By Katherine Nabuzale
This month saw the release of PLE results. Not that we expected miracles from the PLE candidates from rural schools, the majority of whom are under the famous universal primary education, but the trend in performance leaves many serious questions about the future of the child in rural Uganda.
There were hardly any first graders in many rural schools. The few who managed to make it, could only trail their counterparts from the premium schools at edge of Division One.
For example, Samuel Otobi who attended from Soroti (Opar Primary School), was the only one in his class of 104 pupils to pass in division one with 10 points. Unfortunately, for him there was no cause for celebration because he is not certain of joining secondary school.
His future hangs in balance as his parents are financially pressed. They can’t afford the tuition fees that good secondary schools demand so they have no choice but to relegate him to a universal secondary school (USE). For most Ugandans, sending one’s child to a USE school is the last imaginable option as these are believed, and rightly so, to be non-competitive.
Samuel Otobi represents so many rural children whose future is all about a gamble, regardless of their talents. It’s a shame that we are undermining the talent and potential of an innumerable number of gifted children all because of their socio-economic conditions owing to exclusive system of education that we have embraced.
Despite UPE being aimed at providing free primary education for all, the dream and aspirations of rural Ugandan children to ever have a chance on the national platform of this country fade with every release of national exams. Many will attest to the fact that education under UPE in rural areas has deteriorated drastically compared to former times when parents paid school dues for their children.
With the burden of paying school fees, came the authority to demand better performance. This was the time when parents-teacher-associations thrived. These kinds of associations enabled active involvement of parents in the way schools were run.
There was regular contact between parents and teachers, sharing the same vision and duty of ensuring a good education for the children.
For all its good intentions, the UPE programme has in a way crippled parents leading them to resign their responsibility of contributing to the holistic education of their own children.
Children are the future generation of our country, and the hope of sustainable prosperity. The present structures of education sadly seem to disadvantage the rural children, as if to systematically exclude them from the national platform.
Nevertheless, what can be done to improve the quality of education in rural areas, and the country at large?
Most of the rural public schools are under-funded and therefore lack: teaching materials, enough qualified and motivated teaching staff and classrooms. In addition, monitoring and supervisory services are inefficient, particularly in remote and inaccessible areas, and the accountability systems are poor.
Below are some suggestions on how we can make rural education more competitive and thus, attractive to students as well as parents.
Increase investment in rural schools. Undeniably, UPE is a brilliant programme and is of paramount importance as far as the educational needs of the country are concerned.
Government should assess the specific challenges of regions and strive to create incentives and tangible investment to fill the gaps. For example, rather than maintaining the present flat salary structure, the government should consider preferential higher salaries for teachers serving in neglected areas as a way of motivating and appreciating their services to the nation.
Guarantee that libraries are well stocked so that teachers and pupils have enough reference materials.
Additionally, facilitate provision of modern teaching aids and information systems so that teachers are up to date with their work. Refresher courses for the teachers shouldn’t be ignored as this is necessary to replenish their knowledge.
Schools should draw up strategies focussed at motivating teachers, stimulating parents and greater communities’ participation in rural education. Revive parents-teacher associations to engage parents in the day to day operation of the schools so that parents can be encouraged to help where necessary.
In order to achieve a solid universal primary education where the pupils have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts, streamline accountability systems ensuring that all funds are properly utilized and accounted for, and absenteeism is severely punished.
Strengthen co-operative societies. First to promote farming as a way of improving house hold incomes, and secondly, to provide ready market and agricultural best practices to help parents contribute to educational needs of their children.
Promote Mentorship programmes in schools. Encourage formation of projects where local professional people visit schools to talk about their experiences and careers, as a way of inspiring young people to be focused, determined and work hard. In the same way, visits to local work places should be organised regularly for the children to see and learn about the world outside of school.
Intensify family planning education right from the grassroots, to sensitize parents on the importance of having the right number of children that one can ably cater for.
Children should be able to receive a sound and quality education irrespective of where they live so that they may make wise life and career choices.