National examinations body Uneb has expressed concern at a slight dip in the number of candidates registering for the final primary leaving exams.
The latest Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos)-funded National Household Survey 2016/17 provided some useful insights into why candidate numbers are dropping.
The survey found that the number of pupils enrolled under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) dropped from a peak of 11 million recorded in 2012/13 to 9.4 million learners in 2016.
Commenting on the survey, the Education Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza said this drop in net enrolment could be attributed to the improving fortunes of private schools, which are taking advantage of problems under the UPE programme.
He also said that in some districts, children were abandoning schools to do more rewarding menial jobs such as car washing and housekeeping. Kakooza said government is working on some by-laws to stop this.
The Ubos survey is an eye-opener and only confirms what has been known for a long time; there are many problems with the UPE programme, which need to be fixed.
By-laws cannot fix the slump in enrolment numbers because UPE problems run deeper. Government cannot simply legislate away UPE problems.
Draconian measures have been used before and failed. In the past, parents were threatened with arrests if their school-going children skipped school to do menial jobs but that didn’t work.
UPE problems are many. Apart from the glaring lack of teachers – qualified or not – and school structures, some problems have a lot to do with mindsets in some communities.
Already, nearly 14 per cent of parents interviewed out of 17,450 households surveyed countrywide said school was too expensive. At least six per cent of these said they preferred to keep their children working on their farms instead of going to school.
How can the ministry possibly legislate against such a problem? The world is becoming too competitive and government needs to make UPE schools competitive too, by establishing good working and studying environments.
To make UPE work, government should invest heavily in the sector.