It is midday and the scorching sun is bearing down upon the shanty Kampala suburb of Kinawataka, Acholi inn. Voices of children playing in the quarters echo in the shallow alleyways winding through the dilapidated structures that sit atop a steep hill.
One of the corridors opens into a small compound that is marked by a grave at the centre. On realising a foreign presence, children get excited except one -- Oscar Makmot.
The dark-skinned boy of average height, clad in a checked shirt with unkempt hair with dusty feet tucked into undersized sandals stays put. A closer look and his story come afore. “I am in my Primary Six. I missed a term due to lack of school fees,” says the 16-year-old. “I had no option then but to remain home and support my mother by rolling beads so that I could get money for tuition”.
Makmot dropped out of the UPE system after Primary Seven because of failure to settle his dues. Were it not for AVSI Foundation, a charity for vulnerable children supported by Italian sponsors, he would join the thousands of other children who bid fare-thee-well to education.
Makmot’s mother Damalie Makmot, who is raising his three other siblings can barely get by with the daily Shs3,000 income she makes from selling beaded accessories. Whatever the sales bring in is no more than what is adequate for their day to day survival.
The government’s Universal Primary Education (UPE) has not made anything any easy. School is still expensive given other demands like lunch fee, building fee, development fund, uniform or clothing, examination, books and supplies, PTA fees, transportation and coaching. “It depends on the school. But on average, primary schools charge about Shs25,000 on top of the tuition whereas secondary schools go for about Shs90,000,” notes Teddy Bongomin, a social worker in Kinawataka.
This leaves children in abject poverty out in the cold. In and around Kampala’s sprawling slums are children who have never been between four walls of a classroom. Organisations like AVSI are only scratching the surface.
Ministry of Education officials insist that the charges are illegal and should not be solicited.
“Charging those fees is not right. Those schools should not be doing so,” says Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, Director of Basic and Secondary Education.
This month, findings of twin reports by Uwezo and Ministry of Education and Sports on the state of affairs in education are a stern indictment of the country’s education sector and its drive towards achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goal 2 of achieving universal primary education of 100 per cent enrolment and high literacy rate.
The report , “Out of School Children Uganda”, indicated that about 79 per cent of pupils who enroll for UPE programme drop out of school due to lack of fees despite the subsidisation from government. “Taking from the Ministry of Education abstract, where you have about two million students enrolling, you will realise that at the sitting of UNEB exams, only about Shs500,000 finished. It shows you just how many are falling off,” said Mr Issa Matovu, an education expert.
Coincidentally, Uwezo East Africa 2013 numeracy and literacy findings weren’t far removed from the former. They also pit the country below its East African neighbours, with the highest number of children in primary who lack basic reading and counting skills.
The report showed that only 33 per cent of primary school children complete Primary Seven and 8 per cent of children who are of the school-going age (between 7 to 15 years) have never attended school. “This challenge is so serious. If Uganda continues with such a dropout rate, we shall not only loose the gains we’ve made in education over the past decade but also create a generation of youth in the coming years whose human resource will be of low value,” warns Matovu.
“Then we shall have problems like high unemployment and rampant insecurity since the idle youth may resort to crime as a means of survival.”
A State of Uganda Population Report released in 2012 revealed that Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world with over 78 per cent below 30 years and the youth taking the biggest bulge.
“The Ministry of Education needs to assess the system. We have done so much in infrastructure, building more schools and training more teachers. It is now about time we start focusing on retention, literacy and numeracy as well,” adds Matovu.
“We are working around increasing resources but all stakeholders involved such as the parents and communities need to do their part,” says Dr Nsubuga.
Cry for help
For now Oscar Makmot’s future has been salvaged by AVSI, a charity organisation supporting 4,500 children like him across the country. He has been enrolled into a private school Luigi Giussani High School in Kireka where he is now in his Senior Two. The school is supported by AVSI too. Yet, AVSI’s funding like many other NGOs, is running down, and now looking to local funders to keep the burse running.
Charities like AVSI, can give children a hand but they cannot do it without local support.
About the AVSI foundation
AVSI Foundation is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, founded in Italy in 1972 and presently active in 39 countries of the world, with more than 100 development cooperation projects. AVSI has been present in Uganda since 1984, first supporting hospitals and agriculture projects in Gulu and Kitgum districts, and later expanding around 1990 to establish the present-day headquarters in Kampala, with offices in Pader, Gulu and Kitgum, and project activities in 12 other districts.