Increasing educational inequality is a time bomb

What you need to know:

  • ... inequality is a political choice. It is the result of deliberate policy choices.

Education can be liberating for individuals, and it can act as a leveler and equalizer within society. A highly unequal education system can also pull us further apart and that is what is unfortunately happening in Uganda. 

At the moment, a crisis in the education sector is looming even as parents’ scramble for school admissions in Senior One and Senior Five in the new academic year.  For long, schools have largely ignored the official Ministry of Education and Sports system where students fill form X indicating choice of schools and the official selection process that takes place after results have been released.

Most schools do their own selection hiding under the notion of ‘compassionate’ applications. In fact, the majority of the well-performing schools admit between 200-400 per cent of the additional learners to those centrally selected pupils due to the pressures from influential personalities, foundation bodies, religious and political elite and other high level and rich business personalities. 

According to Patrick Male Bakka, head teacher King’s College Budo as quoted in the Daily Monitor of August 2, “There are students who are recommended because of the status of their families or our long-time benefactors…. although the school has set its cut-off point at seven aggregates, applicants from royal families in different kingdoms and chiefdom and others recommended by benefactors and other highly placed officials are reserved placement regardless of their performance.” 

An ordinary person is left wondering why the Ministry of Education and Sports can’t reform its systems that has rendered the selection process meaningless. 

These are serious concerns on educational inequalities and its impact on the right to education in Uganda, especially for the marginalised groups, as well as the State’s dwindling commitment to treating education as a public good. 

As of now, inequality is reaching new extremes. Significant increases in inequality in education is leading to larger gaps between rich and poor and this is creating serious obstacles to overcoming poverty and exclusion. These inequalities are threatening to pull our societies apart, and unraveling the social contract between state and citizen and by undermining social cohesion. 

But inequality is not inevitable. It is a political choice. It is the result of deliberate policy choices made by governments. Extreme inequality is also avoidable, and concrete steps can be taken to reduce inequality.  

In the short term, I call upon government to review the current selection process to ensure that it does not disadvantage high performing students and also to make sure the process is transparent and free from corrupt tendencies. 

In the long term, both government leaders and parents should understand what equity in education means is and why it is an important feature of inclusive and high-quality schooling. That also requires everyone in the society to understand that we don’t need to accept inequality in education in order to achieve excellence. 

Prof. Mesharch Katusiimeh (PhD) is the dean Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences & Associate Professor – Department of Governance, Kabale University. 

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