On 16th June 2017, Uganda will join the rest of Africa to celebrate the day of the African child. The day is celebrated every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity, now African Union. It is the same year, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child was adopted. This is done in remembrance and honor of the students who participated in the Soweto upraising of 1976, in which hundreds of them were shot dead. They were protesting the injustice and the inequalities in the education sector of South Africa during apartheid regime. In particular, the poor quality of education that they were being offered and their right to be taught in their own language.
The day aims at raising awareness of the continued need to improve the quality of education on the African continent. This year’s celebrations will be under the theme “The 2030 Agenda for sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunity. The child friendly version is Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030”
Forty one years later, Africa and Uganda in particular is yet to realize the aims of the Soweto upraising. To date 30 million of the world’s 57 million children out of school are in sub-Saharan Africa. Although Uganda has adopted a number policies like Universal Primary Education(UPE) which has led to increase in enrollment in primary from 3.1m in 1996 to 8.3m in 2013. The increased enrollment has not been matched with the attendant public investment which has affected the quality of education being offered to learners.
Furthermore, the survival rate from primary 1 to 7 is still low though ministry of education considers it as an improvement, out of the 10 students enrolled in UPE, only 3 of them survive till primary 7. The learning outcomes for most of the pupils in UPE schools are not satisfactory. For example, the proficiency rate at primary six level have continuously been reducing to 39.4% and 38.3% from 45.2% and 40.8% in 2012 for numeracy and literacy respectively.
Public primary schools are operating with limited basic facilities. There few classrooms and sanitation facilities in schools, and those with some, many of the buildings are dilapidated and condemned for demolition. There is no school feeding program. Children are staying in schools hungry which affects concentration in class. This has led to absenteeism, poor performance and schools drop outs. And with the girl child, the situation is worse, many of them can’t afford sanitary towels. As a result, most of them at home during menstruation period
There is also a challenge of inadequate staff which over burdens the few available teachers coupled with the rampant absenteeism due to low remuneration. Many teachers absent themselves from duty to engage in commercial activities like operating boda bodas to earn an extra income and supplement on the little salaries. This is exacerbated with the weak supervision, monitoring and inspection of schools.
Although the shortage of these facilities is attributed to the small national resource envelope which doesn’t enable increased public investment in the education sector. It is more about the lack of political will. It is much interested in funding security, road and energy infrastructure which it considers to be the precursors to economic development.
In the coming fiscal year (2017/2018), the education sector has been allocated UGX 2,474.2bn (8.52% of the national budget and 2.5% of GDP). This is far below the 6% of GDP and 20% of national resource envelope that government committed itself to allocate to the education sector in the MUSCAT agreement and Dakar declaration respectively. It is further non-aligned to the National Development Plan II projected allocation of UGX 3.1tn. In the last 5 years an average of 2.4% GDP has been spent on the sector (World Bank 2015). While basic education percentage share of the total public expenditure has been reducing from UGX 69.3% in 2002 to 58%, where it has stagnated since then.
Indeed, over the years, the state has gradually divested itself from the provision of social services and encouraged the private sector to take a leading role which has left the public schools in appalling state. This is as a result of the implementation of the famous World Bank structural adjustment programs which led to the liberalization of the economy with the education sector inclusive in 1993.
The inadequate funding coupled with the deregulation of private players in the education sector has worsened the situation. Every day, private schools are mushrooming even without basic requirements. The commercialization of the sector has further led to classism in the country’s citizenry, with the poor accessing poor performing public and low cost private schools.
There is need for the state to prioritize the realization of the socio-economic rights of all children regardless of their background. It has committed itself to a number of international, regional and domestic human rights standards. If all these commitments are not just for just, it should increase public investment not only in education but all in all sectors that aim at uplifting the standards of the poor and vulnerable children.
This year’s Day of African Child is timely, I hope, Africa and Uganda in particular will take time to reflect and evaluate the alignment of its administrative, legal and fiscal policies to this theme not just celebrations because there is little to celebrate. It shouldn’t take us another Soweto upraising for the continent or country to realize the importance of quality education for all.