There was a time when close to half the children of Primary School going age were not in school, that situation has changed greatly. Enrolment into primary school is now over 100 per cent, meaning that even the older people who missed to start going to school at the right age are now grabbing pencil and book and heading to school.
We should be smiling at that this achievement, except for a small detail; many of the children are going to school alright but they are either not staying long enough in school or not getting educated.
According to the 2009/10 Education and Sports sector annual performance report the primary school completion rate stood at 54 per cent; the Senior one and Senior six transition rates were respectively. Let me try to state these percentages in the way I understand them; imagine a group of 1,000 children who join P1, of these 540 children will complete P7, 350 children will go on up to S1 and only 177 children will go on up to S5.
To put it another way over 80 per cent of the children who start off in P1, do not get as far as S6. A huge number of children are simply not staying long enough in school and the majority of these early school drop outs say that they quit school due to lack of interest. One can only be afraid that when these become parents, even they had the means they may not be interested in sending their children to school at all.
Early school drop out is just one part of the problem; the other part is that even the children who complete Senior Four are not getting the basic skills that is required by the labour market; these lot are going to school alright but not getting educated.
A labour market survey commissioned by a respected Ugandan institution found that job recruits who had completed Senior Four faced serious disadvantages. The majority of S4 job recruits are unable to express themselves in writing meaning they may be able to give oral reports but all hell breaks loose if you asked them to prepare a written report.
The other weaknesses of the S4 recruits are in the areas of presenting numerical information and tackling problems systematically. Make no mistake, the S4 job recruit possess rudimentary ability to read, write and be numerate, to put it another way, they can read a tabloid newspaper and follow a TV soap but they cannot apply their literacy and numeracy skills to a job.
Having realised that even many of the children who stay a bit longer in school are still coming out of school when they are not educated, the gurus at the Ministry of Education are now talking of introducing a new lower secondary school curriculum by 2015. The new curriculum will be designed to emphasise competence as opposed to rote learning and getting good examination grades.
Some parents who cannot wait for the curriculum reforms and also possess deep enough pockets have opted for alternative education in the so called international schools. The international schools emphasise competence learning.
The effect of the quality of education students are receiving is likely to manifest in waves. The first wave has already started where key jobs are being taken over by former students of private schools. The private schools came up as the former regional academic giants went into slumber. The second wave 15 to 20 years from now will see key jobs going into the hands of former students locally based international schools.
The writer is a team leader for Akamai Global, a Kampala consulting firm.