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Budget silent on 2021 NRM manifesto free education pledge

The ministry says its prioprity is now AFCON preparations

The ministry says its prioprity is now AFCON preparations

Parents and students hoping for a reprieve from the ever-skyrocketing school fees in public and government-aided schools will have to wait a little longer.

The government in the past promised to increase funding to the education sector so that it gradually offers free education. However, this funding increase was not reflected in the 2024/25 budget presented by Finance minister Matia Kasaija last week on Thursday. According to reports, an allocation of Shs 1.48 trillion had been proposed towards the free education ambition.

It was anticipated that some funds would be allocated beginning with FY 2024/25 through to FY 2027/28. The government promised to allocate Shs 309.16 billion for FY 2024/25, which was expected to roll out free primary education. The promised funds were intended to tackle various challenges within Universal Primary Education (UPE).

Had the funds been allocated, the ministry of Education aimed to address several key issues, including the critical teacher shortage. The ministry planned to recruit 78,888 teachers to achieve the 40:1 student-teacher ratio, particularly in understaffed schools that frequently hire part-time teachers, which leads to additional fees for parents. 

There were also plans to construct new classrooms, rehabilitate those in poor condition, provide more instructional materials, and potentially increase capitation grants, among other initiatives. Many parents, like Moses Ssekindi from Wakiso district, were hopeful for relief. However, the government's ongoing budget process delayed the implementation. 

"This has been a recurring promise whenever free education is demanded," Ssekindi said. "Hopefully, it will be included next term or even next year."

Ssekindi's wish is put on hold as the promised funds are absent from the recently passed budget. This broken promise adds to a long list of pledges made by the president towards free and accessible education. The elimination of all school fees in public schools was a cornerstone of the ruling National Resistance Movement's (NRM) party's 2021-2026 manifesto.

While universal primary and secondary education currently exist in Uganda, some children are still denied access due to additional charges for uniforms, lunches, and PTA contributions. Achieving true free education would eliminate these barriers and ensure every child has the opportunity to attend school.

According to the Uganda National Survey Report 2019/2020, a significant portion, 62.3 per cent of school dropouts are attributed to the affordability of education costs. It is suggested that increased financing for Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) could alleviate the financial burden on parents and guardians, consequently reduce school dropouts.

As per Kasaija's budget speech, the government has earmarked approximately Shs 2.497 trillion for the education sector. The funds are directed towards five key priority areas, which include supporting the implementation of the new lower secondary curriculum, the operationalization of 110 seed secondary schools, and the completion of 27 others under the UGIFT program.

The budget provided funds for the construction of 60 new secondary schools and the expansion of 61 existing secondary schools under the Uganda Secondary Education Expansion Project. Kasaija also provided funds toward loans to 5,192 degree and 1,125 diploma students who are on the government-funded loan scheme, both continuing students and new beneficiaries.

The minister said the government will take over Bunyoro and Busoga universities for inclusive and equitable access to university education. With Busoga and Bunyoro on board, the number of public universities will increase to fourteen. The state minister for Primary Education, Dr Joyce Kaduccu told URN that the budget missed funds for completely free education because there were other equally pressing priorities, she said her ministry could ask for a supplementary budget to bridge the gap.  

“[Ministry of] Finance has requested us to defer this money to one more year, but nevertheless, we are going to request for a supplementary budget along the way, because this is already a pledge to the people of Uganda and we are very hopeful this is going to be a game changer, especially to this huge population of children in primary level,” said Kaduccu. 

Kaduccu explained that the allocation of funds was influenced by the need to implement the lower secondary curriculum and the preparations for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

"The pillar of the NRM government is that they take one priority at a time and we take it and complete it properly...we have to make sure all the resources are put in and implemented efficiently and effectively with the lower secondary curriculum. The next priority surfaced and we need to complete the journey we have started, you know the construction of the seed schools. Now, because of us putting in more resources in completing these seed schools to some extent one priority has to be deferred. Now lastly, recall the issue of AFCON, AFCON is just at the door. We needed to put more resources especially construction of the Hoima stadium," said Kaduccu.

Angella Kasule Nabwowe, executive director of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), analyzing the budget, highlighted that several areas within the education sector remain either unfunded or underfunded. Nabwowe explained that although the ministry aimed at providing financial assistance to 100 secondary schools and 100 primary schools with Shs 30.2 billion and Shs 6.4 billion respectively, the allocated funding is inadequate.

"40 per cent of the primary schools implementing universal primary education are in a very bad shape but when you look at what is required which is Shs 30 billion, if we could just get 26 per cent of the money that has been allocated for travel abroad we would be able to sort out some of the things we have been struggling with improving access to quality education. And when you look at sectors like education, there are a number of studies and there is a lot of evidence that shows the social and economic benefits of education but we're not paying attention to that. When you look at our neighbours, Kenya and Tanzania they are putting over 18 per cent of their budget into education because they have realised what a game changer," said Nabwowe. 

The ministry of Education planned to allocate Shs 100 billion for the rehabilitation of 200 primary schools but no funds were allocated in the 2024/25 budget. Despite Uganda's commendable strides in education aligned with national policy, there remains a persistent concern regarding the disproportionately low share of the national budget allocated to the education sub-program. This concern is exacerbated by the continual growth in the population of learners each year.

Comments

0 #1 Akot 2024-06-17 12:52
+38 years on & Ugandans are still powerless tribally divided & look up to 79 years old Museveni for public/social services & ensuring his lifetime rule with fake elections, fake peace!

Even Museveni's son will be 70 years old by the time he replaces the dad!

How many Ugandans of Museveni's age still live & how?
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0 #2 Kakande 2024-06-17 18:44
so hosting a sports tournament is more important than education..

If in 30 years the NRM hasn't done certain things, you can be sure these things will not be done even if you gave them 20 more years.

Maybe MK will succeed where YKM failed.. but simple logic suggests that's wishful thinking. The sooner Ugandans wake up and realise they're getting a raw deal, the better for them
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0 #3 kabayekka 2024-06-18 10:17
"The pillar of the NRM government is that they take one priority at a time and we take it and complete it properly..." Well such political talk resonate well with the lies of African leadership.

One believes running a government is like running the living body of a human being. Where all the organs must run as they should. That is why one hears in medical terms some organ failure causing real death.

Education during the colonial days was not free and the tax payer was in some ways paying for some lucky poor students. Many of these current VIP people did manage to get it for free in education bursaries or grants. And jobs were there after qualifications.

This debt ridden government is now telling lies to the economic suffering parents that their children will have a free education in the near future, instead of telling them the real truth that it is the highly taxed tax payer who must pay for the education of the next generation of this country.
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