Education: pay peanuts, buy monkeys…

Education: pay peanuts, buy monkeys…

Universal Primary Education (UPE) was included in the Poverty Eradication Action Plan as one of the Government’s policy tools for achieving poverty reduction and human development. Its main objectives were to:

Provide the facilities and resources to enable every child to enter and remain in school until the primary cycle of education is complete;

Make education equitable in order to eliminate disparities and inequalities;

Ensure that education is affordable by the majority of Ugandans;

Reduce poverty by equipping every individual with basic skills

Currently, there are more than 95 million children around the world of primary school age who are not in school. The majority of these children are in regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and within these countries, girls are at the greatest disadvantage in receiving access to education at the primary school level. Not because they are weak students, but because of cultural biases and exploitation by a predominantly patrilineal society. Many are hobbled by social constraints and early pregnancies which are largely poverty related. The pressure to meet the MDG on education forced Uganda into a desperate over expansion of the education system. And this pressure, alongside the scourge result: substandard classrooms that could hardly resist a storm, poor quality scholastic materials and unpaid teachers.

Good intentions, greedy people

An expenditure tracking study conducted by the Economic Policy Research Centre, Kampala found that by about 2001, only 35% of funds released from the central government to schools were reaching the intended beneficiaries.

Corruption was adversely affecting UPE

class Ugandans have pulled out of the state system and sent their children to private school to ensure they receive a decent education.

The result is that at competitive exams for entry into tertiary institutions, and for the prized government scholarships for medicine and other core subjects, they sweep all before them.

The bright poor child who was lucky enough to get to school in the past, at least had a passport for life - if they worked hard enough and passed their exams, they could go to university for free. Now of corruption, is probably the major cause of the collapse in education standards countrywide – at least for the less privileged. Given the political implications for elective office that were associated with its introduction, there were always going to be too many stakeholders looking for a free ride. With decentralization and the unregulated growth of the education industry, incompetent bureaucrats and contractors teamed up to reap the pickings from the huge education budgets. The

in various ways, including shoddy work in construction of primary school structures, demoralization of teachers, and poor performance of UPE pupils in national examinations.

In some districts, classrooms that were constructed by private firms were reportedly collapsing before completion of construction. The results so far have been mixed, leaning more towards disastrous in relation to quality.

Meanwhile, the more moneyed middle

there are fees and they are comparatively exorbitant.

Poorer children find themselves cut off from tertiary education as the odds stacked against them. The irony is that those who can afford to pay, are walking away with the scholarships for now.

Even then, the level of investment by the government in tertiary institutions isn’t adequate to guarantee that those who receive these scholarships will walk away with a decent education.

Today huge classes are common at all levels of the education system and there are rarely enough books, let alone desks and chairs. Teachers have to share blackboards and other facilities. Children are sitting in school for years, learning next to nothing, and they are lucky if they have a real classroom, sanitary facilities and a meal to help with their learning at the UPE level. Indeed they have a very slim chance, if at all in life.

The system is producing pupils who can hardly write their names, write or speak the official language with confidence and are not numerate. In a word, the system is churning out many unemployable people, who on the contra believe they have received an education when in actual fact they have just been subjected to the perfect con job!

Enter the USE

Those who are lucky or have some extra help go onto the Universal Secondary Education system (USE), an offshoot of the UPE system, which was introduced in 2007. But the conditions are equally woeful. Absentee teachers, inadequate school facilities, decrepit infrastructure, you name it and it is still all there. Schools that formerly were a wonder to behold are falling apart as they succumb to nature and scant attention from want away head teachers.

The head teachers also probably are entrepreneurs, trying to set up competing facilities in another location Academic performance standards are deteriorating, and because the education is a universal requirement, students are just being pushed through.

Examination results reflect the decline in standards. In 2006, nearly 95% of O-level candidates achieved at least the minimum pass rate to qualify for a national certificate.

In the year (2011), with a 54% increase in candidates, 80% qualified for the certificate. Proponents admit that there are challenges, but argue that the government – with support from donors such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank – is addressing them. This may be true, but the government only seems to target public schools, even though private schools host a substantial proportion of students from the scheme. Loss in quality is an inevitable, but temporary, consequence of expanding access and this has been a global problem according to some proponents of the system.

Wherever, there has been an expansion in mass education challenges of quality have been inevitable. The demand side always far outstrips the supply side; for instance, recruitment of teachers cannot grow at the same pace with increase in numbers of students.

Good grades, lots of joblessness

Because of the social pressure being exerted on the system, education is also now too focused on passing exams at the expense of crucial life and social skills, things like respect for work and discipline.

While many students, especially from more privileged backgrounds have been primed to pass their exams with sterling grades, they are largely clueless about the real world on leaving school and do not have the appropriate analytical capabilities necessary to fend for themselves in the world outside the school cocoon. These then are some of the students that find their way into the university education system. Again through liberalization and the fact that a market exists, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) has helplessly looked on as many would be high school masters metamorphose into Council Chairmen and Vice Chancellors of Universities (see box for list of universities in Uganda).

Today there are 5 publicly supported universities and 24 private universities. Only about nine of these universities are worth the paper on which their names are written. Most of them do not have appropriate teaching facilities or faculty, relying on lecturers who moonlight there way from one institution to another.

The commercialization of university education has also meant that there is a proliferation of many socially worthless programs that do not add value to the students. All of this has come at the expense of vocational colleges, which have more or less collapsed.

To say that there have not been any gains would be fallacious. First is that more and more children, especially the girl child, have been given access to some kind of education, however poor.