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Kyenjojo pupils abandon class to join lucrative tea industry

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Workers at Rusekere Tea Factory in Kijura, Kabarole District prepare

Workers at Rusekere Tea Factory in Kijura, Kabarole District prepare tea for processing. Photo by Felix Basiime 


Posted  Tuesday, December 3  2013 at  12:50

Kyenjojo- As one travels along the snaky Fort Portal-Kyenjojo road, tea plantations paint the road sides green against the vast plains, making the scenery beautiful. In the morning, people of all ages carry baskets on their backs to pick tea.

The tea industry in Kyenjojo is so lucrative that it has so far attracted at least seven factories in the district with vast estates.

One of them, Mabale Tea Factory, is owned by at least 800 peasants following the privatisation of public enterprises in Uganda in the 1990s. The industry has also attracted hundreds of migrant workers from south west Uganda and DR Congo.

Although the business is booming, it is threatening the education sector in the district as elders and authorities are worried at the rate at which children are abandoning school to pick tea.

Recently, a conference was organised by the Kyenjojo Elders’ Forum and NGOs, including Ride Africa, Kabarole Research and Resource Centre, Tooro Development Network among others, to tackle the problem.
According to elders, children under Universal Primary Education are not motivated to stay in school and complete studies thus venturing into other income-generating projects such as tea picking.

“The district ranks among the poorest in the country by the Uganda Bureau of Standards. It lags behind in education and food production since most children at schools pass time while others are working in tea farms and factories,” Mr Rujumba Muhenda, an elder says.

Col (rtd) Tom Butime, another elder, believes that children will continue to drop out of school unless all stakeholders ensure that quality education is provided.
He says parents have carelessly left their responsibilities to the government as far as education is concerned.

“Most homes do not provide food to their children and they will always starve while in class for the afternoon lessons. At this level, they are not expected to concentrate on what the teachers teach them. So, the first blame goes to the parent before a finger is pointed at the teacher,” Col Butime says.

According to stakeholders, the problem is worsened by the fact that some parents allow their children to stay at home to provide domestic labour.
Elders have now proposed enactment of by-laws to compel the parents to send their children both girls and boys to school.

“There should be punishments for parents denying their children a chance to benefit from universal education,” Mr Muhenda observes.

According to this year’s district education department report, there are more than 300 primary schools of which 120 are private. But it is the public schools that have been hit most with the drop outs and poor performance.

A survey carried out by Community Based Monitors in several schools in the district in 2009 found that Rwentuha Primary Schooli in Bugaki Sub-county had 166 spupils absent out of the 889 pupils while in Makerere Primary School, Butiiti Sub-County 243 pupils were absent out of 685.

The survey also found that due to ohigh poverty levels in the district, parents have forced their children to do casual labour and pick tea to earn a living.

The Resident District Commissioner, Mr John Rex Achilla, says men have resorted to alcoholism which affects domestic income since they can no longer support their families.

According to the district education officer, Ms Gertrude Tibakanya, lack of enough teachers has also led to poor performance.

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