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UPE finally paying dividends

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Pupils of Bat Valley Primary School take a break from the books. The school is under the UPE programme. FILE PHOTO  

By  Steven Tendo

Posted  Monday, January 25  2010 at  08:36
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The Universal Primary Education programme, born in 1997, has been praised and criticised at the same time. With the release of PLE on Tuesday, the results showed that UPE schools had performed better than the private ones. Steven Tendo takes us down the journey of the programme.

Primary Leaving Examination results released last week showed an improvement in the performance from the previous year. After a decade of sustained criticism and microscopic inspection, Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools finally posted a commendable performance. Parents and students are finally warming up to UPE.

Timothy Agaba has just been promoted to P5, and is finally reaping the dividends of attending a good school. He spent two years in a private school in Mbarara but changed to Mbarara Municipal, a UPE school.

“I realised he was getting a raw deal,” his father, Mr William Sande, says.
“The teachers were unserious and he was not getting a good education.” Mr Sande says his son was very poor at simple arithmetic and English until his switch. He had enrolled him in a private school after getting so many negative reports about UPE but was disappointed that his son was not making much progress. “He is getting a far better education now,” Mr Sande says.
“He gets enough homework and his grades are improving.”

Jean Alinda is a pupil at Chadwick Namate Primary School in Entebbe. Her previous school, a private outfit, did not hold Parent Teacher Association meetings and she frequently cut her classes to eat roadside mangoes. Today, that is unheard of because of the tight supervision by the teachers at Chadwick.

These are snapshots of a system that has often been described as a sinking ship by some but also as the salvation of a nation. With the deluge of enrolment numbers, UPE faces challenges, which the Ministry of Education says it is on top of.

Of the 513,219 candidates who sat for PLE last year, more than 400,000 were from UPE schools. Education Minister Namirembe Bitamazire says the strict monitoring of schools under the Education Standards Agency was the cause of improved performance over the years.

The programme was introduced in Uganda in January 1997 as part of a government policy to provide free education to children.

Critics have pointed out what they have called weaknesses in a programme that should otherwise provide the best opportunity for large sections of the population to become sufficiently productive. Every year, the comparisons between the pre and post UPE periods run thick.

At the time UPE was introduced, only about one third of school-going age children were in school. Enrolment figures are up from 2.5 million in 1997 to 7.5 million pupils. According to government records, there are 258 UPE-aided primary schools with 152, 974 pupils. 26,318 of them are boys.

Increased classrooms
The programme has also seen the increase of classrooms in an effort to banish ‘tree shade classes.’ Classrooms have increased to more than 60,000.
Some social commentators believe in the system. “UPE is an excellent policy that could transform this society,” Capt. Mike Mukula, a former State Minister for Health, told Daily Monitor.
“As long as the tools of production are in place, development can take shape.”

Mukula refers to success stories like Japan’s, which he says relied on a UPE programme. According to him, UPE was first tried in the country after the Second World War and it helped the war-devastated country to develop into one of the world’s biggest economies.

“This is a county without minerals but they have the right manpower and all this happened because they educated their population,” Capt. Mukula said.
But UPE still has a long way to go before it can shake off the image of being a dragnet for low standard pupils.

Tattered image
“UPE is about more than just academics,” Mr Fagil Mandy, a former commissioner in the Education Ministry, says.

“Parents need to understand that when children go to school, there are other parts of learning, like athletics, drama, debating and the like. That is what UPE should be about.”

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