A fortnight ago, the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) expressed concern at a slight dip in registration for final exams, especially at primary leaving exam level.
Now the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) has come up with similar concerns, as ALI TWAHA reports.
Until recently, every pupil in Kihiihi township, Kanungu district attended the government-supported Kihiihi primary school. Today, many of the fairly affluent parents are sending their children to the privately-founded Kihiihi Progressive primary school.
The dip in enrolment at Kihiihi primary school is not yet severe enough to cause concern, but it is in line with the findings of the latest Uganda National Household Survey 2016/17.
The survey found that the number of pupils enrolled under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme has significantly dropped in the last five years.
The survey, prepared by Ubos, shows that enrolment figures dropped from a peak of 11 million recorded in 2012/13 to 9.4 million learners. However, there has been no big difference between the number of males and females who enroll in UPE.
In 2012/13, more males (5.3 million) pupils were enrolled under the UPE programme compared to the females (5.1 million). This situation is also reflected in Uneb reports, where registration has reached gender parity.
In presenting the report, Ubos director of social economic surveys, James Muwonge, explained that there were several reasons for the drop in the UPE enrolment.
“We can’t rule out the improving fortunes of private schools. But net enrollment is decreasing, which is a worrying trend. But that is something our colleagues from the sector could explain better,” Muwonge said.
However, the education ministry’s permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, has found out what he feels are more compelling reasons affecting enrolment.
“In some of the districts, children are lured away from school by the need to support their family through menial jobs at car washing bays, sugarcane plantations and becoming housemaids,” Kakooza said recently. “We are working with the local government leaders to set up by-laws to stop [all] this.”
This latest Ubos survey collected information on socio-economic characteristics at both household and community levels. It was intended to collect high-quality data on the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of households for monitoring the country’s development performance key indicators in the various sectors.
At least 17,450 households countrywide were surveyed for the study. There are about seven million households in Uganda, with an average of seven persons.
The statistics compiled by Ubos indicate that in four every ten children aged six to 12 years (43 per cent) said they do not attend school because their parents consider them too young.
Some five out of every ten children said they do not attend school simply because their parents did not want them to. Muwonge added that some of the parents (nearly 14 per cent of those interviewed) responded that school was too expensive for them.
“At least six per cent of these said they preferred to have their children help them with cultivation on their farms instead of going to school.”
The report found that although they were not required to pay tuition fees under the UPE programme, some parents still could not afford scholastic materials for their children. This, the researchers concluded, could be the reason some parents keep their children at home.
The report also finds that 23 per cent of the children surveyed were not attending school at the time of the survey but had previously attended.
Ubos also cited poverty figures, which had increased during the period under review, with those rated as living under the poverty line said to have climbed from 6.5 million to 10 million as of 2016/17.
“This translates to a higher likelihood that more [children] are attending school on empty stomachs,” Muwonge offered. He added that many more were also traveling long distances to get to school.
For instance, across areas of northern Uganda, where the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan programme is still in effect, high poverty levels were reported in several communities.
The survey found that majority of people in these communities reported that there was a government school, “outside the LC-I but within a distance of more than 5km,” which made access to school difficult.
The Ubos researchers say the report only confirms that there are problems with the UPE programme, which need to be resolved, since its initial intentions were honourable. Kakooza says he acknowledges as much, indicating that private schools are taking advantage of the problems under the UPE programme.
“They have solved some of our teething problems such as teacher and learner absenteeism, and are working to improve their infrastructure … we need to do our bit to catch up,” he said, early last month.
This admission should add confidence to parents sending their pupils to Kihiihi Progressive primary school, as well as those who still frequent Kihiihi primary school.