This effort is supported by the Open Society Initiative in East Africa (OSiEA). We went to Gulu, Kabale, Hoima, Luwero, Busia and Kampala. The dialogues centered on three main questions: where we have come from, where we are as a country, and the Uganda we want to see.
One of the key areas that came out strongly was education. As a starting point, majority of people appreciated the increased education access (in quantitative terms), most especially for the girl child. More children are accessing basic education as well as higher education.
At independence, we had one public university, Makerere. Now we have five public universities and a host of private ones. Something to celebrate! However, the outcry was overwhelming.
The outcry is about the very sorry state of the education service itself. First is the politics of the Universal Primary Education (UPE). The question was: why do the elites who supposedly designed UPE as a good thing take their sons and daughters to private schools?
How possible is it that one designs a good thing and denies his or her children the opportunity to enjoy it? UPE is seen as a political mockery, where the children of the poor are destined to defective learning and misery, in the name of ‘free education.’
As indicated in the UWEZO study, carried out by the Uganda NGO Forum as part of a regional study on the state of education in the East African Community, many children in lower primary struggle to read and do basic numeracy.
In fact, education in Uganda is at a lower standard than Kenya and Tanzania, and yet education used to be the area of Uganda’s competitive advantage in the region, and as seen from all the Tanzanians, Kenyans, Rwandan and Burundian students in private and public Ugandan schools, and has been a major source of income for the country.
Poor, ordinary Ugandans are crying out for their children to have a substantive right to education as opposed to a mockery. The meagre pay for teachers is common knowledge. Teachers have pleaded time and again for better renumeration, but their pleas have not only fallen on deaf ears, they have also been met with threats and ridicule.
The strike by UNATU in 2011, seeking 100% increased pay, would have meant only an additional $100, equivalent to the current salary of the lowest paid teachers. Indeed, even though the Social Services Committee of Parliament identified ways to cover this cost in the 2011/12 budget, the government refused to accept to shift resources to meet the teachers’ demand.
Low pay aside, teachers wonder about the defective remuneration system. For example, many teachers trained ten years ago are yet to be put on the government payroll; those who have upgraded their qualifications have remained on a low scale.
For example, a holder of a Masters degree still earns a salary similar to that of a diploma holder. Teachers see the ministry of Education and Sports as an epitome of corruption, inefficiency and ‘ad hoc-ism.’
One experienced teacher from Kabale summarized the ad hoc orientation of the ministry of Education as a gambling institution that downloads rushed defective decisions without adequate planning.
He cited cases such as the ad hoc change of the primary schools curriculum and imposition of science subjects as compulsory, which has hindered performance of students who are not science-oriented.
As we talk now Computer Studies is supposed to be compulsory. Does it need a rocket scientist to realize the simple fact that this requires schools to have access to electricity, the teachers are asking (and can somebody answer them please)! Where do such decisions come from?
What will happen in the majority rural schools? Is the ministry planning to invent a magic computer that uses firewood? The strong feeling is that the main imperative behind the so called innovations by the ministry of Education is much less about improving the education system and more about enriching some individuals through printing new books and winning tenders.
Accordingly, a number of authors have printed books just to benefit from UPE funds. The name for all this is corruption and lack of nationhood or simply, lack of love for the country.
Poor governance is undermining education and undermining majority of poor Ugandan children from having the life opportunities that come from good quality education.
The voice from below is therefore saying: the Uganda we want to see is one with a quality, streamlined, sober education system where teachers are given due recognition; an education that empowers children with knowledge and skills.
Prof Josephine Ahikire is the executive director, Centre for Basic Research
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