- Mr Museveni was to repeat the promise on the afternoon of November 12, 2015 while campaigning in the Lango Sub-region
- In Kenya 64 per cent passed both one literacy and a numeracy test, in Tanzania 48 per cent and in Uganda 36 per cent,” the report reads in part
In the run up to the 2016 General Election, the ruling NRM released a manifesto in which it committed itself to improving the quality of education being provided under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme during the period between then and 2021.
The party pointed out 14 steps that it intended to take in order to achieve the promised improvement. Among them was the promise to make available to primary school children an array of scholastic materials.
“The NRM target in the next five years will be improving the quality of education. Specific interventions in primary education will include…provide free scholastic materials such as mathematical geometry sets, exercise books, pens and pencils,” the manifesto reads in part.
Mr Museveni was to repeat the promise on the afternoon of November 12, 2015 while campaigning in the Lango Sub-region.
“In the schools, we are going to provide more scholastic materials such as textbooks and mathematical sets. We are also proposing to provide exercise books so that parents just buy school uniforms and provide packed lunch,” he said at a rally at Alira Primary School in Akura Sub-county in Alebtong District.
At the same rally, he promised that the education system would also go hi-tech with the provision of electronic learning aids and instructional materials to both pupils and teachers. By the time the promises were made, it had emerged that while the introduction of UPE had led to a rise in enrolment figures from about less than 60 per cent of school age going children in 1996 to about 98 per cent of school age going children in 2012 the quality of learning remained very poor.
Findings from research studies carried by among other organisations UWEZO, a citizen-driven initiative to improve numeracy and literacy among school age going children in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, revealed that many school age going children in the three countries were performing very badly.
In a report, “Are our children learning? Literacy and numeracy across East Africa” compiled from the 2013 annual learning assessment, UWEZO showed that only two out of 10 pupils (20 per cent) in the third year of primary school can read or do basic mathematics at Grade II level and that 24 per cent were found to have acquired those skills by the time they had reached the last year of their primary education.
The problem though was that schools in Uganda were ranked at the lowest rung of performance in numeracy and literacy.
“When considering all children aged 10 to 16, whether in or out of school, results are also poor.
In Kenya 64 per cent passed both one literacy and a numeracy test, in Tanzania 48 per cent and in Uganda 36 per cent,” the report reads in part.
At the same time, the best ranked performing Ugandan district was ranked number 82 in the region and seven out of the bottom 10 performing districts were also in Uganda.
Back home, performance in national examinations was at its worst, especially in rural primary schools.
In 2014, the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) working in conjunction with the Iganga, Mayuge Health and Demographic Surveillance System (IMHDSS), carried out a study aimed at identifying some of the key learning barriers in the two districts.
Findings of a report of the study identified lack of scholastic and learning materials and learning and teaching aids.
The report said well as the recommended textbook to pupil/student ratio for each subject is 1, which means that each student is meant to have a textbook to himself, in some cases, a single textbook was being shared by up to four pupils. The worst case scenarios were reported in government- aided schools.
The report also indicated that pupils, who did not have basic learning materials such as pens, rulers and pencils were inclined to perform worse than their better facilitated counterparts.
“Learners who had most of the basic learning materials (pencils, pens, rulers, erasers, exercise books and folders) did better in mathematics than those, who had limited or no learning materials,” the report reads in part.
The report folded by making recommendations on what should be done to address the shortages of learning materials.
“Schools should encourage parents to provide all children with at least one of each of the following basic learning materials: Pencil, pen, eraser, ruler and folder; and replace them regularly”.
“The ministry should provide every child with at least one exercise book for each key subject in the curriculum, in a timely manner,” it added.
Against such a background, the NRM’s promise, which was meant to be implemented beginning with the financial year 2017/208, was viewed as the panacea to this problem, but it was never implemented and there is nothing to suggest that it will be implemented any time soon.
One of the reasons advanced for the failure by government to deliver on other campaign-related promises such as provision of sanitary towels to school age going teenagers, which was meant to have been implemented this financial year through the Ministry of Education and Sports, was the reduction in the budgetary allocation to the ministry.
The budget allocation to the ministry has not been increased from the Shs2,501.1 trillion (11.4 per cent of the national budget) that it received last year.
If anything, figures from the budget framework paper show that the allocation has been reduced by more than Shs500 billion. It stands at Shs2,419.2 trillion (11 per cent of the national budget).
This can only mean that promises such as this one and others like provision of sanitary towels to menstruating girl children as a way of keeping them in school will not be fulfilled any time soon.
This can only mean that the conditions that have been contributing to the pathetic performance levels will persist. Uganda is at risk of ending up with a population of upto 60 per cent that can hardly tackle simply literacy and numeracy challenges.
Uganda was one of the 164 countries that attended the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, and endorsed the six targets, including among others, expansion and improvement of early childhood care and education, ensuring that school attendance was free, compulsory and of good quality.
That quality has remained elusive and the country’s failure to invest in the provision of children with scholastic materials means that the government has not only failed to latch onto an opportunity to have that improvement, but that the country has been unable to fulfill its obligations under the Dakar forum.
The Millennium Development Goals Report for Uganda 2015 indicates that the country has not achieved Millennium Development Goal number two: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, adding that progress in that area is “still slow and in some cases reversible”.
One of the biggest challenges that Uganda seems to be faced with is the perennial failure to raise adequate amounts of money for allocation to key sectors such as education and health to meet demands.
There is an urgent need for the country to reevaluate its priorities. We cannot be thinking of securing the future of the nation when we cannot invest in the creation of an environment that will develop a vibrant human resource base to propel the country in the future.
We need to invest in education and health. Even as the country tries to meet the cost of enhancing the salaries and remuneration of existing workers, it is important that we address the environment in which they work.
Most important of all however, is that government considers the introduction of economic stimulus packages to redirect the economy with a view of boosting agricultural production as a means of alleviating poverty and increasing household incomes. While the minister of State for Primary Education, Ms Rosemary Sseninde, is right that parents should not be abdicating their responsibilities, many of them are unable to meet the costs of scholastic materials. This can only be fixed through economic empowerment.
The minister of State for Primary Education, Ms Rosemary Sseninde, told Daily Monitor on Monday that parents should not be abdicating their roles and responsibilities to their children simply because the NRM promised to provide children with scholastic materials. “We (government) try to fulfill promises depending on the availability of resources, but that (provision of scholastic materials) is a responsibility of the parents. They must be involved in their children’s education. If someone promises you food do you refuse to buy food in your home because the other person has not yet brought the food that you promised?” she asked.