Tuesday May 27 2014

Why communities need to urgently intervene in the education sector

By Nicholas Sengoba

Shouting obscenities at a padlock will not open it. For long, we have ‘called upon the government’ to take serious note of the alarming statistics in the education sector. It does not seem to get any better with every passing year. For example, the New Vision reported in 2012 that more than one million pupils out of the 1,598,636 who enrolled for Primary One under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2006 did not reach Primary Seven. This accounted for a 71 per cent dropout rate.

Recently, the Out of School Children Study in Uganda report released by Stromme Foundation, Save the Children, ERIKS Development Partners, UNHCR and Unicef, gave other worrying statistics and details. More female students (30.5 per cent) drop out than males (19.9 per cent). That is a prospect of illiterate mothers. Only nine per cent of children with disabilities attend school but only 6 per cent complete the primary level and continue to secondary. Eight per cent of Ugandan children between (six and 15 years) have never gone to school.

Many reasons were cited: Distance to school, domestic labour, overcrowding in classes, pregnancy, lack of interest by parents and lack of money to buy school uniforms. The analysts have called upon the government to increase funding, pay teachers, build more schools, imprison parents who do not take their children to school, etc.

A cynical section has claimed that governments with the aim of perpetuating themselves, keep people in the dark and in a state of constant want by making sure education is at a bare minimum. This enables one to tick on a ballot paper or to take instructions as a gate keeper or house maid.

If a considerable section of the population is in this ‘lukewarm’ state, it makes politics cheaper. Such people will accept very little money or soap and sugar to vote for a candidate. They will not have the depth that helps one to make connections of the issues that surround them and the cause of their plight.

These may be good arguments, but they are not helpful for they do not provide a solution to the serious issues society faces if people do not go to school. One of them is that the future, for even those who have attained the highest levels of formal education, is bleak. In years to come, there is a possibility that most of the police force and army plus all the low-paying but vital jobs will be attractive to these sort of people. That will be a disaster. Already, many primary school teachers have been found with forged academic transcripts. So has been the revelation during recruitment in the police, army and nurses.

The more helpful solution would be for communities to take an initiative. Governments come and go but our children will remain here without skills or formal education. We must take charge!

The Buganda Katikkiro’s effort to mobilise funds for projects within the kingdom should be an eye opener. If, say, the people of West Nile region sat down and pooled funds to build technical education centres where young people would learn carpentry, masonry, bee-keeping, fish farming, tailoring, catering etc., that would be more helpful than ‘calling upon the government’ that does not seem to be listening.

And one does not need to be in school for very long to get these basic skills. This makes it less expensive. After the course, a follow up effort by way of providing basic tools of the trade as start-up would suffice. In future, the young people may save and go back for formal education, depending on their will and ambition.

If we sit back and analyse the situation then lament, we should prepare ourselves for a terrible future where the illiterate and semi-literate will dominate our society.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com