The Ministry of Education’s budget for the Financial Year 2019/20 is estimated at Shs3.3 trillion three times up from Shs1.1 trillion since the First lady, Ms Janet Museveni, took over the docket in 2016. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education sounded their own trumpet praising the minister for the achievements that they have made since she took office.
Among them is infrastructure development, which included the construction of 256 new classrooms in 45 districts across the country. According to the Ministry of Education policy statement, 23 new primary schools will be builtthis financial year.
This is a significant improvement. However, it does not mean that learning happens inside the four walls of a classroom. In fact, there is a growing evidence suggesting there is a learning crisis in many of the government schools and at its core is teaching crisis.
The most recent report by the World Bank speak about this crisis. “Less than half of the pupils in Primary Six have acquired competences in Numeracy and English literacy specified in the P6 curriculum. It is an easy win to build a few classrooms, it is much harder to build an educated population.
For pupil to learn, they need good teachers and a system that monitors not only their presence in the classroom, but also what they do in classrooms if we are to have learning gains. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has paid little attention to this despite knowing the challenges of teacher absenteeism and poor lesson delivery for decades.
Teacher training and support is essential if we are to have good schools. Teaching is very important, yet many teachers are left in schools alone with learners, no help, no materials, and no coaching, among others. They stand at the front of the classroom struggling to teach.
Attention should now be shifted to the quality of teachers that we have in the classrooms, their abilities to deliver lessons; the training and coaching they receive and establishing a “monitoring system” that will flash red lights when they do not turn up in class.
The ministry should also establish a system that is able to assess who is learning in the classroom and who is not, especially in congested classrooms widely observed in several schools across the country.
The ministry has little idea about what is happening or who is present, especially in classrooms or schools in remote areas. This is where technology can play an important role. Uganda appreciates the advantages of technology, so why not use it to improve our school system, which is struggling?
Once established, it can take the burden from school inspectors, who have been challenged by financial support from the centre for executing their work. It can also make sure that data is consistent and this can help the ministry monitor and improve what is happening in the classroom. Speaking of technology, it might be time now for the ministry to do some bench-marking on some of the institutions that have embraced technology in registering learning gains, which schools and institutions are delivering strong PLE results.
Some schools, for example, have a technology platform that could be easily adopted by government not only to deal with teacher absenteeism, but also lesson delivery in the classroom.
Other governments in Africa, including Nigeria, are using it and some are transforming their public education systems with it. So why is Uganda not transforming its education system as well? Why are other countries leapfrogging us?
While the ministry is trying to address the issue of low salaries for teachers, constructing houses for them, and building more schools, they are still missing the point. What use is a classroom if no learning happens. Why do parents want a textbook if their children cannot read it? There is a need for Uganda to focus, as the rest of the world is doing, on whether children are learning, whether they can read, whether they can write and count and later be able to help Uganda to develop.
The Ministry of Education needs to establish a system that will ensure that it gets value for money from the millions of shillings spent on teachers and schools. This can only be evaluated by assessing the learning gains of the pupils.
New school buildings are always welcome, but without an elaborate learning system that ensures improvement of learners, they remain just that - buildings or structures.
Mr Kaggwa Njala is journalist.