Highlights of modern education in Uganda

There is consensus that the future of Uganda lies in education, yet very little is being done to fulfill the dream. Last week we talked about the negative impact of malnutrition on education. This time we are going to discuss the origin of modern education and how it has developed to the present.

Modern education was started by missionaries. Ugandans were provided with literary knowledge to be able to read the bible. In 1901, the Catholic chiefs in Buganda requested a revision in education to prepare children for a wider and changing world. Boarding schools were proposed. The first schools along these lines were started at Namilyango in 1901, Mengo High School in 1903, Gayaza High School in 1905, King’s College Budo in 1906 and Kisubi in 1906. They taught English grammar, reading, mathematics, geography, music and games. The majority of these schools were for sons and daughters of chiefs. Many children could not go to school because schools were not available or were expensive. Government financial support was very small.

However government provided schools for Asians, Goans and white children as well as Makerere to teach mechanics and carpentry and a few centers for training medical workers. Girls were initially educated so that sons of chiefs could have enlightened wives.

By mid-1920s the top schools were Budo of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), Namilyango of the Mill Hill Mission and Kisubi of the White Fathers Mission. These top schools were called colleges. They all aimed at producing morally, upright and honest Christian clerks, traders, interpreters and chiefs. The main focus was to produce educated Roman Catholics or Protestants rather than educated Ugandans.

The Phelps-Stokes Commission of 1924 recommended that government should increase grants to missionary schools. It also recommended that a department of education be established and supervision of schools be improved. It also recommended that the education system should be designed to meet community needs such as agriculture, health science and hygiene. The education of women was encouraged primarily with a view to enabling them to take good care of children. Although manual work was part of the syllabus, mission schools were largely literary in focus.

Unpopular practical education

Following the Phelps-Stokes recommendation agriculture and a technical school for training apprentices in various trades were included in the five-year education program. School gardens were introduced and farm schools established by government at Bukalasa, Serere and Masindi to spread better method of agriculture including to chiefs. School gardens were not popular with students because digging with a hand hoe is hard work and teachers punished them by making them dig. Parents did not like agriculture either because they expected their children to get high wage white-collar jobs after graduation.

Students that engaged in agriculture after school were treated as failures by parents, relatives and neighbors. This attitude led to pursuit of academic work from primary to secondary to university without preparing graduates for work who did not go beyond primary or secondary education.

Medium of instruction

Swahili was recommended as a medium of instruction because of inter-tribal and inter-territorial advantages. It ran into difficulties and was in the end rejected. First, a member of the Church Missionary Society at Namirembe feared that Swahili would increase Muslim influence. Education books had already been written in the Luganda language. As a compromise the headmaster of Budo suggested English which was adopted in the end.

Colonial government involvement in education

Governor Andrew Cohen believed that economic expansion would be impossible unless accompanied by social and political advancement. He appointed a committee under the chairmanship of de Bunsen to study the matter and make recommendations. One of the recommendations resulted in the launching of government secondary schools such as Ntare School, Teso College Aloet, Sir Samuel Baker and Kigezi College side by side with missionary schools.

Education since independence

In Uganda as elsewhere in Africa few children were enrolled in secondary schools in large part because in colonial days education was not a priority. It was feared that giving higher education without posts which were filled by whites would lead to political problems. After independence, African governments including Uganda accorded high priority to secondary education to meet development needs and replace departing colonial personnel. Uganda did well in the 1960s especially in the quality of graduates as reported by the World Bank in its 1993 report.

Since the 1970s education has been disadvantaged by political and policy changes. For example, the launching of structural adjustment in 1987 gave low priority to education with a focus on primary schooling and was starved of resources. Some schools were closed and others downgraded. School fees and other charges were introduced and many parents could not afford. Many children especially girls dropped out of school. Teachers deserted education for greener pastures and the number of non-trained instructors increased pushing quality down. The failure by the government to provide school lunches although agreed by NEPAD has forced many children out of school especially girls that get married at an early age and begin having children when they are not ready to take good care of them.

Under the NRM regime the number of schools at all levels has increased but these schools, for lack of qualified teachers, appropriate school buildings and instructional materials especially in remote rural areas, have produced graduates mostly of poor quality and functionally illiterate. The government has talked a lot about the need to modernize education and training particularly vocational schools as recommended in the 1992 White Paper but little has been implemented. As a result skilled jobs are going to foreign workers.

Well equipped and staffed private schools are catering for the children of the rich and some of them are being trained outside Uganda, leaving dilapidated schools or trees serving as schools, poorly trained teachers and inadequate supply of instructional materials the only educational choice for the majority of Uganda’s children.

At the start of his administration in 1986 Museveni promised the best education for all Uganda children. The education has so far favored the rich, males and urban areas. The quality of education especially UPE has got worse for many reasons like:

1. Budget allocation has not been adequate falling below 20 percent of national budget as recommended by the Education Policy Review Commission.

2. UPE was a political decision without proper planning. Enrolment rose without commensurate increase in teachers. Consequently teacher-student ratio has been high averaging over 100 students per teacher. There is a shortage of classrooms. In some schools two classes are taught in one room. In some cases trees are used as classrooms.

3. Parents are still charged a lot of money. The World Bank reported in 1998 that parents outside of Kampala City contributed above 65 percent of the total costs to keep a child in primary school.

4. Corruption has diverted funds. Further, block grants are used for unplanned activities such as public functions and visits by senior government officials. Diversion of funds affects money for salaries. Consequently teachers’ salaries are delayed forcing them to moonlight to make ends meet and to miss classes. Money disbursed by government to districts is siphoned off through over invoicing.

5. Efforts to check corruption through transparency and monitoring by civil societies still leave room for improvement.

Let us hope that the new minister of education will modernize the education system and make it flexible to address the changing demands of the globalized labor market. The opposition needs to keep an eye on developments in the education sector and if necessary propose an alternative.