What you need to know:
- Preschool provision in Uganda remains critically underfunded, patchy, and highly inequitable.
On June 14, the 2022/2023 Budget was read and Shs4.4 trillion was allocated to the education sector.
Among priorities were curriculum development and skilling. There was no mention of a separate allocation for pre-primary sector development.
Over the years, the pre-primary and primary budgets have remained consolidated. Although the sectors are closely related, more efforts should be devoted to separating them in order to provide due attention to early learning.
It should be noted that preschool provision in Uganda remains critically underfunded, patchy, and highly inequitable.
Preschool education does not have its own budget. Instead the funds are allocated to primary school units hoping that any extra could support preschool education, however, in reality even the amount allocated for primary schools is not enough to handle all primary education matters.
Pre-primary education is therefore funded through parents and community donations. Another source of funding for pre-primary is donor aid. However, it has also contributed to existing inequalities since it has not kept pace to incentivize the government to invest in the sector.
It is estimated that Uganda dedicates less than 1 percent of the education budget to pre-primary education. This is against the 10 percent of the total education budget recommended by the United Nations.
Whereas there is a government policy to have a primary school in every parish, a secondary school in every sub-county and a technical school in every constituency, pre-primary, education has been ignored.
Thus, many households bear substantial financial burdens as the school fees range between Shs350,000 and Shs1m. The situation has been exacerbated by the current high poverty levels contributing to the low enrollment rates of 13 percent.
It is estimated that 38 percent of preschool children live in poverty and 41 percent of Ugandans are living below the poverty line which is using less than a dollar a day.
Because of this, most people are struggling to afford basic needs and thus parents are more concerned with their own survival than education for their children.
Moreover, the rising cost of education in Uganda with a lot of levies and fees charged for school uniforms, books, physical facilities and even wages for security personnel has discouraged many parents.
Different social economic status has caused differentials in urban and rural areas and as a result, a large number of children in rural areas more than urban areas miss out in Early Childhood Development programmes.
There is a need for the government to universalise pre-primary education to ensure two years of free pre-primary. There has been emerging donor- driven ECD provision which sometimes is not sustainable. The ECD department should review and update national policy in line with commitments to provide free pre-primary education to all children, starting with the disadvantaged.
In addition, there is a need to separate the pre-primary and primary budgets to allow for more precise analysis and planning. This in turn, advances progress towards objectives around increasing enrolment in pre-primary education.
However, the lack of data on sources of financing for pre-primary education makes it difficult to know how much is spent by other entities. Data is important because it allows the educational authorities to target their efforts.
As highlighted by the pandemic, there is a need to move to hybrid learning which calls for accelerated investment in ICT and increase in digital connectivity to support ECD. With this, children can still learn without necessarily over relying on a physical class.
There must be regular collection and management of ECD data at the level of villages, towns, cities and districts. Such data will shine a light on which groups need the most help. Better data must also be collected on educational achievements, known as learning outcomes to assist decision makers.
Quality early care and education, from infancy through preschool age, has become more widely recognised as part of healthy communities and a thriving citizenry.
As a country while we push for quality education, learning and skills development, let’s start with the youngest citizens.
The writer, Roline Tusiime, is a resident research associate at Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.