Govt figures on UPE, USE questioned

Pupils attend a lesson at Muhorro Muslim Primary School in Kagadi District recently. Photos/file

What you need to know:

  • The ministry says an average of Shs6,700 is spent per pupil each term.

A teachers’ association has challenged the Education ministry’s computation of how much the government says it spends on each student and pupil under the free universal education programme. 
For the first 20 years of the scheme, free primary education in public schools has cost a cumulative total of Shs10. 9 trillion, according to the government’s ‘UPE at 25’ report released in mid-March. 

The report also acknowledges a range of existing challenges which are standing in the way of the dream of providing free quality education to Uganda’s children.
As the country marked 25 years of Universal Primary Education (UPE) last month, the ministry said contrary to the view that an average of Shs6,700 is spent per pupil each term (Shs20,000 annually), the government expenditure is six times over that estimate.

Last week, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, Mr Denis Mugimba, said the government is, this year, spending Shs1.3 trillion on UPE in 12,433 public schools, which he said translated to Shs151, 710 per pupil annually.
He also observed that in the same period, 1,367 public secondary schools will share Shs830.6 billion under Universal Secondary Education (USE) at a rate of Shs331,608 per student per term, adding up to Shs994,824 each year for every student. 

However, the publicly acknowledged figure is Shs54,000 for every O-Level student per term, and Shs90,000 for those in A-Level, amounting to Shs162,000 and Shs270,000 annually, respectively.
And it is these figures which the Uganda National Teachers Union (Unatu) on Tuesday upheld as being the actual government expenditure for both pupils and students.
But Mr Mugimba had told this publication that people have been focusing only on the capitation grant component which is sent directly to schools, and not considering the entire budget the ministry spends on learners.

“Learners are not supported by only that small amount that goes to schools. It is important to focus on the unit cost needed to attain the total learning outcomes of the learner,” he said.

UPE, USE schools on the spot over charging Uneb exam fees
He added that hiring teachers, inspecting schools to ensure that teaching is taking place, as well as purchasing instructional materials, must be taken into account when computing how much goes to each pupil and student in public schools under free universal education.
“The debate on the cost of UPE and USE cannot go on without the cost of hiring teachers. It is like talking about a vehicle without an engine. Without teachers in class, the students, text books and building blocks are useless,” Mr Mugimba said.
He said the money has fluctuated annually with the government gradually increasing the amount it spends on learners, especially in UPE.

But the spokesperson also said the cost of boarding sections in public secondary schools is not the responsibility of the state.
This assessment was, however, contested by Unatu Secretary General, Mr Filbert Baguma. 
“Why should the government attach the money it spends on wages and inspection to the cash that goes to the teaching and learning process of pupils in the classroom? Only 20,000 per learner in primary goes to the accounts of schools [annually]. It is madness for people to come out and say they pay Shs150,000 per year per student,” Mr Baguma said.

“What we want to see is how much money the government sends to schools for both primary and secondary students. Coming out and saying they are spending over Shs300, 000 on secondary students is confusing the country. This is diversionary,” he added.
At the same time, some heads of schools, when contacted, were not comfortable disclosing how much they receive from the government for teaching and learning. Others said they receive varying amounts.

A head teacher at a Kampala school (name withheld) said she doesn’t know how much the government sends to her school per pupil because it keeps fluctuating.
“You call the right people to tell you how much they send. Because last year I had fewer pupils and I got a lot of money. This year I have a big number of pupils but the money I received is less. So, I do not know,” she said.

Primary Seven pupils of Buganda Road Primary School attend classes on January 11, 2022.

Ghost learners
The Ministry of Education is struggling with the question of pupil/student numbers as reports that some school heads connive with district authorities and inflate enrollment numbers so as to get more money.
Last year, the ministry introduced the Education Management Information System (EMIS), a digital tool designed to establish how many learners are in UPE and USE schools.
The State Minister for Primary Education, Ms Joyce Kaducu, said all learners be registered with EMIS.

Mr Mugimba said the ministry will use the special national identification numbers (NIN) learners are given after registering to track their status at school.
“We shall be able to know how many learners each school has and how much the government is supposed to send per each school. We shall also use those special numbers to trace the enrollment and the dropout rate of learners,” Mr Mugimba said.

Ms Kaducu has revealed that there are about 8.6 million pupils registered under UPE today compared to three million in 1996. But this quantitative growth faces questions around quality of teaching and learning itself.
Teacher-learner ratios remain outside recommended limits of one teacher for 40 pupils, constraining the ability of the relatively small teaching workforce to deliver quality education in the crowded classrooms of public schools.
Ms Kaducu said the government plans to recruit 78,888 primary teachers to improve the teacher-pupil ratio in UPE schools. The government currently claims that the current ratio stands at 1:55, a figure which is rejected by independent parties, including development partners who estimate class numbers at more than 200 pupils each.

Official records say that a total of 136,819 teachers are teaching 8,624,264 learners in 12,433 UPE schools.
The poor teacher-pupil ratio has been listed as one of the factors causing poor performance of pupils in UPE and USE schools across the country.
According to a 2021 report by Uwezo, an independent organisation which assesses school performance and learning outcomes, the number of primary school children who cannot read has increased.
The National Learning Assessment report which was released last year indicated that the proportion of children who are still at the ‘non-reader’ stage (those who could not read or sound out letters of the alphabet) doubled from 6.2 percent (846,424) in 2018 to 11.6 percent (1,743,828) in 2021. UWEZO sampled a total of 15,033 learners in 2021 and 13,652 learners in 2018.
Learners from eastern and northern parts of the country are most affected.
In an interview with this publication after the release of this report, the Uwezo executive director, Ms Mary Nakabugo, attributed the poor performance of these learners to the high pupil-teacher ratio, estimated at an average of 65:1; poor infrastructure and high poverty levels in these two regions.

“Lessons under tree shades can be taught successfully but making them a way of life is unfair to all concerned children; teachers and school managers. The government must live up to its responsibility to provide sufficient primary school classrooms throughout Uganda,” Ms Nakabugo said.
“As our school survey shows, the staffing of government-aided primary schools was insufficient in quantity before the [Covid] pandemic and had been in decline for several years. Certification and appointments must now be high priorities,” she added.