The Ministry of Education and Sports did a commendable job in ensuring the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme was introduced as one of the main policy tools for achieving poverty reduction and human development in the country. This was meant to provide the facilities and resources to enable every child enrolls and remains in school until the primary cycle of education is complete; make education equitable in order to eliminate disparities and inequalities; ensure education is affordable by the majority of Ugandans and reduce poverty by equipping every individual with basic skills.
The logic behind this idea is good. But it is high time an evaluation is done to decide whether UPE is achieving its objective given the recently-released Primary Leaving Examination results and the poor performance countrywide. Of the 560,784 candidates who sat for the final exams, only 52,786 passed in Division One. A total of 247,507 students were in Division Two, 125,292 in Division Three while 68,554 made it to Division Four. About 66,645 pupils failed and were not graded. It was indicated that in about 5,022 primary schools, there was no candidate with first grade. It was also clear that urban schools performed better than their counterparts in rural areas.
No one should, however, be surprised by these results. We all remember the on and off teachers’ strikes - a result of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union protesting government’s failure to pay them a 20 per cent salary increment even after a series of negotiations and promises by the government.
Teachers have made it clear that their working conditions are not favourable yet they are expected to deliver high quality services. With the introduction of UPE, pupils were exempted from paying school fees and as a result, parents left everything to the government, ignoring simple responsibilities like packing a lunch box for their children. As a result, class sizes are commonly more than 100 pupils and the primary school completion rate is about 25 per cent, while teaching conditions are poor. Teachers’ salary is insufficient for a single person’s basic subsistence. There is no motivation to have the pupils learn, moreover on an empty stomach. This is partly the reason for the high failure rate in government schools.
Another challenge is inadequate teachers’ accommodation. The high rate of absenteeism reflects the challenges faced by teachers who lack housing and have to commute long distances.
The government has made an effort to provide universal education but performance is quite poor. It is time for the government to evaluate the programme and invest more in the education sector for the future of the young generation.