A countrywide opinion poll of voting Ugandans done by New Vision this year shows that about 3.7 million voters consider education as the main concern in their lives. Conan Businge combs through the education sector, highlighting the highs, lows and the voter’s plight
It is 7:am. Sun rays cut through an enclosure of mango trees at the edge of a high bush. A group of barefooted boys and girls, dressed in fairly new uniforms emerge. They are rushing to the nearby primary school, built in 1990, seven years before the Government started free primary education in the country.
This is on the outskirts of Soroti town, in eastern Uganda. Much as there are few teachers in this school, the pupils’ population is soaring every other term. But the school’s quality of education is wanting, and it has never had a student passing in Division One or Two. In the neighbouring private primary schools in this town, you need a minimum of sh100,000 per term as school fees to educate a child; and only a handful of parents that can afford it.
A countrywide opinion poll of voting Ugandans conducted by New Vision in June this year shows that about 3.7 million voters consider education as the main challenge in their lives. In particular, the voters also raised concern about low salaries for teachers, poor school facilities, inadequate primary and secondary schools and long distances from home to the available schools.
The other concerns raised were the high school drop-outs, high levels of illiteracy, poor accommodation for teachers, lack of feeding for pupils and the poor attitude of students towards studying. Corruption and low funding, like in other sectors, was also one of the concerns for voters.
The other concerns were lack of career guidance and insecurity in schools.
Results of the 2015 poll are consistent with a 2011 poll by the New Vision, as well as the 2012 Afrobarometer survey. All the polls rank education among the top priority issues the voters want political leaders to pay attention to.
The rankings of key concerns in education in this year’s poll, varied between the regions. In the central and northern regions for instance, the most pressing issue was high tuition fees. In eastern, western and north eastern Uganda, the voters were more concerned about the few, redundant or no teachers and continuous strikes.
Poor curriculum, cheating in exams and high unemployment rates were the main issues for voters in the West Nile region.
Solome Anita, a mother of four pupils studying in UPE schools, says: “We credit the Government for several achievements in the education sector. But most of the problems which affect us, the poor, are persistent.” She adds: “When we voted our leaders into various offices in 2011, we expected quick changes in education. It was better while we hoped. We are now feeling hopeless.”
PRIMARY, SECONDARY, VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
In 2011, the Government promised that over the next five years, it would continue improving the quality of education and strengthening UPE, Universal Secondary Education (USE), Technical/Vocational and Tertiary Education.
Put on the balance scale, the Government delivered on free Business, technical and vocational education and training, as well A’level education; which was started in 2011. The Government also continued offering 4,000 scholarships in public universities.
In the pre-primary sub-sector, enrolment has now increased from 289,862 pupils in 2011 to over 457,186 today, according to the 2015 Education ministry Education Sector Review Report. Enrolment in the primary sub-sector also registered an increment from 8.09 million pupils in 2011 to about 8.5 million pupils today.
The enrolment in secondary schools has also increased from 689,541 students to 806,992 students in 2013 to 873,476 by last year.
In the education sector funding, the Government this financial year stepped up the schools capitation grants by additional sh39.78b to ensure better effectiveness of the UPE, USE/UPOLET programmes. This followed so many years of appeals from schools that the funds were inadequate.
The capitation grant for each UPE pupil has been raised to sh10,000 annually this financial year, up from sh6,800 as of 2011. But that is still not good enough, according to voters.
“Our children are still not learning,” said Annet Namulindwa, whose nephews have been studying in Kibiri Day and Boarding Primary School in Mpigi district.
“Our local leaders and Parliamentarians keep lamenting like us. We all look powerless.” Uwezo is an organisation that tracks education issues in East Africa. During a recent assessment visit to the outskirts of Soroti town, a pupil, Micheal Otim, told the team that he never concentrates in class because he is always hungry during the afternoon.
As is the case all over the country, lunch is not funded. It probably partly explains the poor academic performance of this pupil and many others in UPE schools. The Education Act notes that it is the responsibility of parents to provide lunch to their children according to the law.
QUALITY STILL LACKING
A number of parents appreciate the amount of money being spent on education by Government, but are worried about the quality of teaching in some public schools.
Micheal Musinguzi, a parent in Kibaale district, says: “We appreciate that so many children are being enrolled in school. But the quality of education in some of these UPE schools is worrying.” A new study by Uwezo in Uganda released recently shows that only one in ten Primary Three pupils the group assessed was able to read and comprehend a Primary Two level story and correctly solve Primary Two level division.
By the time these pupils completed Primary Seven, only seven out of ten children had attained their basic competencies. And, the Uwezo assessment done a few weeks ago in various parts of the country shows that the academic achievement results, when released early next year, may not be any better.
Jaliat Yawa, the head teacher of Bukoto Muslim Primary School, says that at times the workload for teachers in schools is just overwhelming.
“There are many subjects, yet the teachers are not enough. This forces the few teachers available to teach the subjects they are not supposed to teach. My school has 208 pupils, but I was offered only eight teachers! This is not realistic,” she explains.
Bukoto Muslim Primary School is just one of the lucky few schools. In some schools, the pupil to teacher ratio is even higher.
On recruitment, the Government had in 2011 planned to improve payroll management and recruit additional 20,000 teachers in order to bring down the teacher to pupil ratio from the then 1:57 to 1:45. This would increase the stock of teachers on the Government payroll from the then 130,000 to 150,000.
The Government also committed to progressively increase teachers’ salaries over the five-year period, much as there was no exact percentage increment promised. Offi cial reports from the ministry indicate that the sector currently has a total of 131,000 teachers in primary schools translating to a pupil to teacher ratio of 54:1 as compared to the desired 139,000 for a ratio of 45:1 (pupil to teacher ratio).
“Most of our teachers are under paid, a reason why they do not get committed to their jobs like those in private schools,” explains Simon Musiitwa, a shopkeeper in Kakumiro trading centre in Kibaale.
The teachers’ pay has been increased by 30% in the last five years, much as this financial year the additional increment of 15% was halted since the Government was cash-strapped.
According to the Annual Education Sector Performance Report, there is unacceptably high headteacher and teachers’ absenteeism estimated at 20%. Apart from the low pay, there is high teacher abseentism in schools.
Uwezo also notes that one out of every 10 teachers, “Was absent from school on the day of their assessment in 2014”.
Uwezo also argues that the high prevalence of teacher absenteeism has led to poor performance in UPE schools. Similarly, the 2014 World Bank report found that in public schools, “Roughly one in four (27%) teachers was absent from school; and of those present in school, one in three was not teaching. As a result, 40% of public school classrooms did not have a teacher in the classroom.”
To resolve some of these issues, the Government in the last two financial years has put up a fund for teachers to borrow money for investment at a lower market interest rate, to beef up their salaries. The teachers under their umbrella body, Uganda National Association of Teachers Union, want the sh25bn offered by Government to be put under their control, a move the education ministry is contesting.
The education ministry prefers vesting the monies to the Microfinance Support Centre. In any case, the money still remains unutilised. During the World Teachers’ Day commemorations this year, the President ordered that the money be released to teachers immediately, but this has not been done.
Voters are also concerned about corruption, insecure schools and dangerous buildings in schools. “If only the Government funds were not being stolen in public schools, we would be better off,” said 71-year old Samson Mugambe in Masaka.
To ensure quality in the education system, the Government in 2011 promised to compel the administrative structures in the districts to play their role in monitoring and supervising service providers in both public and private schools.
The Government also promised to strengthen the capacity of district inspectors of schools by having at least an inspector per county and to facilitate them with motorcycles. But this has not yet been done.
INADEQUATE SCHOOLS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
As late as 8:00pm, pupils of Kakumiro Public Primary School can still be seen walking to their homes, 6km away. In this vicinity, there are few good primary and secondary schools.
“We have to send children far away to get good education,” says Micheal Atuhura, a father whose child walks about the same distance to school every weekday.
The Government in 2011 promised to construct 100 public seed secondary schools (20 annually) in line with the long-term objective of having at least a public secondary school per sub-county and to extend the USE programme to cover A’level and BTVET institutions.
Five years ago, the Government also planned to construct and or equip 475 laboratories and 639 libraries. About 70% of these have now been put up, according to official records.
“But most schools upcountry still do not have functional laboratories. In some schools, there are laboratories, but no good science teachers,” says a science teacher in Kibaale.
The Government has built administration blocks for 25 seed schools, and over 569 schools facility units — ranging from laboratories to classroom blocks have been built under a World Bank-funded project.
Meanwhile, another 2011 promise was to construct additional primary school classrooms to bring down the pupil-classroom ratio. The construction is scheduled to commence this financial year through another $100m World Bank loan.
The planned construction of teachers’ houses starting with the hard to reach areas and then extending the programme to the rest of the country also commences this financial year.
The Government has also started the construction 25 new technical institutions with funds from Arabfund and training of instructors for nurses training institutions and vocational institutions.
Unfortunately, vocational and technical education faces negative attitudes from students and some policy makers, there is low enrollment of females in such institutions and there are still 21 districts without technical institutions according to the education ministry.
The other promise was to create incentives including tax rebates to private investors in education.
The promise for tax rebates for private schools was revoked two years later after it was discovered it had no impact on easing the fees burden on parents, and that the school proprietors were making abnormal profits instead.
“This was meant to increase the country’s tax base,” the then former finance minister, Maria Kiwanuka, explained. However, voters argue that the new tax on schools is gradually being passed on to them by schools.
“This explains why it is gradually becoming too expensive to educate our children in good schools,” argues John Opolot, an opinion leader in West Nile.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE
As the students’ enrolment grows in the country, more questions especially about the Government’s capacity to provide sufficient teaching and learning facilities for these numbers abound. But part of the problems originates from LC I to 5 in districts who fail to monitor schools with the support of the district inspectors.
In Soroti, where Uwezo has been conducting assessments this month, some parents say a good number of local leaders have abandoned schools monitoring.
The Directorate of Education Standards and the local government ministry are expected to officially handle the monitoring of all institutions.
“There are no serious inspectors of schools, as it used to be during our school time,” explains Jessica Atim, a management committee member of a number of public schools in Pakwach district.
But the education minister, Jessica Alupo, says: “The Government in this fi nancial year is set to allocate more funds to inspection and monitoring of schools,” Districts are also mandated by the law and country’s budget framework policy to plan and also recruit primary teachers.
Local council leaders (LCI to LCV), councilors and Parliamentarians have a role to play in making sure that all schools are well facilitated and staffed by the local government. Secondary teachers are recruited by the Central Government.
Parliamentarians are expected to lobby for recruitment and funding of schools in their districts and schools from the Central Government and local governments. The President, parliamentarians and local leaders have a responsibility of allocating funds for various sectors and sub-sectors.
They are also expected to formulate and help in the implementation of policies. Much as there has been a gradual increase in funding for the education sector, the demands are also outshooting the budget allocations. Parliamentarians also make laws, and they are accountable for the laws that are impacting the sector’s performance.
The education minister, Jessica Alupo, says parents have a responsibility of supporting their children and working closely with schools, for the betterment of the quality of education.
“Parents are expected to feed their children and provide basic scholastic materials to their children.”
Gradually, some local governments are allowing parents to contribute money to buy lunch for pupils. Others schools have set up school gardens or projects to fund lunch for pupils.
Alupo will be contesting again as a Member of Parliament. The minister of state for education Dr. John Muyingo, who is also contesting for re-election as a Member of Parliament, admits that there is need for more teachers to be hired.
“Most schools have a bare minimum of teachers and if we need quality education, we must hire more teachers,” he says. “As of now, we have to replace several teachers who left the teaching service. This is before considering the gap which we have never filled,” he explains.
Dr. Muyingo notes that most rural schools need to have their teachers re-trained. He says the Government plans to allocate more funds to the training of teachers. The two might be re-appointed, depending on the next Government to be assembled after elections.
Sylvia Nabuso, Secretary, Bududa Girls’: education should be given priority. More girls should be educated if we are serious about changing our nation. Most girls nowadays get pregnant and drop out of school before completing their studies.
Aidah Kimono, Librarian, Soroti: The Government should change the schools’ curriculum to make it more relevant to our communities. It does not help us to sell off our property to educate children, who will later be jobless.
Viola Nasikye, teacher, Mbale district: The Government should increase the teacher’s salary. We also need more incentives as teachers. If teachers are being paid poorly, schools, especially those upcountry will remain closed.
Musa Wambette, Motorcyclist, Mbale district: Government should consider free education at all levels. The cost of education is abnormally high. Why can’t we have universal university education? I have six children, and how I wish the Government could educate all of them through their academic journey.
Prof. Abdu Kasozi, former executive director, National Council for Higher Education: There is need to empower parents with knowledge on the best way of saving for their children’s education. The cost of educating children is increasing; the Government and parents need to be ready for this.
John Agaba, the former commissioner in charge of Governmentaided secondary schools: There is, hope that the Government can overcome setbacks in the sector, as long as there is enough funding and commitment from the technical staff.
Patrick Kaboyo, the head of the association of private school headteachers: The quality of education in the country can only be improved with the support of everyone. Let us stop the blame game.
Dr. Rose Nassali Lukwago, the education ministry permanent secretary: The problem is exacerbated by the freeze on teacher recruitment imposed by the public service ministry
Namirembe Bitamazire, former education minister and one of the architects of UPE blames parents and the community for neglecting their responsibilities and leaving all responsibilities to the Government. She says that the role of monitoring schools should not be left to parents alone. “This is wrong. We need serious sensitisation of the country about the value and responsibilities each of us has in this programme. All politicians should stop politicking and tell their people their real responsibilities in education,” Bitamazire explains. She also argues that the teachers’ profi ciency and efficiency needs to be stepped up.