Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UPE still under-valued

By Alex Ouma Okello (email the author)

Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 00:00

At Okol Primary School in Omot sub-county in Pader District, class sessions under trees or tents is common. One of the pupils described it as “very hot.” “Some children come from as far as four kilometers to school because of their desire and willingness to learn but the harsh and unfriendly school environment scares them away,” the head teacher Mr Ben Robert Omech claims. Okol PS has no classroom structure except for tent that was supplied by Unicef.

Mr Omech adds that since the start of the first term of 2010, his school has registered an increase in enrolment from 150 to close to 300 children but he worries about the retention of such children in such conditions.

Difficult environment
Mr Omech laments that the children often drop out when they find the school environment unfriendly; they face rude teachers, lack of seating facilities, lack of class rooms, lack of playing facilities and latrines, among others. Studying under trees exposes the children to several risks; falling branches, harsh wind, sunshine and dust, rainfall and interruption, that affect learning, unlike in schools that have fully fledged learning facilities. This typical condition partly justifies the difference in performance between a child who studies at Chadwick Namate PS in Entebbe, Kampala Parents or Bat Valley in Kampala and a pupil who studies at Okol or Latebe Primary Schools in Pader and Kitgum respectively.
The inequality in performance between town and village schools, northern and southern schools and the eastern and western schools in the recently released PLE and UCE results for 2009 only emphasizes the fact that government needs to do a lot to improve performance and attainment of quality and regional education equality.

Although many agree, there is very little evidence to show that a UPE graduate in Sironko, Rakai, Kaliro or Manafwa can develop sustainable livelihood means and escape poverty and hunger. Secondly, the government itself has failed to make real commitment to uplift the status of rural schools in order to improve performance and quality.In the year 2000, 189 heads of states and at least 23 international organisations signed the UN Millennium Declaration on eight development goals at the summit in New York. One of the pledges was to achieve universal primary education; ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. Reports by the government of Uganda and other international development agencies indicate that the country’s education system has been effective and successful over the last five years and that it is serving as a model for many African countries. However, education practitioners have cited the question of quality and regional inequalities in education as real obstacles that need to be addressed.

According to The Millennium Development Goals report 2008, achieving Universal Primary Education means more than full enrolment. It also encompasses quality education, meaning that all children who attend school regularly learn basic literacy and numeracy skills and complete primary education on time, the report says. Government should focus on addressing UPE policy gaps; namely on infrastructural development, particularly in conflict or disaster affected regions, lifting of staff ceiling and recruitment of more teachers, capacity building for local authorities, equipping schools with sitting facilities, erecting teacher houses and offering more funding for running school programs.

The writer is a Senior Project Officer – Education with the Norwegian Refugee Council

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