In­crease fund­ing for Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion

By: Winnie Watera

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.