By Yvonne Bokhour
Published May 25, 2013
Determined to improve an education system beset by challenges, advocates launched Uganda’s first Quality Public Education Week with talk shows, panel debates, exhibitions and rallies throughout the country April 22-26, 2013.
Poverty, hunger, disease, and brutal strife all impact access to learning in Uganda.
Nearly 30% of the population earns less than US$1.25 per day, according to UNICEF. One-third of children below age 5 suffer with stunting caused by chronic malnourishment. AIDS has orphaned well over 1 million youngsters, who themselves are at risk. Malaria is a constant concern.
A decades-long insurgency in northern Uganda has led not only to the displacement of nearly 2 million people, but also to the kidnappings of 60,000 children, reports Save the Children (SC), an international humanitarian organisation.
Helping pupils rise above these obstacles is a daunting task. The Forum for Education NGOs in Uganda (FENU), an umbrella coalition of NGOs and other stakeholders including SC and UNICEF, spearheads efforts to improve Ugandan public education, citing the need for “urgent action” due to “waste, mismanagement and tragedy.”
Of special concern are high drop out rates, low teacher morale, congested classrooms, and hunger.
Frederick Mwesigye, FENU’s Director, who coordinated Quality Public Education Week, says, “We have come together to say that there is a crisis in our education system – our children are not learning, our teachers are demoralized and our schools are not properly resourced. Only with coordinated action from all players will we be able to solve this crisis…and ensure that every child in Uganda has access to a quality education.”
Quality Public Education Week is FENU’s latest initiative. It was inspired by, and held in conjunction with, Global Action Week, an annual event sponsored by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), “a civil society movement that aims to end the global education crisis,” according to their website. This year’s theme, “Every Child Needs a Teacher,” has been promoted internationally via video narrated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
While public schools are available at no charge to Ugandan boys and girls ages 6 through 12, experts question the facilities’ quality and effectiveness. As youngsters age, drop out rates soar—as many as 66% leave, according to SC. An alarming 18% of those eligible do not attend school at all.
Zacharia Kasirye, Advisor on Basic Education for SC in Uganda, says, “Children have two options for attending school: formal primary schools run by either the government or private institutions, and non-formal programmes ‘targeted to marginalised children, such as those living in very remote areas’ or those supporting ‘their family’s livelihood (e.g., fishing, farming) during regular school hours’.”
Although “parents do not have to pay to send their children to [government-run] school,” Kasirye says “there are other education-related fees such as meals, uniforms, books, pens and contributions” that are out of reach for many.
Even children with adequate resources for private school face many difficulties.
Caroline Walradt, who teaches second grade at Sacred Heart’s Princeton Academy in New Jersey and who visited several Sacred Heart schools in southern Uganda, says she witnessed numerous, oppressive hardships.
Youngsters are packed into classrooms. Curriculum is limited. Walradt describes learning as rote and repetitious, although math levels are good and handwriting is “exquisite.” Teacher turnover is high because, as in the public system, morale is low.
Both private and public schools throughout Uganda provide graphic instruction concerning malaria, HIV/AIDS, and venereal disease to young children by necessity.
Conditions in the north are particularly dismal. Aside from coping with AIDS and other diseases, residents are engulfed in conflict. Children cannot be easily schooled when their safety is at risk. In addition, the terrain there is ragged and the soil is infertile. It’s difficult to build schools and grow food. SC is attempting to address these complexities with a multi-faceted approach including its CHANCE and Literacy Boost programmes, helping children learn both in and out of school.
Quality Public Education Week displayed stakeholders’ dedication.
“People embraced the opportunity to take action,” Mwesigye says. “NGOs worked with learners across the country asking them what they like about their education, and what they would like changed. Anglican, Catholic, and Islamic leaders united in a public rally in Gulu. Panel debates and radio talk shows saw debates on child labour and the barriers to education, the role of language in education provision and what makes a good teacher.”
Despite such optimism, Uganda may well feel the impact of its educational deficiencies for generations.
A MediaGlobal News article.