500,000 Children Drop Out After The First Year Of School In Uganda

Back in the day, the Uganda education system and its graduates were celebrated around the world. Lately, although some still feel the quality of Uganda’s education is still good and it still exports professionals around the world, others feel Uganda’s education has deteriorated below desired levels.

This happened last year. I was attending the first symposium for higher education held in Uganda on 16th March 2015 and the debate on the quality of Uganda’s higher education was intense.

In a room filled with gurus at the higher education level, Professors and heads of different Universities, answers were varied; the teacher is the core, you cannot expect the best if your teacher is the worst.

We do not supervise our teachers proficiently. That is the problem, one Professor suggested.

"Uganda has quality education but it's not uniform; the content may be irrelevant";

"We are doing assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning - it should be continuous assessment";

"Maybe Uganda put its education assessment indicators so high";

"We need to redefine the performance indicators - they are so high".

They went on and on.

Until one stunning statistic was revealed by Vincent A. Ssembatya, the Director, Quality Assurance Makerere University.

Primary One Dropouts

In one of his recent research, he found that of the 1.8 million children who get into school annually in Uganda, 500,000 drop out in primary one. After a year!

It was a defining moment for the higher education experts because of all of them simultaneously asked, why? Maybe not verbally but more so on their faces. Ssembatya had no answer.

Of the 1.8 million children who get into school annually in Uganda, 500,000 drop out in the 1st year! Tweet

One Professor, Eriabu Lugujjo, an Electrical Engineer who spent over 30 years teaching Engineering at Makerere University, and prides himself in disciplining, for never in his class did any student enter class after him, offered his understanding of the situation.

Lugujjo, also the current vice Chancellor of Ndejje University, amused us all, when he narrated how he used to walk for many miles to his primary school, but that was not a problem, and he used to carry with him food, left over from dinner, for his school lunch.

He said,

Uganda’s curriculum has not changed but the learner has changed.

Hilariously, he suggested that the children drop out because they go hungry. Others thought the kids just got bored. In Primary One? How does a five year old get bored with school. Boredom! Or the parents abdicate their responsibilities.

But Karrine Sanders, Programme Manager, Association of Commonwealth Universities, UK insisted that as a mother, she thought parents would only do something in the best interest of their children. I think so too.

'Education for All' Goals Fall Apart

It's important though, to research on why so many kids drop out of school so early. Ssembatya went on to say that Uganda’s higher education quality has gone down because the system has failed to link up the UNESCO Education for All goals 1 to 6.

Six internationally agreed education goals aim to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.

While goal-1 looks at expanding and improving early childhood education, goal number 6 looks at improving quality education and ensuring excellence mostly at the higher level.

The two fall far apart in Uganda. The educationists concurred that if they clean up the base there will be quality at the higher level.

Joseph Oonyu, Head of School of Education, Makerere University, said the quality in the lower section would influence the quality in the higher section. But if they received bad quality students at the lower level, don’t expect miracles at the higher level.

So Uganda needs to prioritize early childhood education, which is the basis of quality for higher education.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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Cover Image, Uganda | Matt Lucht