Today, we commemorate the Day of the African Child, with a theme dubbed “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa”.
We need to put Uganda’s education system in perspective and see whether the foregoing parameters have been addressed. A recent report by Uwezo showed dismal levels of academic performance in our primary schools compared to Kenya and Tanzania.
According to a the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report of 2013, Uganda has the highest school dropout rate with 71 per cent of pupils dropping out of school before completing primary school.
So, is our education free, child friendly and worth celebrating?
The government rolled out free Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 for four children per family that was later extended to all children. This is in line with the Second Millennium Development goals on the attainment of UPE.
Although in quantitative terms this has increased numbers of school going children, questions abound on the quality of education and whether our schools are not actually churning out illiterates. More so, it is a fallacy to claim that primary and secondary education is free when you factor in school related costs relative to the level of poverty especially in rural areas.
Recent research carried out by International Research Committee showed that the inability to pay school related costs was the main reason why 52 per cent of pupils dropped out of school in Northern Uganda. In fact, most schools still charge indirect fees in form of scholastic items, uniforms, lunch and others.
The other question is how pupil-friendly is our education system? Is the teacher-pupil relation interactive? Sadly, tales of teachers caning and verbally assaulting pupils abound. There are many pupils who have been maimed, tortured and abused in the very schools that are meant to protect and nurture them.
For example, whereas a ministerial circular (2006) and the Guidelines for Universal Primary Education (1998, article 3.4 iii) state that corporal punishment should not be used in schools, most schools both have disregarded this directive.
In a survey conducted by ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter(2012) of 1,015 children at 25 public and private primary schools in Acholi, Lango, West Nile and Central regions, 81 per cent of respondents reported having been beaten at school.
However, there is hope that the Children (Amendment) Bill under discussion since 2012 will finally prohibit corporal punishment in schools.
Efforts by organisations like the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children geared towards ending corporal punishment in Uganda and other countries should also be lauded.
Child rights advocate Agency for Transformation