KAMPALA – When it comes to providing access to quality education for all, government-run schools in Uganda have a long way to go, education sector players have said.
Engaging during a one-day Education Sector Anti-Corruption Working Group, sector players accused the government of taking a back seat and in the process unfairly delegating its obligation to private actors.
This shift risks eroding the gains in access to education for vulnerable children that were made when the government of Uganda abolished tuition for both primary and secondary education.
Private schools often charge fees that are out of reach for most Ugandans, and even low-fee private schools ask for money for scholastic materials, school uniforms, and examinations. These fees prevent the poorest families from enrolling, and even the less poor who enroll their children in low-fee private schools do so with significant sacrifice to other needs such as health and adequate nutrition.
Since private actors stepped into Uganda’s education sphere, the government has stepped back from its obligation to provide quality public schools, they said, adding that those available are in bad shape but also don’t have enough teachers to do the job.
Absenteeism, poor school structures, lack of electricity, poor hygiene, high school dropout rates, and poor feeding were also raised as other challenges government-run schools are grappling with.
Speaking from what she described as experience Packwach District Education Officer Christine Acayi told the workshop that sat in Kampala on Thursday, August 4 that after securing a permanent job with the government most of the teachers in her area put district officials under pressure to transfer them to urban districts thus leaving rural schools with an insufficient number of teachers.
Others, she said, take a back seat over gaps in government inspection structures.
“The inspectors whom we could have expected to perform well their duties have a challenge of lack of transport means like motorcycles and to lobby for them is a tedious process,” she told a workshop, also urging to connect the West Nile region to the National grid so that schools can access electricity.
A recent World Bank report also attributed the absence of inspection to low staffing levels of inspectors, inadequate supervision and monitoring of inspectors, and inadequate provision of logistics to carry out inspections.
This, according to the report, resulted in laxity in attendance by both teachers and pupils, thus high absenteeism among the teachers and pupils, conflicts in schools, teachers’ underperformance, and low syllabus coverage, leading to poor performance in schools.
Speaking from a civil society perspective, Mr. Sam Ntale, the National Project Coordinator for Tax and Education ActionAid International said the recent injection of funds into the docket hasn’t transformed education standards since “most of the funds are spent on staff salaries and wages bills”.
He called for proper coordination of government departments to ensure services are delivered to the public.
“Different sectors in government need to work together like the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Energy, Finance, Local Government to find comprehensive solutions when it comes to addressing issues affecting the education sector,” Ntale said, also asking school authorities to work with parents so that they can grow enough food to feed the learners.
Derrick Namisi, a Senior Economist at the Ministry of Education acknowledged that despite several improvements in the sector, there are still some major challenges. He advised Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other individuals to joint efforts with the government to uplift the sector.
He also noted that the inspectors are in place but they are limited in the implementation of their work.
“We have an inspector for every 40 schools, very soon we are going secure for them tablets to ease their work.”
Vice President Jessica Alupo last week expressed concern over the high rate of school dropouts in government-run schools.
Alupo said the country is still grappling with issues of school dropout rates which are high in some regions, especially for the girl child.
She called upon parents to keep children in school. “My constant prayer is for parents to do their level best to keep children of school-going age at school,” Alupo said.
The Vice President emphasized that the country has 10m pupils in primary schools but only 2m are in secondary schools, a trend which is worrying.
“Children are not completing the education cycle. Parents must ensure that children complete the education cycle,” Alupo emphasized, adding that there is a need to ensure all young people have quality and inclusive education which resonates with the sustainable development goal of education.
She urged children to have a spirit of self-drive to transform their lives. According to Florence Adungo, the headteacher, the school boasts 396 children.
On her part, the Education minister, Ms. Janet Museveni has previously attributed Uganda’s decline in education to the chaotic years the country went through in 1960s to the late 80s’ that destroyed most of the systems.
“I need to give a background on why Uganda finds itself in the place it appears today. Uganda lost two decades when it was in the time of chaos and the national systems were all in decay, stunted as our population was growing. It took us some two decades to go through that. In the third decade, we had to do rehabilitation of the system. Catching up with the needs of our country with other countries. We only started recently and the going has been tough,” Ms Museveni said.
“Uganda was known as the best in the region in education. Most of the leaders were actually educated in Uganda. Unfortunately, in the report now, Uganda is in group two. When we were destroying our country and its systems, our neighbours were working and improving their systems. Uganda needs to run to catch up with the region. I invite our partners who walk with us to have the willingness to run with us to catch up with the world,” she added.