Forlorn Education

By on February 2, 2017

Nearly two decades ago when the all-so-wonderful Government of Uganda was introducing Universal Primary Education (UPE) it seemed apparent that the days of illiteracy and a massive young unlearned population were coming to an end. The four-children-study-free project kicked off with a lot of gusto. Celebrations were held countrywide and it was generally agreed that this was absolute progress; steady at that.

A few rural parents were displeased and up in arms against it, complaining that their fields would now not have anyone to till them and they would not have little errand running minions to help them around the house.

Despite that, Ugandans embraced the initiative. Most of them did because the President and his people went around the country spreading the gospel of UPE and they all seemed rather well intentioned. It was a good time.

Several years down the road, it seems like the UPE dream has either been shattered or somewhat shoved into a certain dark and lonely alley being watched over by the devil. The Government seems to either have abandoned the whole idea or simply left it to rot. Surprisingly though, there is even the concept of Universal Secondary Education (USE) which deserves a whole rant of its own. The Government appears to have quietly thrown in the towel, knowing full well that the majority of Uganda’s population is young and requires some form of direction and guidance.

Before this is seen as another of those worthless yet venomous rants targeted at the Government’s inability to deliver, allow me express my own thankfulness to the Government for somewhat showing where its priorities are. For starters it seems like the Government will continue to throw money (if any at all) at the UPE issue without necessarily identifying where the problem is.

Despite nearly $302m that the Government spends annually on primary education, close to a whopping 70% of these youngsters are likely to somehow drop out along the way. Either because they can not afford the hidden costs involved with uniform and scholastic materials or because they are simply girls and having monthly periods while in school can be a real challenge, especially if there are no sanitary pads.


Students in their first year of primary school line up to have their work examined by a teacher at Acutomer primary school in Pader district, Uganda. Photograph: Ric Francis/Zuma/Alamy (Image Source : The Guardian)

An article by Alon Mwesigwa in the The Guardian somewhat brought to light harsh realities about UPE. For instance, while crossing over from 2014 to 2015, Irene Namusuubo Guloba, the head teacher at Katwe Primary School admitted that nearly 250 children did not come back to school in the new year. And this is in Katwe, which is within Kampala, presumably the better place to live, work and study in.

One then wonders what the predicament might be like for the upcountry schools. The schools in places where parents have to decide whether to send their children to school, or keep them home to help till the land and look after animals. One wonders whether this UPE thing is actually still functional or whether it is simply a ghost program draining the coffers every other financial year.

It seems more apparent that Education is now a luxury for the wealthy and well off individuals who themselves have accepted that if one does not have at least UGX 1M, they may as well shove their ideas of educating their little ones somewhere dark and inaccessible.

Messages have been doing the rounds on social media regarding the amounts of money that today’s parents have to pay to secure a good education for their children. It is safe to say that perhaps not having children is a worthwhile plan of action since the whole experience is simply going to rip your hopes and dreams to shreds and render your children a burden to the nation. And while it can be appreciated that these schools need these funds to operate, one wonders where we are headed to.


 A screen shot of the figures it takes to have your child attend Gayaza High School, one of the better schools in the country. 

While having a discussion with a few friends recently, a Government apologist asked the question “Do you people know how many things the Government has to deal with at once? You are making noise about UPE and Education but you are oblivious of the fact that the same Government has to deal with dissatisfied health workers, rioting market vendors, insecure neighbourhoods, corrupt Government officials and incomplete roads and infrastructure. Are you people aware?”

I, like most sane people, do appreciate that the Government has so many things to deal with at once. However, I worry for the future generation because if we do not pay attention to education, we may as well forget about anything and everything else because we will raise an illiterate, ignorant and completely helpless population.

Do I have a legitimate list of recommendations for the way forward? Maybe not as thorough a list as experts in the field of education would have. However, I do know that if we do not pay attention to the education of the young people, we are probably going to regret this in not so many years from now.

The Government needs to wake up and start prioritizing education before the situation becomes toxic and irredeemable. Either we rethink the entire education system and syllabus or we sit back and watch while the system continuously segregates the poor and relegates them to apathy,  desolation and impoverishment.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela

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