Weep Not, Child: A story of UPE pioneer from Kigarama in Kabale

Friday June 30 2017

Alexander Kyokwijuka

Alexander Kyokwijuka 

By Alexander Kyokwijuka

One of the things I cherished back then in school, was the non-academic educational experience in our earlier primary education. Therefore, I wish to tell a story of a small boy from Kigarama village in Kabale District. This boy may not have been the most remarkable in his village but his perspective of the social realities at that time is still relevant even in understanding the realities around us today.
Simply put, this boy was born in a fairly no poor, but also not rich family, you can consider an average village family that had some members who went through formal education and some of them had become teachers (one of the most admired profession in that village at that time). From my Sociology of Education classes at Makerere University, children derive inspiration from their first role models who are parents and the immediate family.
Whether this boy would aspire to become a teacher like his immediate role models is something we shall discover as we read on. For the record, I am quoting Kigarama village because more than 80 per cent of Uganda’s populations leave in the rural areas and rural employment constitutes of mainly agriculture. According to the World Bank, 71.7 per cent of our population is employed in agriculture as of 2013. But do we really go by this assertion as a nation? Your guess is as good as mine.
In 1997, the government then would issue an order that all children aged 5 years and above should go to school lest their parents would be arrested. This was in the wake of the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE). It should be remembered that at that time in Kigarama village, children would in most cases go to school for fear of paying graduated tax, which one would qualify for once they turned 18 years of age. Memories of LDU men chasing after young men in the wee hours of the morning for failure to pay tax are still fresh in my mind. This boy thus joined school since he was 8 years old.
Under UPE, the government abolished all tuition fees as well as Parents and Teachers Association charges for primary education. With UPE, gross enrolment in primary school increased from 3.1 million pupils in 1996 to 7.6 million in 2003. This amounts to an increase of 145 per cent (4.5 million children), compared to an increase of 39 per cent (0.9 million children) between 1986 and 1996. This is despite the fact that primary education was not made compulsory, nor was it made entirely free, since parents were still expected to contribute pens, exercise books, clothing, and even bricks and labour for classroom construction (Inter-Regional Inequality Facility Policy brief, 2006).
School life was very interesting, notwithstanding the change in environment. One of the remarkable experiences was handiwork in which pupils had to engage in hand-making of home crafts such as baskets, mats, winnowing trays, bee hives, etc.
Whereas these were great initiatives that would improve the innovativeness in children, the story telling in class would instill confidence and self expression skills in them. I recall this young boy would be given an office chair (as we used to call it at Kigarama Primary School to mean any type of chair apart from a bench) every Tuesday to sit in front of the class to tell a story, which his mother would have told him the previous night.
Do modern parents still tell their children stories, which they can share in class the following day? Not anymore. Parents today help the young ones with home work and they present answers to the teacher the following day. But do teachers still initiate these activities? Not anymore. They are paid little and the better part of their time, they are complaining or hovering elsewhere to make ends meet.
Does this worry you as a Ugandan citizen, leader, or well wisher? Are we still asking, therefore, why things are not going right? Do we also ask why 68 per cent of children who enroll in primary school are likely to drop out before completing seven years of primary level? Fortunately, this little boy is not part of this category. Have we heard of funding challenges for the education system in Uganda, especially at primary level?
Well, under the leadership of the chief administrative officers (CAOs), local authorities are responsible for ensuring that all UPE funds released to them by the MoES reach schools and are not retained for any other purposes. UPE funds are conditional grants, over which district authorities have little power of reallocation.
The CAOs are also responsible for ensuring prompt disbursement of UPE grants to schools, proper accountability of UPE grants, the formulation of the education budget and its successful fulfilment, and adequate briefing of district councils on UPE implementation. Sub-county chiefs represent the CAOs at the sub-county level. They enforce proper use and accountability for UPE grants and public funds. Who then, should we blame for the misfortune in the UPE system? How many of these children are affected each year and how many should we count on to take charge of this country years to come?

Mr Kyokwijuka is the little boy referred to in the comment. He is currently the executive director, Youth Aid Africa. kyokwijuka.ug@gmail.com