As one of the tenets of economic development, a good education system at all levels is paramount. This by itself is a fundamental right, essential for the exercise of all other rights. However, it goes without saying that Uganda’s system is failing and has been for a number of years. The government in its attempt to revamp the system created avenues for every child to receive an education, access transitioned from free primary education for only four family members to the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997, where every child of school going age was and is still eligible. One of the major focuses of the programme was increased enrollment which has since increased from 3.1 million pupils in 1996 to 8.4 million in 2013. However, this was met with the increased demand for learning materials, teachers, and infrastructure, which by the look of things, the Government was unprepared.
There was an inevitable ripple effect at this point, the achieved success falling apart amid increased student-teacher ratio to deteriorating school infrastructure, limited funding, corruption, a very high number of dropouts and poor-quality schooling for some of those who complete primary school. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in a report estimated that 68% of children in Uganda who enroll in primary school are likely to drop out before finishing the prescribed seven years.
That notwithstanding, the quality of teachers in the schools is an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. The once glorified profession has been reduced to the extent that there are just a few willing to practice. This could explain the shortage of teachers in primary schools, however, it is no justification for the rampant teacher absenteeism. The problem, exacerbated by the gradual neglect of Primary teacher training colleges in Uganda which consequently don’t produce the quality of teachers they used to.
Primary education is the foundation of a formal education and therefore, the lack of a competent committed and well-remunerated teaching class only impairs the ability of pupils who intend to continue with post-primary education (Secondary and University). A World Bank Service Delivery Indicators report of a 2013 reported that less than 1 in 5 (19%) of public school teachers showed mastery of the curriculum they teach, this speaks to quality and competence. Primary teachers remain one of the worst paid civil servants in Uganda thus not attracting the best brains.A report by UWEZO, an initiative that aims to improve competencies in numeracy and literacy showed that Uganda primary school going children are worse off than their East African counterparts when using the parameters of literacy and numeracy Teachers and their pupils are mutually exclusive, pupils are only as good as their teachers.
Another, yet not so explored problem is ‘the examination obsession,’ everyone perceives a good school as one where pupils excel in exams yet not so many schools have students who excel. An average school tests its students on a regular basis with the most common being the examination cycle which entails beginning of term, mid-term and end of term exams. Examinations and tests take most of the teaching time resulting into the detriment of a good solid education.
Members of Parliament have reaffirmed their commitment to the fight for quality education, a forum, the Parliamentary Forum on Quality Education was launched in February 2012. With the objective of equipping members with information and knowledge on specific issues of national concern and in assisting them to adopt a result-oriented approach towards education related issues.
Funding to the sector is a pertinent issue therefore, parliament should leverage its power of appropriation because that is the one of its constitutionally mandated roles and is binding on government as compared to resolutions that are merely advisory.