Sunday January 14 2018

Universal education still a distant dream

Examination hysteria is here again following the release on Friday of the results of the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) for the year 2017.

2017 was an important year in the primary education sector because we marked 20 years of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) initiative, which kicked off in 1997. Although the original idea was for the government to sponsor a maximum of four children per family through primary school, the initiative was soon extended to cover all children of school-going age.

Primary education is deemed essential for everyone, for it equips one with vital life skills, especially basic numeracy and literacy. This is why it is deemed to be a key transformative agent for any society.
So it is worrying that just going by the figures of the recently released results, less than four out of every 10 children who enrolled in Primary One seven years ago in 2011 got to complete Primary Seven in November 2017.

According to figures by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 1,839,714 children enrolled in Primary One in 2011 and according to the results released by the Uganda National Examinations Board on Friday, only 646,080 of them sat for the PLE in November 2017.

Where did the 1,193,634 children end up? How, 20 years after launching UPE, can we have a system that loses more than six out of 10 children in just seven years?

Over the years, the answers for these questions have been hinted on. Different studies have shown that the children in many of our schools are not learning enough, and that even their teachers are ill-prepared and ill-trained for their job.
There have also been chronic complaints about underfunding UPE, with so little money availed to schools to cater for the learners.

Another unresolved issue is feeding at school, with the debate about whether the government should provide food for learners at school never seeming to end. And then there is the debate on sanitary towels for school-going girls, which President Museveni made a campaign promise to provide but later backtracked on, citing lack of money. The list of challenges is long.

In view of all this, perhaps the more viable option would have been to first focus on UPE and perfect it before taking on Universal Secondary Education, for the government now seems to be too stretched on the ground and unable to satisfactorily cater to both programmes. But the two programmes are up and running and difficult to reverse.

Solutions must be found to ensure that all children enrol in schools, keep in there and learn. We would like to hear more on this from the responsible officials.