Roundup: Uganda makes achievements in universal primary education
by Ssekandi Ronald, Chen Cailin
KAMPALA, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) — The Ugandan government is making remarkable progress in implementing Universal Primary Education ( UPE) in the country, Education Minister Namirembe Bitamazire said recently, adding the program has had a positive impact on the access to education in the country, especially in poor rural areas.
According to Ministry of Education statistics, the number of school going age children enrolling for the program is rapidly increasing every year. Since the introduction of the program in 1997, gross enrollment rose from 5.3 million pupils in 1996 to 7.6 million children in 2003.
It is this remarkable success that makes the country a model for other countries that want to start the UPE program. LET ALL CHILDREN GO TO SCHOOL
The Ugandan government declared in 1997 the policy of UPE, which entitled up to four children per family to receive free education in government and government aided schools.
Because many parents who had more that four children simply allocated them to relatives or pleaded with the program implementors to register them, this forced the government to announce free access to primary education to all school going children.
Ministry of Education statistics indicate that because of the introduction of UPE, gross enrollment increased by 73 percent in one year from the pre-UPE total of 3,068,625 pupils in 1996 to 5, 303,564 in 1997. By 2003, gross enrollment in primary schools was 7,633,314 children representing an increase of 149 percent of the pre-UPE enrollment.
This resulted in the available facilities to be stretched to breaking point. In some places especially in the rural areas, the ratio of pupils to teachers exceed 100 to one. The reality of a teacher trying to teach a class of over 100 pupils under a mango tree was common.
The Ugandan government increased funding of the education sector. The funding of the sector as a whole increased significantly from 2.1 percent of GDP in 1995 to 4.8 percent in 2000. The share in the national budget went up from 13.7 percent in 1990 to 24.7 percent in 1998.
The country’s education sector strategic investment plan makes mandatory that not less than 65 percent of the education budget fund primary education, which is one of the key poverty reduction priority areas.
Some money saved through debt forgiveness under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank was also used to boost the UPE program.
The government also liberalized the education sector which enabled the setting up of private schools. ALL STAKEHOLDERS INVOLVED IN UPE
To ensure the proper implementation of the program from the government down to the village level, the government adopted an all inclusive policy. In this policy, all stakeholders from the ministry of education and sports, local authorities, school management committees that are elected by parents actively participate in the implementation of the program.
The Ministry of Education and Sports provides two types of grants: capitation grant and school facilities grant.
It pays capitation grant on the basis of the number of students enrolled in a school and depending on the level of education. The monthly rate per child was fixed at 5,000 shillings (2.7 US dollars) per pupil for classes P1-P3 and 8,100 shillings (4.4 dollars) per pupil for classes P4-P7, payable for a fixed period of 9 months per year.
The ministry disburses the money to districts which in turn send the money to the schools.
The ministry is also responsible for training and retraining of teachers, providing and developing policies and policy guidelines and planning for quality education including assessment and monitoring of learning and teaching process.
Local authorities also play a crucial role in the implementation of the program. Under the leadership of the Chief Administrative Officers, who is the accounting officer of a district, districts ensure that all UPE funds reach schools. POSITIVE IMPACT
According to Minister Namirembe Bitamazire, the UPE has impacted positively on access to education in the eastern African country.
“Education quality as measured by standard indicators such as pupil/teacher ratio, pupil/classroom ratio and pupil/ textbook ratio point to improving quality of primary education in UPE schools from the time UPE was introduced,” said Bitamazire.
Ministry of Education statistics indicate that the period of 1996 to 2003 witnessed massive increase in the number of primary schools from 8,531 in 1996 to 13,353 in 2003, representing an increase of 4,822 schools in only seven years.
By 2003, there were 10,460 government owned primary schools compared to 1,705 private primary schools, and 1,121 community schools.
The number of primary school teachers almost doubled in seven years from 81,564 in 1996 to 145,587 in 2003 representing an increase of 64,023 or 78 percent yet, in the decade preceding the introduction of UPE, the number of primary school teachers increased by only 8,594 or 12 percent.
The gender inequalities have also been addressed. For a long time, enrollment of females at all levels of education has lagged that of males. However, the gap is narrowing after among other things, the introduction of primary education.
In 2003, enrollment of girls in primary schools was slightly over 49 percent of total, falling behind that of boys. This is significant improvement compared to 44 percent and 44.5 percent for 1990 and 1993 respectively. The post UPE period witnessed a narrowing gap between the number of girls and boys enrolled in primary schools.
These successes notwithstanding, Uganda’s remarkable progress to the successful implementation of the UPE program has not been easy. It has faced key challenges but the government’s and parents ‘ continued commitment to the program will make it possible to address any challenge that comes along the way.