Tuesday March 25 2014

Increase funding to the education sector

By Silver Mwesigwa

As several pupils and parents were busy celebrating the recently released PLE results for 2013, more than one million pupils had no reason to celebrate because either they had not sat for the said exams or their results were not worth celebrating.

According to recent media and Ministry of education reports, it is estimated that in 2007, there was an enrollment of 1.7 million pupils in Primary One but after seven years, only 580, 000 sat for Primary Leaving Examinations in 2013. More than 60, 000 pupils of those who sat for PLE were ungraded and 130, 000 pupils cannot be enrolled under USE programme bringing the total number of those who will not join secondary education to more than 1.3 million.

It is so far estimated that 8.9 million Ugandans have not made it beyond primary level education since the introduction of UPE. Imagine if the trend is not checked in the next 10 years, we shall have an estimated 22 million Ugandans who will not be educated beyond primary level education. Despite the current heavy investments in infrastructure, these Ugandans will neither possess the economic nor intellectual capacity to economically utilise the tarmac roads or install electricity in their homes. The same population shall never fully benefit from the oil refinery since they do not possess any employable skills.

Still on the economy, this semi illiterate population will not be able to finance government programmes through payment of taxes since they will be mainly working for their own survival and at most will pay only 10$ per person per annum through indirect taxes ( purchase of domestic necessities like salt and paraffin) forcing the government to heavily tax the few Ugandans in the formal sector to feed and provide services to the many unemployable and unemployed Ugandans.

Scientists tell us that 80 per cent of the common diseases like malaria, cholera, dysentery, etc are preventable diseases which can be avoided with better primary health care. It must also be noted that the biggest budget of our health goes into treatment and prevention of the same diseases which ideally would be avoided if our population were educated enough to understand the importance of for example sleeping under a mosquito net or to drink boiled water; practices that are so common with the elite class. This would save billions of money which would be diverted to other critical sectors. We recently received free government mosquito nets but I can tell you that some people are already using them as fishing nets.

There are so many boys who are idle, not willing to engage in farming but prefer to “get rich quick” through gambling, drugs, sports betting and some have become serial petty thieves to the extent that the poor hard working Ugandans can no longer afford to keep chicken or goats since these are easy targets for the fast growing unemployed/unskilled youth.
As local leaders, these are challenges we have to deal with on a daily basis probably rarely understood by the top level planners that allocate so little money to the education sector. Girls definitely get married as soon as they drop out or are employed as house maids and bar attendants where they end up being used and beaten by their bosses and husbands and our government will spend 10 times than we would have spent when they were in school in an effort to avert high mortality rates, population control, prevention of HIV/Aids, family welfare officers and employing many police and prisons officers to maintain and keep law and order.

I can go and on to narrate the socio-economic implications in the long term if the current loopholes in the primary education are not arrested immediately. But what is clear is that numbers don’t lie and the earlier we address this monster challenge, then all the achievements of the NRM government may be like someone who built a very nice permanent home on an unstable weak foundation.

The good news is that it is not yet too late. We need to increase the UPE funding per pupil per term from the current estimated Shs440to at least Shs2000, increase teachers’ salaries from current She300,000 to at least Shs600,000. Ensure there are enough classrooms and staff houses in every government school and control the pupil/teacher ratio to at most 40 pupils per teacher.

Lastly we must ensure that monitoring and supervision of schools by the technical team and political leaders is rejuvenated by providing enough facilitation in terms of enough personnel, transport and allowances. Currently there is one schools’ inspector per constituency with a motor cycle. Government must also declare that it cannot provide all the school needs and, therefore, parents should be told as a policy statement to contribute a certain amount of money per term to the running of the schools.
Mr Mwesigwa is the Isingiro Disrtict Speaker.