Thanks To PLE we now know where all the girls going to the Middle East are coming from

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • If you are struggling to get your maid to understand instructions or don’t even know how to keep them, it’s not them. It’s the system. 

This is merely a hypothesis, but one for which we shall find supporting evidence in a not-so-distant future. If you gathered any given number of adult Ugandans with a family and let them talk about anything, the conversation will eventually gravitate to the topic of how to solve the problem of housemaids. Nobody has hacked it.

Being Uganda, the conversation will no doubt cover youth unemployment as well; and of course, the contentious labor export business where thousands of young Ugandan women are flocking to the Middle East for supposed greener pastures. It would be great though if these sorts of conversations asked who these girls are; where they come from; at what point they gave up on whatever dreams and settled for housemaid work; why they will show up for work and leave within a few days without a heads-up; why those who opt for the Middle East will stop at nothing to go to a place where they are supposedly unsafe.
The answer might be found in the results of Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). This week, UNEB released the examination results. An often-uncited subplot is that whereas PLE exams are the lowest on the promotional ladder, they are probably also the most crucial. The gatekeeper. Without them, the educational journey is unceremoniously ended for every learner.

National exams – the kind that we administer here – are far from accurate if you are looking to assess intelligence or the ability to learn. Why we use them is a topic for another day. But because we do, they tell us a bit about what we are getting wrong and what needs correcting. 
Think of them as a doctor’s report confirming a dangerous tumor.  For example, it is said that an estimated 1.8 million learners joined P1 in 2016. 7 years later, 1 million children had fallen off the grid and only 832,000 registered in 2022 for PLE. This has been the trend regardless of how far back you dig. 

Thousands of those who register don’t even show up; and because of the defective nature, thousands more are listed as failed and ungraded. So, on top of those who drop out before the finale, many more don’t even cross over to the secondary school level.
The exams are problematic for how they subject children to long-term psychological damage from all the pressure and anxiety to pass this one exam – the repercussions of which we shall likely find out in a few years. However, they are not the (major) cause of the mind-numbing school dropouts. Only a contributor but mostly the evidence of it.
For all its success in increasing enrollment, the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme has never succeeded at retention. 

The more children we sign up at Primary One, the fewer children we have seven years later, at Primary Seven. I guess because we already know from studies that the quality isn’t up to scratch, we don’t dwell on that. UNEB usually sobers us to reality and makes us wonder, “Where are they?” “What’s the plan for them?” “How do we bring this number down?” “What is the impact of this massive dropout at this base level on the economy?” “Whose responsibility is it to bring this to a halt?” “Why do they seem bothered as this happens year after year?”

Our homes, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, etc is where we might have to look. There we shall find those who couldn’t go the entire course because it was expensive; the ones who dropped out because the reward was so far away; the ones whose benefactors pulled the plug; victims of childhood marriages and pregnancies; the ones who couldn’t hit the required grades; others for whom the drastic drop in the number of secondary schools increased the distance and the competition to get in.

If you are struggling to get your maid to understand instructions or don’t even know how to keep them, it’s not them. It’s the system. If you are pained and riling against the thousands of girls who are bolting out of here for the uncertainties in Arabia, it’s not them. It is the system. 
And this is just the girls. Where are the boys who aren’t completing Primary school, not hitting the right grades, or are unable to crossover to secondary school? Where do they end up? Does anybody know?

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye