The President recently launched a book and lauded the achievements of the country’s Universal Primary Education (UPE). Statistics were quoted presenting a picture of a policy that has been a roaring success. Many people I have interacted with point to the alleged “low quality” of UPE tuition.

I cannot say how that quality is measured. Suffice to say when UPE was first introduced, my own thinking was that its primary purpose was not to turn out academic geniuses, but to give ordinary Ugandan children from the poorest of families the basic knowledge (notably writing and counting) to easily navigate through life.

For those children in poor households who have been lucky enough to complete seven years in a UPE school, one can say bravo to government.
Unfortunately, there is always the other side of the coin. Since I have not actually read the book myself, I hope that the authors were honest enough to point out that not all is as rosy as the statistics the President quoted would indicate. From the Kampala suburb where I reside to the streets of Kampala and of other metropolis, one sees elements of a failed UPE policy.

In Buziga and certainly in other suburbs of Kampala, one will see dozens of children of school-going age not in school during school time. Instead, they are engaged in offering menial tasks such as carrying water. And it is not that we see this as a one off. You see the same children again and again!
Then when you get into the city, one witnesses children engaged in hawking of items such as sponges, handkerchiefs and chewing gum instead of being in school.

Then there is the spectacle of the “mpaayo kikumi” brigades of what even government conceded (re: Minister for Youth announcing plans to remove street kids) are commercial beggars.
These are indicative of a well-meant policy failing at implementation.
Government should demonstrate that it really cares by criminalising and punishing parents and guardians who do not enrol pre-teen children in school. Some other countries I wouldn’t want to name here have done that and so should ours.
HGK Nyakoojo,
Buziga, Kampala