Why we should fix the inequality PLE breeds

Emilly Comfort Maractho

Following the release of the 2020 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) results last week, several issues have been raised. A very sad one being the Hoima child who committed suicide because of her ‘poor’ performance in the PLE.
Secondly, the results were a replica of the poverty map of the country as Uganda National Bureau of Statistics presents them periodically.
Lastly, the performance of many schools in the rural areas was very poor. Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools were trailing. I will not go the direction of those who could not write exams because the numbers are staggering. Many of these issues are not new.
The Uneb executive secretary, Mr Dan Odongo, said “PLE results are similar to what we have seen before. The non - UPE children, though they are much fewer, performed better than the UPE children.”
This, he explained, is a result of poor involvement of parents of children in UPE schools, which are largely in rural areas, compared to urban schools.
Considering that UPE schools account for about 68 per cent of those who sat PLE, this should be of great concern, especially when parents are now focusing on home schooling.
But before we settle on the weak involvement of parents as the reason, let us look at the contextual issues that make good performance for children in UPE and even Universal Secondary Education (USE) schools an illusion.
Our public education system is failing. And that started before Covid-19, and we have paid little attention.
Uwezo, a programme of Twaweza East Africa, since 2009 has been giving us evidence to this failure with well researched findings on the learning situation in Uganda.
One of my favourite reports is the Uganda 2019 report, “Are our children learning?”
I focus on 2019, the eighth learning assessment report released before Covid-19 because it paints a picture that helps us not to hide behind the pandemic.
The report made some specific points on children’s learning. One, that learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy have remained low, with little, if any, signs of improvement.
 The report adds that only a minority of children have achieved Primary Two reading competence and Primary Two numeracy competence by the age of 14. And third, that ‘children attending community, government and private schools continue to have large differences in learning outcomes.
For instance, the rates of Primary Two English reading competence of Primary Three  to Primary  Seven  pupils are 22 per cent for community, 28 per cent for government and 44 per cent for private schools’. It is these differences in learning that are reflected in national examinations.
As to how much of the blame goes to parents, should be based on the context of learning. The Uwezo report suggests that there are issues in the learning context.
The report noted that by the time children reach the ages of 12 and 13, only small proportions have reached Primary Seven or Senior One through uninterrupted promotion, which means that from Primary Two onwards, over-age enrolment dominates the system; pupil absenteeism remained a matter of concern for educators, policy makers and parents; that one in five of a primary school’s classes, on average, had no teacher present thus wasting instructional time; the general level of text book provision is low; and that the quality of water, sanitation and hygiene in schools needed improvement.
 In short, the context in which learners learn, especially in UPE schools, leaves little room for good grades.
We have to go beyond apportioning blames and actually fix our education system. These problems at the lower level, eventually spill over to higher education.
Those in higher education are often criticised for producing poor quality graduates, but if they join higher education with poor foundation, there is no miracle institutions of higher learning can perform.
The quality of students at that level is also now reflecting the problems at foundation.
Support of parents is critical. No doubt. But we have to understand that majority of the parents of learners today, do not have the capability to do home schooling with their children, to assist them with homework, and even motivation for education. Without their own capability, how can they assist their children with learning capabilities?
Many of our generals with good education today, would never have had a future if education was not fairly equitable, and catered for the children of the poor located in rural areas too. I know many civil servants and people with money now send their children to get ‘the good’ education abroad because they do not trust our education system. It is a short term remedy.
Let us use the chaos Covid-19 has caused and at least fix our education system so that the wasted educational time becomes a gift, not ruin. We will pay a high price for the deeply entrenched inequalities fuelled by differences in our education structure and unequal learning outcomes, if we do nothing. Some countries are already paying dearly.
Ms Maractho (PhD) is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media Studies at UCU.  
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