Commentary

Govt can still redeem UPE programme

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By Michael Nsasiirwe

Posted  Thursday, March 27   2014 at  02:00
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The standard of education in Uganda is a subject of concern. To understand this, we need to assess the quality of education our children receive under Universal Primary Education (UPE) - a government programme charged with providing free primary education - and see whether it can prepare our children for future challenges.

A recent study by Uwezo, an education research outfit, found that the standard of Uganda’s primary education is lower than her neighbours Kenya and Tanzania respectively. This was not always the case. In the 1960s and 1970s, Uganda was a case study of quality education in the region.
So what happened to this education power house that used to rank higher than its neighbours? The answer is UPE. In the mid 1990s, the NRM government introduced UPE, apparently to curtail illiteracy levels and expand the human resource base through capacity building.

And indeed, considering the fact that much of Uganda’s skilled labour force had migrated to overseas for greener pastures, it was logical to take action that would reduce the professional labour deficit. With every family assured of free education, enrollment numbers immediately shot up! But the party didn’t last long because implementing the programme soon became a daunting challenge to the government.

The high enrollment compromised the learning conditions and hence created a vacuum in the quality of education. The initial average teacher-pupil ratio of 1:40 per classroom in government schools jumped to 1:200 but the learning aids remained the same. Teachers workload multiplied but without additional financial incentives to motivate them.

Over time, the government put up more supplementary structures to decongest the huge numbers, donated more text books and expanded teachers’ recruitment drive. This, however, remains a drop in the ocean considering the number of pupils at stake. These managerial gaps have dented the mission of the otherwise good programme.

The government can still redeem UPE by increasing teachers’ salaries, expanding the infrastructural base and increasing scholastic materials among other necessities to reconcile the huge numbers.
Unless something is done, Ugandan graduates cannot compete favourably against better-trained Kenyans and Tanzanians on the job market.