The government of Uganda has been praised for introducing Universal Primary Education in 1997, aimed at providing education for all children of school-going age access to education and real prospects to complete the primary education cycle, meaning education for all. It is important to note that ‘education for all’ is not a Ugandan initiative. It was first launched in Jomtien, Thailand in1990 to bring benefits of education to “every citizen in every society”.
To realise this, a broad coalition of national governments, civil society organisations and development agencies committed to achieving six specific educational goals. Key among these were: To ensure that by 2015 all children - particularly girls, those in difficult circumstances, and those belonging to ethnic minorities - have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality; to improve all aspects of quality education, and; to ensure excellence of all so that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.
Various studies and reviews on the performance of education in Uganda point to the fact that school cycle completion rates in Uganda, especially in primary schools stand below 50 per cent, absenteeism at 42 per cent on average and availability and access to instructional teaching and reading materials in UPE schools is limited. Even where books are available, pupils do not utilise them to aid their reading competence. It’s thus evident that Uganda will not achieve this desired target by 2015. This is, for a fact, a latent consequence of UPE implementation that has created two distinct classes of education for rural and urban schools, whereby quality education can only be guaranteed in urban areas as opposed to rural schools.
An effort has been made to expand infrastructure in schools through, among other means, sector-wide approaches towards funding education programmes, which reaffirms government’s commitment to achieving education for all. However, Uganda has failed to come to terms with the reality that despite the impressive rise in gross primary school enrollment from 2.5 million pupils before the introduction of the programme to about 9 million, there are insurmountable challenges directly or indirectly affecting the programme, key of which is the alarming dropout rates that range between 60-70 per cent. This undermines the relevance of high enrollments and underscores the apparent failure to eliminate disparities and inequalities in the provision and access to quality education. This is also compounded by a high teacher-pupil ratio and the lack of adequate infrastructure, particularly in rural schools. Unfortunately, similar challenges are beginning to haunt secondary schools under Universal Secondary Education.
While the Directorate of Education Standards has undertaken regular assessment of the provision of quality education in Uganda and ranked it as poor, the assessment has ignored the role of the parent in this regard. This has relegated the parent to observer status, which greatly explains the wide disparity between urban and rural schools performance. The assertion that UPE is free is wrong and misleading because parents play multiple significant roles in the provision of quality education and thus cannot be volunteers in the education of their children. They are key actors through provision of scholastic materials, uniform, meals, monitoring attendance and performance among other duties.
The failure by local government officials to enforce by-laws compelling parents to play a more active role in the implementation of UPE as recommended in various reviews on the performance of the programme, only points to the need to review and amend the Education Act 2008 to strengthen the role of parents and empower local government authorities and school management committees to propose mechanisms that include direct contribution of parents to support school programmes.
Mr Odaro works with Uganda Debt Network. firstname.lastname@example.org