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Uneb: why UPE is failing

Education minister Janet Museveni releasing the exams last week

Education minister Janet Museveni releasing the exams last week

At its launch 25 years ago, universal primary education (UPE) was the most important sales pitch of the ruling NRM.

They pitched UPE as a programme that would shore up the numbers of literate young people in the country. Convinced, President Museveni gave the much-needed nod to the creation of UPE in 1996, but a simple audit has found the programme is not following the script the initial framers wrote 25 years ago.

UPE, they said then, would allow children who could not afford fees in private schools to access free education. Since 1997, enrolment numbers have climbed from about 3.6 million pupils in 1996 to about 8.84 million learners in 2017.

However, as UPE clocks 25 years this year, the government is yet to improve its quality. While millions of students enroll in the program, statistics show that an increasing number of students do not complete the primary cycle.

About 832,654 candidates registered for PLE in 2022, compared to 749,761 in 2020. Of these, 583,768 (70.1%) were UPE beneficiaries, and 248,982 (29.9%) were private. The proportion of UPE candidates increased by 1.7 per cent.

Of the 832,654 registered candidates, only 811,810 sat for the examinations on November 8 and 9, 2022. About 20,844 (2.5%) were absentee candidates. The percentage of absent candidates had been declining steadily, but this time, increased by 0.8%.

UPE beneficiaries still constituted the highest number of absentees at 17,253 (2.96%) and only 3,687 (1.48%) from private schools. Speaking at the release of the PLE 2022 results at State House, Nakasero, last week, the Uneb executive director, Dan Odongo, shined a bright light on the disparity in performance between UPE and private schools.

“This has been observed in the past, and the reasons for this disparity in performance as indicated in the earlier studies by Uneb could include the fact that teachers in urban areas tend to spend more time on task, and the learners seem to spend more time in school,” Odongo said.

He added: “The teachers in private schools also tend to adopt teaching methods that emphasize preparation of candidates for test taking. There’s a higher level of involvement by urban parents in their children’s learning process, and urban areas generally have better access to facilities that supplement classroom teaching.”

The low performance in UPE schools comes on the heels of Museveni’s persistence to ban charges in government-founded schools, as it locks out many learners who cannot join private schools. Educationists have consistently argued that the presidential ban has led to the low involvement of parents in their children’s education, who would otherwise financially supplement the low capitation grants sent to UPE schools.

Recently, the education ministry partnered with the Norwegian embassy to study whether UPE schools should charge fees. The findings are yet to be released.

The government is still stuck with parents facilitating their children’s meals at school, providing uniforms, and providing scholastic materials but not charging fees to improve learning outcomes.

Uneb chairperson Prof. Mary Okwakol also asked the government to increase funding for UPE candidates. The number of candidates registered for the program has increased by 70,683 candidates, or 13.8%.However, Okwakol noted that the funding given to the board for the UPE candidates has remained static for the last five years. She said this negatively impacts the board’s ability to effectively deliver on its mandate.


Uneb statistics revealed that UPE candidates continue to lag behind their private counterparts even after 25 years. Out of the 566,515 UPE candidates who sat for PLE, only 37,578 (6.6%) and 275,865 (48.7%) passed with divisions one and two, respectively, compared to 77,039 (31.4%) and 196,551 (80.1%) in similar divisions for private candidates.

Some 397,270 passed with Division 3, while the vast majority of UPE candidates— approximately 478,690 (84.5%)— passed with Division 4.At least 87,825 (15.5%) were ungraded.

A candidate is deemed to have passed if he or she obtains divisional grades of one to four. Division U (Ungraded) is given to candidates who have not met the minimum level of performance required to receive at least a Division 4.

According to Odongo, such candidates should not be admitted to senior one but should repeat as they will not be eligible to register for the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations later. When asked if repeating would not necessitate increased revenue for the already financially strapped UPE schools, Janet Museveni, the first lady and minister of education, had this to say.

“We know the government facilitated this learner for seven years, but they have not done enough. We can’t say that you have not passed and tell you where to go. That’s a choice for the child’s family to make, but we encourage them to repeat or go for vocational training,” Museveni said.

She added: “There’s a tendency that everything must be done by the ministry of education when children don’t perform well. Education is shared by the government and families, not just the teachers, schools, ministry, and government.”

She also faulted parents for neglecting their role in educating children, thus leading to low grades.

“I know there are many gaps [in UPE]; we don’t have sufficient teachers, and sometimes the teachers are absent from schools, among other challenges, but there’s also a responsibility of the families that is not being met. These children are forever struggling on their own; they miss classes, stay home for half the school year, engage in income-generating activities during school hours, and many more. Families must play their roles such that they can expect children to do better in education or on any other level.”


Uneb reported “better quality performance” of candidates overall, with more candidates obtaining divisions one and two than in 2020. The released results did not include cancelled or incomplete results (where a candidate was absent for one paper but present for the other).

In 2022, there was a drastic improvement in the performance of the English language at the distinction and credit levels, while the overall pass level remained the same.

In social studies with religious education, performance declined at all levels, while science recorded an overall improvement. Mathematics also had better performance at the distinction and credit pass levels.

Overall, performance has been better at the credit and distinction levels compared to 2021. Over the years, Uneb has observed that girls continue to give boys a bloody nose in English, but the reverse is true for the other three subjects.

Commenting on the candidates’ work, Odongo said: “Examiners again reported good handwriting and organized work. The number of candidates scoring zero in various subjects has generally decreased compared to previous years. In mathematics, even those who scored zero showed mathematical language compared to the work presented previously.”

The examiners attributed the better performance to the fact that most questions were based on real-life situations to which candidates could easily relate.


Whereas Uneb has been used to releasing the number of schools and candidates whose results have been withheld, the board remained silent this year.

Odongo, instead, said scouts and examiners reported several cases of suspected external assistance rendered to candidates by third parties inside examination rooms and the smuggling of information relevant to the exams by some of the candidates.

“Security also arrested some distributors and teachers who cut open question paper envelopes to access papers in the districts of Mukono, Gomba, Mpigi, and the greater Masaka areas. More than 10 such suspects have been remanded to prison in Mpigi and Masaka, and others have been released on bail,” Odongo said.

All persons found guilty will be given sentences prescribed in the new UNEB Act of 2021. For malpractice, the Act now provides for five years’ imprisonment, up from six months under the 1983 Act.

The board has also identified the distribution of examination papers from storage stations to examination centers as the most vulnerable stage for malpractice. Okwakol said the board will require more robust engagements with district examination officials to maintain the quality of distributors being employed as well as seek more assistance from security agencies.

Meanwhile, the selection exercise for senior one is set for Thursday and Friday this week at the UMA exhibition hall in Lugogo while students will report for secondary education on February 20, 2023.



+3 #1 Akot 2023-02-01 13:46
When will Ugandans take back their land in UNITY, then form the kind of governance they want?

Why does Uganda formed by our tribal lands belong to migrant Museveni & will be his family legacy when he dies of old age?

Why is migrant Museveni chief tribal leader of Ugandans protected on all sides; the inhuman divisive tribalistic system, fake presidential, parliamentary, local elections?

Why is everything in place to ensure Ugandans are slaves of the migrant family!

How old will the son be by the time the dad dies of old age & leaves him to top post in the family business?
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+4 #2 Lysol 2023-02-01 20:21
Again, what do we expect when the education system is run by a semi-illiterate individual? Like everything in the country, there is corruption everywhere.
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