New Efforts to Improve Universal Primary Education
Bitamazire at a recent function.

New Efforts to Improve Universal Primary Education

Minister of Education and Sports, Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire determined to make a change.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: June 22, 2006

The government of Uganda is set to make Universal Primary Education compulsory for all children of school-going age in the whole country.

While launching the education assessment guidelines, at the national stakeholder's workshop on Monday, the Minister of Education and Sports, Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire said that the government is concerned that after nine years of free primary education, some parents are still not sending their children to school.

The government of Uganda in 1997 introduced the Universal Primary Education (UPE) program, where kids were offered free primary education in government schools.

"We have spent the last nine years persuading and persuading, but it is now time to make it work. The slogan, boona bakone (Let them all fail) should be boona bayite (Let them all pass)," Bitamazire said. "There are some parents who are not sending their kids to school. Time has come for us to act on them."

As part of efforts to improve UPE, the minister said that all primary school head teachers would be required to sign performance agreements every year, committing them to work towards government's expectations.

The workshop was being held under the theme "Progress towards achieving Education For All (EFA) goals." Providing education for all is one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Bitamazire says that the Government wants to ensure that pupils in Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools attain competency in reading and writing by P.3.

The teachers' agreements, dubbed 'customized performance targets,' aim at holding head teachers and deputy head teachers accountable, as well as providing a basis for fair rewards and sanctions.

UPE (government primary schools) are known for producing P7 leavers who can't speak or write English, with many teachers and head teachers dodging classes. Apart from the fact that there is low monitoring of the government schools, teachers of UPE schools have been complaining of poor pay and have gone on strike twice in the last two years.

The government has in the budget read on June 15 increased teachers salaries by 50,000 Shs, meaning primary teachers will now earn 200,000 Shs per month (about US$ 110) in an effort to improve performance in UPE schools. While the additional pay has been welcomed by teachers, many still say 200,000shs is inadequate for one to concentrate on teaching for the whole month.

"Many of us have families to look after, with children to take to school. That money is very little to even afford school fees for my two sons in secondary school," says Edson, 43, a teacher from Bugiri district.

But Bitamazire who thanked the government for increasing the teacher's pay said all UPE heads and teachers will be required to perform to their best. Bitamazire said tracking the performance of head teachers would create a fair, transparent and verifiable system of determining whether a teacher has performed satisfactorily. He added that many pupils had not attained the desirable learning competency in literacy and numeracy partly because of the slackness, absenteeism and lack of commitment on the part of head teachers in UPE schools.

"The supervision among school heads is lacking. Teachers are even teaching by remote control. They hardly attend class. I have been told that a pupil in P.4 does not know how to read and write, but the teachers do not seem to care. I am investigating," she said.

"By P4 you don't know how to write?"

"The head teachers should be the inspector of their schools. But you find someone seated and saying, 'Inspectors are not doing their work.' At this age, you still wait for someone else to do the inspection? Those days are gone; inspectors should be at all levels," she added.

She also warned teachers against misuse of the instructional materials. Instructional materials are not given to you to collect dust; give them to pupils so they can make use of them," she said.

But the government has to improve on infrastructure by building more classrooms, as many pupils still study outside under trees, while some sit on the floor. The National Education NGOs have also been saying the government needs to come up with an improved curriculum to make UPE education attractive and relevant as many pupils join schools and leave after realizing the education is not relevant to their needs.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: June 22, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.