KAMPALA- Classroom structures at four in every 10 government-aided primary schools are disintegrating or non-existent, a top Ministry of Education official admitted yesterday, validating claims that Ugandans have all along been short-changed on free education.
Mr Tony Lusambu, the assistant commissioner for Primary Education, told Daily Monitor that lives of thousands of children in the countryside are at stake due to the blighted state of the buildings where they take classes.
“Almost 40 per cent of school buildings in Uganda are dilapidated ,especially in traditional old primary schools. Lives of children in these schools are at stake,” he said.
There have been criticisms, particularly by the Opposition, that the Universal Primary Education (UPE) hastily introduced in 1997 has eroded quality of education at public schools and resulted in run-down due to official neglect.
Various surveys, by both the government and other stakeholders, show UPE pupils have unfavourable learning environments and most of its graduates can neither read nor write or do basic mathematics.
A former senior education official said the government’s biggest headache was the huge enrolment under UPE programme, whose current enrolment stands at nine million from three million 20 years ago when free education was introduced.
Mr Stephen Kyakuyise, the former Mayuge District education officer, said: “We have many children in our schools, but there are few schools to match these numbers. They put pressure on these structures and the teachers are overworked.”
But the government has not been idling, according to officials.
In Karamoja, for instance, Uganda with support from the Irish government, is going to construct 21 boarding schools, Mr Lusambu said at a Global Education week.
Because the Karimojong are largely nomadic, the government piloted a scheme for teachers to teach in the grazing fields, but the report card of that initiative is yet to be released.
This newspaper visited some of the public primary schools in Wakiso District, which neighbours the capital, Kampala, and saw pupils studying in classrooms of crumbling mud-and-wattle structures.
Barefoot children knelt or sat on dirty floors to take lessons, with exercise books piled on a table between the teacher and pupils. Some were wooden structures and all had no windows or doors, enabling pupils to wander in the neighbourhood.
Education minister Jessica Alupo yesterday admitted that the government was leaning more on foreign assistance for infrastructure and curriculum development. For example, it received $100m (Shs330b) grant from Global Partnership for Education, a consortium of 65 developing countries and donors, to rehabilitate some of these schools.
A four-classroom block on average costs Shs60m, according to Mr Lusambu, meaning the government will require Shs293 billion to rehabilitate the 4,882 primary schools in dire state.
There are 12,205 government-aided primary schools in the country, and only 220 have been earmarked for significant physical upgrade by the end of this academic year.
“We are rehabilitating a section of them (schools) with part of the $100m (Shs330 billion) from Global Partnership Education,” Ms Alupo said in a text message.
Other education stakeholders, however, fault the government for doing less on education.
World Vision education specialist John Tereraho used the Global education week to remind the government of its duty to provide quality education to citizens in order to build a productive future labour force.
“The government has been clear on its priorities --- infrastructure and energy. If government prioritised education, we [would] be far much better. You can imagine the danger [in which] we are putting our children’s lives. We should understand that quality is expensive and aim at investing in tomorrow’s human resource,” Mr Tereraho said.
Latest figures by Global Education Monitoring (GEM), an annual report produced by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), show that aid to basic education to Sub-Saharan Africa in general and Uganda in particular fell by 21 percentage points between 2002 and 2014.
The Principal Inspector at Uganda’s Directorate of Education Standards, Ms Frances Atima, yesterday contested assertions by Mr Lusambu that 40 per cent of UPE school structures are falling apart.
“You can’t say dilapidated so long as the children are not at risk. That is at a very high percentage. Dilapidated has different levels, did they look at pit-latrines, incomplete classrooms? I am still contesting the sampling. We have been going for inspection across the country although we have not done the assessment. Some of those classrooms may not look beautiful but can be used,” Ms Atima said.