There is no doubt that the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 had a tremendous achievement of increasing school enrollment, but the actual quality of education and learning in many public schools remains wanting.
According to a 2016 Uwezo report, only three out of 10 pupils between Primary Three and Primary Seven could do the lessons designed for Primary Two children; a very worrying statistic!
In a bid to better the quality of education, in 2007, our government introduced a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement at secondary level with the introduction of Universal Secondary Education. However, 10 years later, the jury is still out there on whether this PPP has been effective. In fact, research available suggests that it hasn’t.
It is thus time for the Uganda government to closely review the results that have just emerged from Africa’s most innovative education PPP in Liberia.
Liberia has many challenges that Uganda can relate to such as a history of civil war, low literacy rates and many communities living in extreme poverty. However, in just one year, the Liberian PPP has produced startling results that Uganda could not realize in a decade of secondary education PPPs. What did Liberia do differently?
In Liberia, the government designed a pilot program called Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) where it partnered with the private sector to run public schools. The schools used teachers on the government payroll to teach the Liberian curriculum.
Their ministry of Education contributed $50 (Shs 175,000) per pupil to some partner schools, and the rest was raised through philanthropy and donor investment. This approach meant that government didn’t have to divert funds from other important programs into education.
The results have been amazing. Pupils in 95 Liberian primary schools have realized improvement in learning by 60 per cent in just one year. One of the partners that was used by the Liberian government was Bridge International Academies.
The evidence in their end-of-year report showed that pupils in Bridge-run public schools learn twice as fast as their peers in traditional public schools, receiving the equivalent of a full year of additional schooling.
Although Uganda has not yet explored the kind of innovative primary education PPP being operated in Liberia, it does have Bridge, which runs 63 schools and educates roughly 14,000 learners. The question is whether the ministry of Education and Sports and, indeed, the government should be considering a partnership such as Liberia’s.
Of course the education program designed by the Liberian ministry of Education planned to disrupt the the status quo in classrooms by 1) lengthening the school day; 2) reducing class sizes; 3) holding teachers accountable for attendance; and 4) tackling the issue of teacher literacy.
So, with the challenges of teacher absenteeism in our schools which stands at 53 per cent, and – according to the 2016 Uwezo report – with teachers who struggle to do the work of a Primary Six pupil; with poorly trained and unsupported teachers; and with lack of textbooks and learning materials in class, is it not time for Uganda to open up her primary schools to the private sector in a PPP arrangement?
The author is a Bridge International Academies publicist in Uganda.