Acquisition of appropriate knowledge and skills is a cornerstone of development in any society.
Currently, Uganda faces a threat to undermine the foundation of its educational system and consequently its development agenda. This is largely attributed to limited financing of education, particularly the meagre school capitation grants provided by the government to schools implementing the universal primary and secondary programmes.
The inadequacy of these grants poses a significant threat to the accessibility and affordability of quality education, thereby sustaining a cycle of disadvantage and hindering the nation’s overall development.
On August 8, 2023, the World Bank issued a statement halting approval of new funding for Uganda following the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023. The reasons advanced by the World Bank to halt the financing is that the law undermines the principles of inclusivity and non-discrimination.
In response, Henry Musaasizi, the minister of state in the ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, informed parliament that the government would revise the budget to fill the void that would be left by the World Bank’s halting of its financing.
Whenever the government undertakes austerity measures, it resorts to cutting recurrent expenditure, in most cases categorized as consumptive items such as capitation grants.
Capitation grants emerged following the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 and Universal Secondary Education (USE) in 2007 to replace school fees with the objective of making primary and secondary education accessible and affordable by all children.
The funding is a per-student grant that is given to schools to finance the purchase of textbooks and other teaching and learning materials. It also caters for school maintenance, administration costs and payment for utilities, including water and electricity.
Currently, Shs 20,000 is allocated for each learner annually in primary school, Shs 58,300 for each learner at the Ordinary level and Shs 90,000 for Advanced level. The current grant allocation is far from sufficient to enable schools to achieve the purpose for which the capitation grants are allocated.
In 2018, the National Planning Authority (NPA) recommended that in order for UPE schools to be in a position to deliver quality education, the government should allocate a capitation grant of Shs 59,503 and Shs 63,546 per pupil per year in rural and urban schools respectively.
The inadequacy of the capitation grants has implications for the school administration, parents and learners. It places a huge burden on schools, forcing them to cut corners, which compromises the quality of education they provide to their students. As schools struggle to make ends meet with insufficient funding, they are forced to pass on additional costs to parents and guardians.
In a situation where a family is already struggling financially, it becomes difficult to send their children to school and they end up borrowing (30 per cent of the households in Uganda have to borrow to pay school fees, Global Education Monitoring Report 2021/22).
The impact of low capitation grants for public schools is most acutely felt by the students especially girls. For those that come from poor households and cannot afford the extra costs, there are limited options available and this often leads to dropouts as found by the Uganda National Household Survey 2019/ 20.
ISER’s research Getting Children Back to School found that following Covid-19, there has been an influx of learners from private to public schools, reiterating more than ever the need to increase funding to public schools. Any attempt to cut financing for education, particularly the capitation grants that are already insufficient, will lead us into catastrophe.
In light of the above, the highly anticipated revisions of the national budget for FY2023/24 should be geared towards increasing capitation grants with transparent and accountable systems to ensure money reaches intended beneficiaries.
Inadequate financing of education has both short and long-term implications. In the short term, it will widen inequality and heighten the poverty levels in the country. In the long term, Uganda’s ability to produce skilled and competent individuals, capable of contributing to its socioeconomic growth will be severely compromised as the effects will continue to manifest in sectors of healthcare, technology and governance.
Inequality in education and income levels will persist and undermine progress on the Sustainable Development Goals if government does not prioritize financing public education.
The writer is a student of Law at Makerere University.