Since the achievement of independence in 1962, the government of Uganda has been committed to expanding the Education System to enable greater participation.
In an effort to promote the right of all children to Education, the Government of Uganda made commitments on behalf of the children by signing International and Regional Child Rights Statutory Instruments regarding improving the access, equity and quality of (basic) education.
These Statutory Instruments include:
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 28 recognizes the right of the child to education. The state is mandated in particular to make Primary Education compulsory and available free to all, encourage the development of different forms of Secondary Education, including general and Vocational Education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need. Government is obligated to take measures that encourage regular school attendance and reduce school drop-out rates. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in Article 11(3) as well reiterates this.
The UN Millennium Development Goals declared by world leaders highlights the firm belief of the international community in achieving Universal Primary Education (Goal2) in the developing countries as efforts to alleviate poverty.
At the national level, the 1995 Uganda Constitution Article 30 provides for the right of Education for all persons.
Despite the aforesaid rosy, well stipulated and well intentioned pledges that the Ugandan government has made, education and most especially quality and access to free and compulsory education in Uganda still has its daunting challenges.
While there has been a marked increase in the number of government sponsored primary and secondary schools over the last few years, the number of school going age children enrolling for the program rapidly increasing every year, Education Sector in the country is still being marred by the following challenges that should be addressed urgently:-
Dropout rates remain high (especially among girls) and the quality of education provided by government-sponsored schools is still questionable. According to a recent report by UNESCO, only 53 percent of Ugandan children complete Primary School.
Government’s failure to resolve the school lunch problem means that afternoon attendance and concentration remain substantially lower than in the morning.
Teacher attendance still remains a challenge in many UPE and USE Schools in relation to the teacher to pupil ratio which is not a rosy sight to behold.
Access to Early Childhood Development programme in Uganda is still very low with most of the registered Pre-Primary Schools being privately owned and located in urban centers. Only about 2.6% of Primary entrants attend some form of organized Early Childhood Development Programme (UCRNN: Status and Wellbeing of Children in Uganda 2012).
Essential to say is the inequality that exists between urban schools and rural schools mainly brought about by quality of infrastructures and man power in urban areas compared to their counterparts. News about the best schools and pupil’s usually fills the TV and radio waves of both national and local stations with newspaper headlines awash with pictures and names of pupils with their schools in the papers. It is always apparent that we see and read statements like; “Urban schools beat rural schools; Northern and Eastern schools, the worst performers in this year’s Examination.
Have we ever wondered why a child in Agago, Kween and Amudat Districts does not even come close to any of the above grades? Are they considered failures? How do they compete with the Kampala and the urban children who have had their foundations grounded in early childhood development and in well-furnished private schools?
One thing the government probably needed to have taken into consideration from the onset of the UPE and USE was to include quality of education for all Ugandan children to coin a phrase like; “A compulsory, free and quality education for all Ugandan Children.”
In light of all the above, the Government of Uganda in a bid to improve quality in UPE schools, should invest more in improving the quality of learning by building more classrooms, training more teachers and providing teaching materials and more importantly, subsidizing lunch in these schools, which will be a great feat in reducing dropout rates and scaling up retention of children in school.
Just as we draw closer to the commemoration of the National Day of the African Child on the 16th of June 2014 with the theme: A Child Friendly, Quality, Free and Compulsory Education for all Children in Uganda,” It is imperative that the government of Uganda starts to juggle around with a strategy to improve the compulsory and free education by deliberately including quality and access to it.
By Loice Epetiru, Communication Specialist UCRNN