UPE schools drown in sea of problems

Pupils of St Joseph Primary School in Kyeyitabya Village in Kiboga District, attend lessons under tree shades on February 26, 2019. The 2022/2023 Auditor General’s report says the number of classrooms in most UPE schools is not commensurate with the enrolment rate.  PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The Auditor General’s report for the period ended June 2023 indicates that shortages of classrooms, desks, pit-latrines, and teachers’ houses has been increasing over the last three years, reaching way above recommended ratios.

The shortage of infrastructure in Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools is escalating into near crisis proportions, with up to 67 pupils being forced to share a single pit-latrine.

Similarly, classrooms are heavily congested, with up to 77 pupils sharing a classroom and four pupils sharing a desk.

These are some of the conclusions arrived at in the Auditor General’s report for the period ended June 2023. The document indicates that the shortages of classrooms, desks, pit-latrines, and teachers’ houses has been increasing over the last three years, reaching way above recommended ratios.

“I noted inadequate infrastructure in the form of staff houses, classrooms, latrines and desks. These amenities create a safe, secure learning environment and make pupils more attentive, as well as encouraging school attendance, hence attainment of learning outcomes” the report reads in part.

Lack of infrastructure is, the report notes, affecting the “delivery of the programme objectives, including the quality education, pupil performance, dropout rates, staffing and infrastructure in the UPE schools.”

Unless government quickly moves to fix the said challenges, the Auditor General further warns, the gains made, especially in the areas of enhancing access to education, notably in increasing enrolment rates, particularly among girls and underprivileged children, since UPE was introduced in 1997, will be lost.

Mr Joseph Ssewungu, the Kalungu West lawmaker, who is also the Shadow minister for education and sports, blames the situation on failure by the government to allocate enough resources to the education sector.

“Each child is given Shs10,000 per year. A school in the rural area is given about Shs1.5m per term. How can a school provide desks, construct classrooms and latrines and maintain structures?” he wonders.

Mr Dennis Mugimba, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education and Sports, tells Saturday Monitor that available resources cannot meet increased demand for free education.

“The demand for education has been increasing because the population is growing at an annual rate of 3.3 to 3.4 percent. You need to be able to invest to match that growth yet education is not the only sector that government has to attend to. There is health, the roads, etc., but that does not mean that there is no investment in the sector,” Mr Mugimba says.

Latrine, classroom deficits
The report indicates that whereas the recommended ratio is one latrine to 40 pupils, the average has been one latrine to more than 60 pupils over the last three years.

“In the sampled schools on average, each latrine was being used by 62 pupils in FY (financial year) 2020/2021, 65 pupils in FY2021/2022 and 67 pupils in FY2022/2023, which were all above the recommended ratio of 1:40,” the report discloses.

To compound matters, male and female pupils were in some schools found to be sharing latrines. 

Mr Ssewungu accuses the government of abdicating its responsibility in the area of sanitation.

“Instead of [the] government bearing the responsibility of constructing latrines for boys and girls, schools now invite area MPs to solicit for funds to have them constructed,” Mr Ssewungu says.

The Auditor General also found that the number of classrooms is not commensurate with the enrolment rate. This has consequently pushed the classroom to pupil ratio way above the recommended average of one class to 53 pupils.

“For classrooms, the overall average classroom to pupil ratio for the sampled schools was 1:70 in FY2020/2021, 1:75 in FY2021/2022, and 1:77 in FY2022/2023,” the report reveals.

Mr James Kubeketerya, the Bunya East lawmaker, who is also the deputy chairperson of the House Committee on Education and Sports, says primary education has been suffering because the government has been prioritising secondary education.

“The problem has been skewed budgeting. There has not been any consistent increment to the classroom and other school structures in the last 10 years. Concentration has been the construction of seed secondary schools to cater for those who have been leaving primary school,” Mr Kubeketerya says.

Mr Ssewungu says besides shortages, most of the UPE infrastructure is not fit for use. He adds that they have not been rehabilitated since 1997, when UPE was first introduced. 

Mr Mugimba, however, dismisses the argument, saying Shs163b has in the last two years been expended on rehabilitation of public schools.

“The money was distributed to local governments to rehabilitate the schools and provide them with furniture and also work on sanitation facilities, including water points. The programme is being implemented in all the 177 local governments,” Mr Mugimba says.

Other stumbling blocks
Again whereas the recommended ratio of desks to pupils is one to three, it was found that the ratio of desks to pupils has been getting worse over the last three years with ratios of one to four in the FY2020/2021; one to five in FY2021/2022 and one to four in FY2022/2023.

The report also indicates that more than 40 percent of the schools that were audited lacked staff houses. Where staff houses were found, it was established that 50 percent of the structures were constructed with funds from either development partners or Parents and Teachers’ Associations (PTAs).

The Auditor General also raises issues around ambiguity, contradictions and inconsistencies in the implementation of UPE. The government, the report says, has failed to formulate policies and guidelines on the implementation of other policies to support the implementation of UPE.

“The abolition of PTA charge policy, the automatic promotion policy, led to contradictions and ambiguities, resulting in some schools charging PTA fees and inconsistent application of the automatic grade promotion policy,” the report notes.

Multiple curricula
The report also raises questions around the use of different curricula, with 40 percent of the sampled schools found using the abridged curriculum. 

Elsewhere, 46 percent of the schools were found using the standard or old curriculum, 12 percent fused the two curricula, and two percent lacked a curriculum entirely. The report says the situation is breeding confusion and affecting the teachers’ ability to deliver effective pupil learning.

“This results in inconsistent learning outcomes, worsened inequality and difficulties in pupil transitions, particularly when learners change schools,” the report concludes.

That confusion is also resulting in failure by the teachers to complete the syllabus, which has translated into poor performance in national exams.

“The failure to complete syllabi affects the overall learners’ academic performance,” the report concludes.

Mr Mugimba casts the blame for the confusion on the schools, accusing them of going for shortcuts because of what he terms as pressure to have many students passing their Primary Leaving Examinations.

“A malpractice by a school is not evidence of failure of a policy direction. The policy direction was clear. The circular communication was to all schools. The abridged curriculum was not for the entire primary school level. It was for the levels for four years to the end of PLE. The abridged curriculum was to be used for a short period and as far as we know, the last cohort for primary schools that was using the abridged curriculum was the one that sat for PLE last year,” Mr Mugimba says.

The report also discloses that teachers were not making adequate preparations to carry out effective teaching. More than 40 percent had no schemes of work, which culminated into disorganised teaching and poor learning experiences.

The report recommends that the government takes stock of the shortages of infrastructure and works with development partners to bridge the gaps if the learning environment is to be improved, but Mr Ssewungu doubts that the government will move in that direction. 

The legislator argues that the government has left private players to run the rule over the country’s education sector. Mr Mugimba begs to differ.

“Public UPE schools account for 37 percent of all primary schools in the country. There are 12,433 public primary schools. Eighty three percent of all learners in primary schools are in UPE schools. Public schools are the highest demand points for the public. So even when you talk about pressure and investment, it is like the government is bearing the entire burden of primary school enrolment,” Mr Mugimba says.

Mr Kubeketerya is hopeful that the state of UPE education will change, starting with FY2024/2025 as the government makes more resources available.

“The minister told us to give priority to providing for primary education in terms of grant-aiding schools, giving adequate capitation for especially the urban pupils. That should surely change a few things,” the legislator said.

Will it, though?

Special needs
The Auditor General found the situation pertaining to special needs education (SNE) schools much worse than in the others. Learners with different special needs were found to be sharing classrooms due to lack of structures. Autistic pupils were, for one, found sharing a classroom with pupils with hearing impairments in Kitazigurukwa Primary School in Rukungiri District,

In other cases, there was little learning going on because of lack of teaching personnel to handle SNE pupils.

“The Special Needs Education staffing shortages are worse, leading to schools without SNEs teachers turning away SNE learners. For those that allowed SNE leaners to attend, due to staffing challenges, SNE learners were only being taught life skills such as dressing themselves, wearing shoes, and feeding themselves,” the report reads in part.