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Sector switches focus to lower levels of learning

After two days of deliberations, the education sector review closed last week, with renewed focus on learning at nursery, primary and secondary levels. As MOSES TALEMWA reports, participants vowed to do more to improve learning outcomes.

Education minister Janet Museveni last week challenged the sector to work smarter to improve learning outcomes across the board. In a terse tone, the minister said the education sector review would only be meaningful if the sector’s performance improved over the next 12 months.

“We should have more realistic targets for ourselves …I’m convinced that we have come up with relevant recommendations that should result in visible progress in the sector,” she said. “We need to improve the quality of learning and training at all levels.”

Pupils in a classroom, the ministry has resolved to improve learning outcomes at primary and secondary school level

Held under the theme, Quality and relevant education for social economic transformation: the role of key stakeholders, the sector review workshop heard various presentations on achievements made in 2016 and 2017, with many lauding efforts by the state and foreign donors to build or refurbish several primary secondary schools as well as support to colleges and public universities, over the last year.

The meeting was also treated to an audit by the ministry of Finance, whose responsibility it is, to monitor funds presented to the education sector.

FAIR PERFORMANCE  

The audit of the education sector centred on how funds had been absorbed, and whether there was general improvement in performance.

Presented by the ministry’s head of the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit, Charles Henry Nsubuga, the report rated the sector’s performance at 74.4 per cent.

“The performance of the education sector varied between institutions and programmes,” Nsubuga said. “The recurrent programmes performed better than the development projects as the latter were largely constrained by low releases and procurement delays, which led to low absorption across the sector.”

Nsubuga cited several construction projects in the sector, largely funded by the donor community, that he found to be progressing well, with some complete.

However, he was also concerned at low absorption of funds in the ministry budget, which led to only 77 per cent of the Shs 663.741bn allocated, being utilised.

“The ministry registered the lowest absorption rate in the entire sector,” he said. He cited incomplete procurement processes, low releases as well as delays in contractors starting projects as the reason for low absorption.

This was based on the ministerial budget allocation of Shs 2.4 trillion for the FY 2016/17, including external (donor) financing.  

BUILDING BONANZA

The ministry also had an opportunity to showcase what some are now calling a building bonanza across the sector. The construction efforts are happening at various primary schools in at least 10 districts, under the auspices of a consortium of donors, including the World Bank.

There was also work, under the Support to Higher Education Science and Technology (HEST) project, where construction was progressing at 86 per cent performance in Kyambogo, Makerere, Busitema, Gulu, Lira and Makerere University Business School, through African Development Bank (AfDB). The government was also supporting construction at Soroti University, due to be handed over next month.

Construction of several secondary schools, mostly in northern Uganda but also in Luweero, Mbarara and Kabale districts, was rated at 70.9 per cent. The construction ranged from putting whole school premises in northern Uganda, to refurbishing dormitories, science laboratories and classroom blocks in other parts of the country.

The AfDB and government also supported construction at various tertiary institutions including Uganda Technical Colleges of Kyema, Kichwamba, Lira and Bushenyi, as well as Uganda Petroleum Institute in Kigumba.

The report also found 86.6 per cent progress in construction at National High-Altitude Training Centre in Teryet in Kapchorwa. With a Shs52.2bn budget, construction had seen the surrounding roads completed as well as a 3km jogging track. This project is intended to improve the training of athletes for international competitions, in honour of a request made by Olympic gold medalist, Stephen Kiprotich.

Ironically, another stadium being refurbished in honour of another Olympic gold medalist John Akii-Bua in Lira, is rated as far behind schedule, with little work having been achieved, three years after the project started.

In his remarks, the permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, cited improvements in the number of teachers retrained, scholastic materials procured as well as enrolment at vocational tertiary institutions.

CHALLENGES

One of the major challenges listed at the workshop was poor learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools, on account of teacher and learner absenteeism.

Kakooza was also concerned about the higher staff turnover in private schools, which limits learning outcomes. He was also disturbed at low participation by the communities in the affairs of the schools.

“The public needs to be sensitized to expect improvements in the performance of schools in their communities, for the benefit of their children,” Kakooza said.

Minister Museveni was also disturbed at the poor hygiene at several schools that she had visited over the year.

“Sometimes I make impromptu visits to schools, where no one expects me and I’m confronted by the disturbing situation of filthy-looking teachers, pupils who have not been told about maintaining cleanliness and schools covered in bushes,” she said.

“It is at such times that I wonder what happened to our teachers. Some have argued that it is because of insufficient funds, but how much money do they need to maintain minimum standards of hygiene in their schools?”

RESOLUTIONS

On the final day of the sector review, participants resolved to improve learning through a number of recommendations.

The ministry resolved to re-emphasize inspections of schools across the board as a way of improving learning outcomes.

The ministry will also undertake to end unprofessional practices in early childhood development centres (ECD – or nursery) and lower primary schools, such as the provision of homework and tests (including those for admission to P1) by teachers.

The sector will also fast-track development and implementation of the ECD policy, which will lead to the creation of at least one classroom in each public primary school, to be used as a nursery section.

The sector will also move to improve the uptake of physical education in schools, as a measure of unveiling talent, as well as teaching healthy practices. There are also plans to fast-track the recruitment of teachers in primary and secondary school, previously in short supply.

But in her parting remarks, the minister called for caution in implementation of the sector’s plans.

“You may have noted that this sector has to compete for resources with other emerging priorities … cost-effective and efficient approaches, which generate high impacts, have to be designed and adopted if we are to provide the kind of quality education that our children and learners deserve,” she said.

The plans will be included in the coming sector budget, due to be discussed in parliament, early in 2018. The education sector had focused on tertiary education over the last two years

mtalemwa@observer.ug

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