Carved out of Kabarole district in November 2000, Kyenjojo district is struggling with provision of social services, just like many other new districts. Arguably, no sector has been more hit than education, as FRANK KISAKYE writes.
In 2012, 10 teachers of Kyenjojo Model primary school in Kyenjojo town council wrote to the district authorities indicating their desire to abandon the school over dilapidated classrooms.
They said they couldn’t teach in condemned buildings, because their lives and those of the pupils were at risk. The teachers only offered to return once the classrooms were renovated.
Five years later, hardly any renovations have been done at the school and teachers continue to abandon schools in Kyenjojo with similar structures.
According to Getrude Tibakanya, the Kyenjojo district education officer (DEO), she currently has only one primary school English and Mathematics teacher on her payroll respectively. Why?
Those highly-demanded teachers opt not to go to rural Kyenjojo but prefer the more 'urban' districts, she said.
“Which Mathematics or English teacher would want to come to this rural district of ours, where there is even no staff housing, yet those teachers are on high demand?”
Tibakanya said: “We use local manpower to bridge that gap” – meaning government schools “borrow” teachers from private schools or use ‘volunteers’ who are usually senior four dropouts or senior six students on vacation.
In the past years, learners of Mukunyu primary school could not sit for their end-of-term exams because there were no teachers to set and mark the exams.
According to Tibakanya, there are only 22 staff houses for the 128 Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools in the district accommodating 88 teachers. There are only nine Universal Secondary Education (USE) schools and six others that are in partnership with the USE programme.
Although the education sector received the biggest budget allocation (45 per cent) of the district’s Shs 23bn FY2017/18 budget, Tibakanya said this was way below expectations.
At least Shs 7bn was allocated to primary schools, Shs 940m to secondary schools and Shs 453m to tertiary institutions.
This can hardly enable the district to recruit more teachers and rehabilitate or construct new school structures. Of the 15,052 teachers required for the district schools, only 1,135 have been recruited, she said.
Because of bad roads and terrain, Tibakanya said her department could only supervise schools in the first and second terms. From October, when the rainy season starts, the roads are impassable.
“We depend on the political goodwill of the district. We have to borrow the district chairman’s vehicle or ask the politicians to monitor the schools on our behalf,” she said.
HIGH DROPOUT RATES
At an average of 100 learners dropping out of school per term, the high enrolment numbers in the district appear very deceptive.
According to 2017 reports of the district’s education department, there are 69,158 learners in the 128 government schools (34,711 boys and 34,447 girls). In the 174 private primary schools, enrolment is at 31,704 (15,545 boys and 16,159 girls).
Being a tea-growing district, some learners prefer working on plantations rather than continue with the entire education course. A quick look at the enrolment in secondary schools and tertiary institutions highlights the high dropout rates.
For instance, while the total enrolment in primary schools stands at 100,862 learners in both private and government schools, there are only 11,116 learners in secondary schools and 453 in the two tertiary institutions – Butiiti Primary Teachers’ College and Nyamango Technical Institute.
William Kaija, the district chairperson, says the high dropout rates are evidenced in upper classes of primary five and primary seven as well as senior two.
The dropout cases are mainly on the side of girls, due to teenage pregnancies. At least nine per cent of girls in the district aged 12 to 17 have ever given birth.
Up to around 2014, a cult group known as Healing Place of God of All Armies, was discouraging learners from attending school, calling it another form of colonisation by the West. The cult’s leader, Owobushobozi Desteo Bisaka, had a large following in Kyenjojo and Kibaale districts.
“Education is useless; turn to Bisaka for knowledge”, reads some of the leaflets handed over to learners.
According to some education officials, it was not uncommon to find many classes half-empty on the 2nd, 12th and 22nd – the worship days for the cult. It is not immediately clear how big a role this cult played in the school dropout rates in the district.
Some of the learners The Observer talked to blame the high dropout rates on the high poverty levels in the district. In fact, during a recent stakeholders workshop at the district headquarters, many learners said their parents could hardly afford to pay their school fees.
Instead, parents encouraged their children to work on tea plantations so they could pay for the fees themselves. In the end, the tea plantations soon gained priority over school given the quick monetary returns. But even for those who persist with school, they are usually too tired to concentrate in class after the hard manual labour.
Not even the bylaw passed recently where parents of learners who don’t attend school are arrested and fined Shs 30,000 or jailed for two months has managed to avert the situation.
“The age structure is narrow, meaning we have more children than adults. This creates a problem of more dependants,” said Tibakanya.
She, however, remains worried that the HIV/Aids scourge continues to exacerbate the situation where learners have to drop out to take care of their infected parents, or themselves.
Currently, the district education authorities are appealing for more funding to the sector or an offer of State House scholarships to at least 30 poor families annually.