By Katherine Nabuzale
Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results were released on January 12. The results were not any different from the previous years' performance, with urban pupils outwitting their rural counterparts.
The euphoria among urban pupils caught everyone's attention, while rural pupils and their parents wallowed on in the miserable state of affairs. But for how long shall we look on as thousands of rural children's future is stifled and the geniuses in them never aroused? It should be noted that majority of the country's population is rural-based, with many caught between unplanned rural-urban migration thus, ending up in slams where the situation is no better than life in the rural areas.
The Government has attributed poor performance in primary schools to teachers' absenteeism, especially in rural areas. However, why are the teachers not taking their primary duty and responsibility keenly and is this the real problem causing the disparities in primary schools across the country?
Introspectively, it is human nature to shift the blame to the weakest available target whenever progress is not being registered, but unfortunately, this does not solve the problem.
In spite of free universal primary education, which has seen enrolment numbers shoot up, poor performance in rural schools has remained largely unsolved! The general evaluation of education in rural areas, especially in the imperative primary section is that it is not meeting its projected goal of nurturing and moulding young minds into well-grounded pupils ready for a competitive and broader platform on the world stage. Primary education forms the foundation for gaining basic knowledge without which children's big dreams are lost. It is the core foundation in the life long pursuit of a purposeful, proactive and productive living, which when neglected, becomes a huge stumbling block in the way to rapid socio-economic development of any country.
It is time we stopped the blame game, time to roll up our sleeves and devise well-conceived but different strategies aimed at achieving an inclusive and quality education for all children. Elementary education can be compared to the first stride that a person takes in life. It is impossible for people to run without first learning how they can walk.
Out rightly, teachers' absenteeism is part of the problem for poor performance in the rural schools. However, many other reasons abound. These include poorly facilitated schools, attitudes and practices for instance, cultural or religious beliefs, poverty in rural areas hindering parents' full support for their children in school.
Child labour and work: Children are inconsiderately engaged at home hence hampering their regular attendance of school, leading to poor performance. This is because parents can not afford the loss of income and labour contribution of their children.
High adult illiteracy rates in rural areas, health-related inconveniences such as poor nutrition hinders full participation of pupils at school. Deplorable learning environment, for instance bad sanitation and crowded classrooms without furniture contribute to the increased likelihood of non-attendance and dropout rates.
What can be done?
Rebrand the teaching profession to make it more attractive by improving teachers' terms and conditions of service, and their welfare. A motivated teacher certainly has that inner drive to deliver quality instruction.
Enhance community participation by empowering communities to hold schools accountable for quality teaching. This can be organised by village councils to monitor the performance indicators.
Revise the current teaching and learning schemes by considering participatory teaching methods that stimulate inquisitiveness, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Provide extra support and technical assistance to the remotest of schools to give them additional leverage.
Carry out regular and timely assessment of learning progress and outcomes.
Ensure regular teacher refresher courses and seminars to keep the teachers updated and up to their tasks.
Promote capacity building and policies that encourage second chances for pupils who drop out of school to support re-enrolment, retention and successful completion of primary education.
Advocacy and implementation plans to make schools more attractive, safer and secure for the pupils.
There is need for inclusive school programmes and facilities that cater for, and encourage all children to learn.
A clean learning environment fosters a conducive learning atmosphere. That is why there should be water and sanitation projects, taking note of separate sanitation facilities for both girls and boys.
Promote result-oriented adult education programmes designed to empower parents to skilfully support their children in school.
However, the core problem underlying the current education crisis is rooted in a system out of synch with the prevailing and foreseen needs of society. Presently, it is evident that learners are not equipped with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for modern living.
Therefore, there is urgency to review the whole education structure and make improvements that favour national development plans such as combating poverty and purposely improving livelihoods, especially in rural areas.
The writer is a Ugandan living in Germany