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Uganda teacher absenteeism is highest in world

To blame is the Ministry of Education, which is mandated to inspect schools, as well as ineffective School Management Committees.

The worryingly declining academic standards of Universal Primary Education are largely due to teacher absenteeism, a new report by the Dutch agency SNV says. The problem is so serious that teacher absenteeism in Uganda is ranked the highest in the world at 35%, with teachers guaranteed to miss at least two days of work each week.

The SNV findings come hot on the heels of another study commissioned by the Ministry of Education and carried out by the Makerere University Institute for Social Research. This earlier study considered the 12 poorest performing districts and found that teacher absenteeism was to blame for the pathetic performance.

According to a Senior Education Advisor at SNV, Mr. Kees De Graaf, the problem represents a major loss to the Treasury since 75% of monies invested in UPE, or $40million per annum, go into teacher salaries.
And the blame for this crisis is split between the ministry, which is mandated to inspect schools and monitor performance on one hand, and School Management Committees (SMCs) on the other.

The study by SNV shows that except in the Western Uganda district of Rukungiri, SMCs are ineffective. In addition, school inspections have fallen so much behind that the ministry has no idea what is happening in some schools. The findings came up during a seminar on how to improve the effectiveness of SMCs, organised by Makerere University’s Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) at the Imperial Royale Hotel recently.


The EPRC, World Vision Uganda, SNV and the Centre for Studies of African Economies based at the University of Oxford, are holding a study in four districts (Hoima, Iganga, Kiboga, and Apac) on how to make school management committees more effective. The quartet’s study also aims to establish the appropriate policy interventions that could improve management and accountability in Uganda’s public primary schools. 

It is based on the assumption that teachers and pupils need more motivation and that school management committees often perform poorly due to not knowing their actual roles, infrequent meetings, and uneven participation.

In this study and campaign, school management committees are required to use a school monitoring scorecard to measure progress. The scorecard works as an evaluation and monitoring tool where, parents, teachers, pupils, head-teachers and other members of the school record the performance of their schools, which is then communicated to the District Education Officer (DEO). 

According to Frederick Mugisha, a Senior Research Fellow with the Economic Policy Research Centre, “the intervention will serve as a tool for school inspection and help identify the most in need of supportive supervision.”

The policy, which is being supervised by the centre coordinating tutors from the Ministry of Education and Sports, if found successful, will be spread out to secondary schools and, then, to universities.
“With the advent of UPE, parents withdrew from these schools since they no-longer felt that they had a say in what happened there,” said Dr. Sarah Sewanyana, Executive Director of the EPRC.


Already in the four districts under review, differing opinions on the role of SMCs have been identified.
According to Kees De Graaf, parents in Hoima insisted that SMCs had been abolished with the advent of UPE. Elsewhere, none knew exactly how many members were supposed to be on the committees.

“To make matters worse, many committee members were illiterate or had no idea about the funding sent to schools or how it was spent,” De Graaf said.
The SNV official and his Makerere University counterparts felt that the best value intervention is not in putting up classrooms and other infrastructure, but in enhancing SMCs and teacher attendance. They explain that the lack of infrastructure is not the major impediment to good performance in UPE. 

The results are mirrored in a parallel study carried out by Kenya’s University of Nairobi which also established that parental control in schools was declining since the establishment of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 1997. In addition, over the last 10 years the well-to-do were shunning public schools due to declining academic standards, in preference for private schools whose enrollment has since tripled.

The study heard from parents who felt that with FPE, schools had been nationalised and as such they had no part to play in them. To resolve the problem, the Kenyan Ministry of Education is considering giving SMCs the power to hire and fire teachers, a move that has caused great controversy among teachers.
At present in Kenya, government teachers are paid KShs 90,000 per month (about UShs 2.3million), and even then there is a shortage of 44,000 teachers.

But under the new arrangement, the government is planning to recruit 80,000 teacher interns to help out. Problem is that the teacher interns will be paid KShs 4,000 per month (UShs 100,000) and will be under the direct supervision of the SMCs. A pilot study has already found that whereas the regular teachers miss about two days a month, teacher interns do not miss class at all, indicating that paying more does not necessarily motivate them to teach more regularly.


But other teaching professionals have suggested Uganda’s UPE could benefit from the ministry empowering the inspectorate to check up on schools and recommend punitive action for those teachers who fail to fulfill their duties.

Former Commissioner Inspectorate, Fagil Mandy, says some head teachers are unable to control their schools and ought to be relieved of their duties.
“Can you imagine in some schools head teachers don’t hold staff meetings because the teachers are away doing a second job outside the school?” he asked.

Mandy believes these head teachers are failing the schools that they run. During the EPRC seminar, a Ministry of Education official who declined to be named added that the ministry should take action where the inspectorate had previously recommended action against undisciplined head teachers. Those head teachers are still on duty, according to this official, because local politicians continue to interfere with school administration.

“If as a head teacher you are connected to a local politician you can’t be easily moved and that means the school is doomed,” he lamented.


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