Written by Alex Okello Ouma
At Okol primary school in Omot sub-county in Pader, studying under the tree is all but normal to an estimated 300 pupils. According to the head teacher, Mr. Omech Ben Robert, some pupils walk for over 5 kilometers to and fro school every day because of their desire and willingness to learn but quite often get scared away for the harsh and unfriendly school environment. Okol primary school has no class room structure except a tent that was supplied by Unicef. He added 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 expressed a big worry over the retention of such children in school.
The case of Okol primary school is but one out of the many schools in northern Uganda that have harsh or hostile learning environments. A recent survey with over 400 children in Kitgum and Pader revealed that corporal punishment in schools, lack of seating facilities, inadequate class rooms, limited playing facilities and lack of lunch at among others largely contribute to pupil drop out from school. Studying under tree exposes the children to several risks and interrupts learning. This typical condition partly justifies the difference in performance between a child who studies at Chadwick Namate in Entebbe, Kampala parents or Bat Valley primary schools 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, UCE and UACE 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.
Uganda is one of the countries that made a pledge in the year 2000 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.
The government of Uganda now widely believes that primary education can eradicate poverty, and develop and stabilize the economic positions of Uganda in the long run. However, economist and development experts still strongly disagree citing lack of enough evidence to show case for instance that a UPE graduate can develop sustainable livelihood means and escape poverty and hunger. Secondly, they believe that government has not made enough commitment to uplift the status of rural schools in order to improve performance and quality.
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.
Published in the Daily Monitor, March 8th, 2010