the Children organisation has supported the creation of Children Councils and Parliaments in some districts. The purpose of these institutions is to allow children analyse their situation, identify their priorities and task district local governments to incorporate their priorities in their plans and budgets. The Councils and Parliaments are reported to have to some extent given children a voice to influence decisions that affect their wellbeing.

In a nutshell, going by the trends in enrolment rate, primary seven completion rate and PLE pass rates, evidently the UPE programme has to a great extent achieved its chief objective. This success is in part strongly attributed to the aforementioned efforts towards fulfillment of children's core rights. Happy Independence Day!

Writer is a research fellow at Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC)