Friday, October 22, 2010

The challenges of universal education in Uganda

Uganda expanded primary education back in 2000, but found that it didn't have the capacity to teach all of their students. Finding good teachers became a struggle, as well as clean and safe buildings to conduct classes. Uganda's enrollment expanded from 2 million to 7 million children in 2000, but passing rates have been sliding ever since.

From the Guardian, writer Jonathan Glennie asks an Ugandan think tank on if universal education is still worth it despite the challenges.
Student pass rates have fallen and rates of transition to secondary school are also sliding. As standards fall in public education, a social divide is emerging between the public and private sectors, with private schools being regarded as offering a significantly better education. According to Lawrence Bategeka, from the Economic Policy Research Centre, a Ugandan thinktank, around 90% of current university students in Uganda were taught in private schools. Moreover, as private schooling is not profitable in rural areas, the urban-rural divide is opening up as well.

I asked Bategeka whether it was a mistake to open the school gates to millions more children when Uganda was obviously not ready to teach them. Wouldn't it have been more sensible to increase enrolment more gradually, in line with the realistic possibilities of infrastructural and teacher development?

Bategeka thinks the policy could have been implemented better, but he does not believe it was a mistake to introduce it. Despite the inevitable concerns about standards, there are still millions of children attending school who otherwise wouldn't have been, which means they are learning, and that the culture of universal education is being ingrained into society for the first time, he says. On the back of the policy, the Ugandan government has now introduced universal secondary education to encourage more pupils to continue their schooling.

1 comment:

Don Stoll said...

Based on my own development work in rural Tanzania, a country whose recently launched experiment in universal education parallels Uganda's, I must admit to mixed feelings about Lawrence Bategeka's defense of the Ugandan policy which has "millions of children attending school who otherwise wouldn't have been."

Certainly "they are learning, and. . . the culture of universal education is being ingrained into society for the first time." One wants educated people as well as broad acceptance of the value of education in both Uganda and Tanzania, just as one wants these everywhere. But as I see education improve in the Tanzanian village where I work, I also become acutely aware of the children's rising expectations and of the village's—in fact the entire area's—inability to meet those expectations.

I don't see this as an insurmountable obstacle for my own NGO, given that we've taken responsibility for a fairly small area; in other words, I think that in our area, in time, we can help generate the types of economic opportunities that educated people will demand. However, I worry that producing an entire nation full of educated people, without creating suitable opportunities for them, will add up to the recipe for a powder keg.

Obviously I don't therefore recommend that countries like Uganda and Tanzania should try to stuff the genie back inside the bottle. I merely hope that they, along with the international community, can face the consequences of the genie's liberation.