What the recent PLE results say about Uganda’s education

Not long ago, Uganda National Examination Board (Uneb) released PLE results and the usual performance patterns remain unchanged.
The generality of all this is that urban and peri-urban schools continued to perform better than their rural counterparts while private schools far outperformed public primary schools.
According to Uneb, 646,190 candidates sat the exams, with 57,198 passing in First Grade, 293,977 in Second, 128,573 in Third, 91,504 in Fourth while 57,354 completely failed the exams.
So whereas the overall performance in 2017 is seemingly better than 2016 except on Division One level, where there was a decrease, a keener observation shows that the results indicate that 57,198 pupils out of a total of 628,606 candidates obtained aggregates in Division one. This is far below the performance in the previous year in which 63,400 out of a total 622,299 candidates obtained aggregates in first grade. This is an indicator of decreased performance. So where is the problem?
In terms of rural- urban performance disparity, numbers do not lie. For example, Wakiso performed best with 9,921 candidates in First Grade, Kampala, 7754 in First Grade, Mukono,2842 Mbarara 2364 and Masaka 1765 First Grades while the eastern districts of Kween, Bukwo, Tororo, Kayunga, Mbale, Mayuge, Kamuli, Budaka, Buvuma and Bududa registered the worst performance.
The other problem worth noting from the PLE results is that our education curriculum seems to attach less focus on critical tenets that modern education requires like literacy, numerous and critical-thinking skills in early grades.
Recently, the media quoted Mr Dan Odong, the Uneb secretary, decrying poor performance in English and Mathematics by PLE candidates, where candidates were required to apply knowledge in problem-solving situations or express freely. Candidates were more comfortable with questions that are direct and based on recall.
Not many weeks ago, just before PLE results were released, I wrote in this very column imploring government to invest or partner with any investors willing to offer quality yet affordable education in the country.
World over, private schools generally offer a better learning package than public schools. However, in developed countries the quality gap is not as pronounced as it is the case of Uganda. This is because in developed countries, there is a deliberate resource investment in public schools.
In Uganda, budget constraints and competing priorities mean that an important sector such as education will continue to be underfunded.
In the Financial Year 2017/2017, government allocated only Shs2.848 trillion as the budget for the education sector. This paltry allocation means that the unit cost per child measured by capitation grant remains at Shs8,753, which does not even accommodate the inflationary rates and change in market values. So, the limited funding continues to be mirrored in annual PLE results and this perennial trend is worrying.
In eastern Uganda, where I have done research on education, overall, a respectable 87 per cent passed PLE although only 44 percent passed in the top two grades. Let us examine this phenomenon that could in future help. Bridge International Academy is a relatively new entrant in the education sector yet slowly making an imprint in offering quality yet affordable education with more than 63 schools across the country.
Bridge schools charge nominal fees and are therefore affordable for many rural households. Yet the Bridge schools registered an impressive 100 per cent passing the national exams. Bridge significantly outperformed the Ugandan national average with more than 93 per cent of its pupils placed in Division One or Two compared to only 56 per cent nationally.
This Bridge academic feat now debunks the myth that rural schools cannot perform better than their urban counterparts. This also actually clears the allegation that Bridge schools offer a different academic curriculum from the one offered by Government.
The Bridge PLE performance deserves praise because Bridge Academies attract pupils from impoverished families that would ordinarily have gone to public schools and most probably performed with the worst grades.
I still believe that the technocrats at the Ministry of Education responsible for quality assurance can take lessons from UPE results so as to work on a formula that lessens wide performance disparities in the different national demographics as the recent UPE results have demonstrated.

Mr Oramire is a lawyer and principal Labour College of East Africa.
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