Two Makerere University-based Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) research analysts have asked government to rethink being the only funder of the Universal Primary Education programme (UPE) through capitation grants.
In a February policy brief titled Reviving the grappling education sector: What can be done? Musa Muyanja Lwanga and Anita Ntale argue that the current arrangement is not economically viable.
According to Lwanga and Ntale, the country has other competing priorities like infrastructure development, health and agriculture investment, which leaves minimal funds to support UPE.
“A cost-sharing model in which both parents and the government contribute to the funding of primary school education will reduce the funding constraint,” the research analysts said.
Government increased the capitation grant unit cost per pupil per year from Shs 7,560 to Shs 10,000, last year. EPRC is an autonomous not-for-profit organisation established in 1993 with a mission to foster sustainable growth development in Uganda through advancement of research-based knowledge and policy analysis.
Speaking to The Observer on April 5, Ntale said the title of their policy brief was premised on reports about the declining completion rates, among other concerns in the primary subsector.
“The figures are too high compared to other countries in the region," Ntale said, adding that if the government addresses the issues they have raised, the situation could improve.
Established in 1997, UPE has been credited for increasing primary education access to underprivileged families, but it has also come under attack for increasing the number of school dropouts, inadequate infrastructure, and "ghost" learners, among others.
The EPRC analysts believe that with parents contributing to UPE (through a fee such as Parents Teachers’ Association fee), teachers would be paid a decent salary, while more classrooms and other infrastructure can be built to improve on school outcomes.
Yet, according to the Education Act 2008, “No person or agency shall levy or order another person to levy any charge for purposes of education in any primary or postprimary institution [implementing] UPE or UPPET programme.”
So, if government is to adopt the researchers’ proposal, it will have to review sections of the Education Act.
Despite registering some achievements in UPE, EPRC researchers say the growing number of dropouts and the low primary school completion rates continue to hamper the success of free education.
According to the 2016 world development indicators quoted in the policy brief, in 2002, Uganda attained its highest primary school completion rate of 63 per cent, after which the numbers started falling.
“These falling completion rates pose serious development challenges and are likely to impede Uganda from attaining structural transformation,” reads the policy brief.
“The trends have concerning implications not only on the quality of Uganda’s current and future labour force but also on her competitiveness in the region.”
For instance, a comparison with Uganda’s neighbours Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda shows that since 2001, these EAC countries have been improving in primary school completion rates, while Uganda has been deteriorating.
The researchers say the factors responsible for the observed trends in completion rates in Uganda are not limited to insufficient funding, high levels of teacher absenteeism, but included lack of infrastructure like classrooms and textbooks, poor sanitation and inadequate inspection of schools.
Whereas UPE champions rightly argue that the scheme has opened education to thousands of children, research analysts found that the quality of the learners leaves a lot to be desired.
“If the current trends continue, the Ugandan labour force will primarily be composed of poorly and partly educated persons, and the effects of this are slowly starting to show within the education sector itself,” reads the EPRC policy brief.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
While there is agreement in the sector that there are so many leaks to be plugged, the researchers have their own advice to government.
“Firstly, from a human capital perspective, quality cannot continue to come second to quantity,” says the policy recommendations.
In a bid to improve completion rates, researchers say government should produce a number of policy interventions, some of which have indeed undermined the quality of education.
For example, in 2005 the education ministry is quoted as having compelled schools to promote pupils irrespective of their performance.
“[But] as we struggle to maintain attendance and strive to improve completion rates, it’s even more important that quality and attainment improve. Thus, this calls for a policy reversal to ensure that only pupils with a passing mark are promoted, and those who have not obtained the minimum requirements receive the necessary assistance to do so in the next year/term,” say the research analysts.
The EPRC analysts also call for increased and improved supervision and inspection of schools, which will go a long way in curbing teacher absenteeism, increased teacher and pupil interaction and thus, improving learning outcomes.