When government introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997, the intention was to offer free primary school education for four children per family.
Enrolment in UPE schools grew from 3.1 million pupils to the current 8.6 million, according to the ministry of Education and Sports’ factsheet 2002-2016.
Under the programme, government introduced the capitation grant, which is seed money schools use to buy books, writing tools and chalk. The schools receive Shs 10,000 for each pupil, disbursed three times a year.
The Local Government Management and Service Delivery operational manual of 2009 spells out the minimum standards for schools. Among them is for one teacher to teach 53 pupils; 55 pupils to study in one classroom; one desk for three pupils and a latrine stance for 40 pupils.
Twenty years later, many schools are struggling to meet the set standards in the face of financial constraints and the high enrolment numbers.
Dokolo district in Lango sub-region has terribly fallen short, according to the June 30, 2016 auditor general’s report. Schools there have inadequate infrastructure, which don’t meet standards.
Out of the 60 UPE primary schools in the district, 17 don’t meet standards. They include Kachung, Hassa Memorial, Akwanga, Angwenya, Adeknino, Atabu, Apye, Agwata and Atur. Others are Alwitmac, Akolodong, Ageni, Apewotneki, Amunamun, Awiri, Dokolo and Angwecibange.
“Failure to meet the ministry minimum basic standards may affect the overall academic performance of the schools …I advised the accounting officer to engage the ministry of education and ensure that funds are provided,” wrote John Muwanga, the auditor general, in his report.
The Observer visited Dokolo primary school. At this school, whose enrolment stood at 1,012 pupils during the report’s preparation, the teacher-pupil ratio was 1:53; classroom-pupil ratio at 1:84. The school adhered to the desk-pupil ratio of 1:3 and the latrine stance-pupil ratio stood at 1:36 compared to the required 1:40.
Deputy head teacher Kizito Opio Agetta said things have deteriorated further since the AG’s findings were released. The pupil population has grown to 1,206. Compared to the upper primary classes, which have two streams (P3, P4, P5 and P7), the lower classes of P1, P2 and P6 were merged into one stream due to shortage of teachers.
The 15 teachers employed translate into one teacher for 80 pupils. The lower classes have one teacher each teaching large classes as indicated: P1 has 181 pupils while P2 has 152 pupils. The P6 class has 118 pupils, twice the recommended enrolment.
“We have few teachers in the school, prompting us to merge some of the classes. You will find that someone teaches both lower and upper level classes. If you look at the enrolment, you find that especially P3 to P7, the class is more than the expected ratio but our hands are tied,” Agetta explains.
This situation is no different at Angwecibange primary school, two kilometres away. In the AG’s report, the school also never met the minimum standards. With a population of 1,457 pupils, the teacher-pupil ratio stood at 1:69; classroom-pupil ratio at 1:121 and desk-pupil ratio at 1:8. The student population has since grown to 1,581.
The deputy head teacher, Charles Alal Ayo, has a chart in his office, detailing the current state of affairs. There are 23 teachers, averaging one teacher for 68 pupils. Each of the 12 classrooms averages 132 pupils.
This poor classroom-pupil ratio is one big challenge. Ayo cited the P5 class, which accommodates 318 pupils in two streams. When The Observer visited, the P4 and P5 classes were packed, in some cases six pupils shared one desk.
“If only we could divide the P5 class into three streams, it would reduce the numbers in each classroom. However, even if we do this, we would still not meet the required ratio of one teacher to 53 pupils,” he laments.
Luckily, in September this year, Child Fund, a child rights NGO, built a two-classroom block to help decongest classrooms. For both Dokolo and Angwecibange, the only standard the school meets is the 1:40 toilet stance per pupil ratio. While Dokolo’s stands at 1:36, Angwecibange’s stands at 1:36.
Dokolo District Education Officer David Eryatu says the government ban on teacher recruitment, which was lifted recently, affected efforts to bring in more staff.
Alfred Okino told The Observer that as an English teacher, teaching both lower and upper primary, he is overwhelmed. It gets worse during the assessment and examination period.
“Marking their work is very tedious. It is very hectic when the books are many; so, you end up failing to follow the syllabus…” Okino says.
Both schools have asked for an increase in capitation grant. In the 2017/18 budget, Dokolo received Shs 10 million for the three terms. This translates to Shs 6,633 per child for the year.
Angwecibange, on the other hand, received Shs 11.3 million, which is Shs 7,162 per pupil. Ayo and Agetta believe that more money could go to a special fund for hiring teachers and classroom construction.
Eryatu admits that funding has greatly reduced. Dokolo used to receive Shs 800 million each year to build infrastructure. He reveals that over half has been reallocated to livelihood programmes in sub-counties, yet over 5,000 pupils enroll in UPE schools annually.
“Now we get Shs 300m and it can just build two classroom blocks yet we have 60 schools in the whole district. We are doing only three drainable latrines in a year; so, it will take us 20 years to build a pit latrine in every school at the rate of three per year,” Eryatu says.
The district also needs 350 teachers. Rebecca Mwima, the acting deputy chief administrative officer, says the shortage of teachers reflects in the poor performance of pupils.
Consequently, the schools are planning a new initiative, recruiting parent-teachers. These are retired as teachers who will be paid between Shs 100,000 and Shs 120,000 through the parents and teachers associations (PTAs).
This feature was compiled with support from the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA)