The Uganda we have lost: Quality education

The author will record his education experience from grade one to grade eight focusing on the principal factors – food security, motivated teachers and school inspection – that contributed to the high quality of education although school enrolment was low. Today in 2008 the reverse is true: there is high enrolment but low quality education. The omission or marginalization of the principal factors has contributed significantly to the deteriorating quality of education at primary and secondary levels – the focus of this article. Uganda needs a high quantity and high quality education system to survive in the 21st century and beyond especially as resource-based economies are being replaced by knowledge-based achievements.

The primary education – grades one through four – was done at Kashenyi in Ruhinda sub-county of Rukungiri district in south west Uganda.
Mothers who had received training in home economics including balanced diet, safe drinking water and general hygiene from the Mothers Union and the health department understood the importance of nutrition especially breakfast. We had a full meal including potatoes or bananas, beans or vegetables and almost without fail millet porridge. This gave us a very good start and we concentrated in class.

All pupils were required to take food for lunch and the teachers made sure this requirement was met. At lunch, we ate in groups, usually of five. As each pupil brought different foodstuffs, we shared and enjoyed a balanced diet. In fact good lunches encouraged us to go to school every day. Accordingly absenteeism was very low.

At that time selling foodstuffs was very rare so there was plenty of food. In addition, the authorities compelled households to store food. These two factors enabled families to have stable and adequate food supplies throughout the year. These arrangements have largely fallen by the wayside because of food commercialization.

We had wonderful, dedicated and highly motivated teachers who devoted all their time to teaching. They had their houses on campus and plots of land where they grew some food. They received their salaries on time and lived a reasonably comfortable life. During break and lunch time, they would go home and eat so they were energized which contributed to the high quality of teaching. They gave many tests and marked all the papers on time. They spent a lot of time helping those who were not doing very well. They wanted every pupil to pass and go on to the next grade. Those who did not were given a second chance and repeated. Teachers also encouraged the brighter pupils to assist those that were not so good. That way, a culture of helping vulnerable neighbors was established and nurtured. We also had priests who came to pray with us regularly and they talked about loving one another in good and in bad times.

There is no doubt that the enabling environment created for the teachers especially houses on campus contributed tremendously to the high quality of teaching. The importance of teachers’ houses close to the school should therefore not be underestimated.
At the end of the year, awards were presented to the most successful student in each class. This served two purposes: to encourage the good student to keep on working hard and stay on top of the class; and to encourage others to work even harder so they too receive the award next time if they came on top of the class. This arrangement created a competitive and high achievement spirit. Bright students from low income families were assisted so they continued with their schooling.

Then there was the high quality of school inspection. The inspections were never announced in advance. The intention was to keep the teachers on the alert. Inspectors would arrive unexpectedly and inspect everything on the school premises, watch us eat lunch, attend classes to see how the teachers were doing and observe student responses. Then they would talk to teachers individually and then together. They would disappear and reappear later for another round of unexpected inspection.

The author attended grades five through eight at Kinyasano secondary school under very dynamic, qualified and dedicated teachers. We received top class teaching. The principal factors of food security and school lunch, teachers’ houses on campus and rigorous inspection of schools applied here as well. Many of us got into senior secondary schools where competition was stiff.
Authorities at the local and central levels need to do more to restore this part of Uganda that we have lost. However, it was encouraging to learn that more teachers will be recruited, houses constructed on school premises and fellowships established for bright students who come from low income families. The government should be commended for these decisions. We look forward to seeing their implementation in the near future including, hopefully, school lunches which constitute a vital component of a successful education system.

Reports from many parts of Uganda have confirmed that school attendance and performance are seriously constrained by hunger. At a recent meeting (August 2008) of Banyakigezi in New York, it was confirmed that hunger is the number one factor constraining school attendance and good performance. This should not be Uganda’s problems given the vast amount of food the country produces.

There is indisputable evidence from developed and developing countries that school lunches keep students especially girls (in developing countries) at school and help them to attain high performance standards. Reports from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) show categorically that daily meals given at school motivate parents to send their children to school and encourage the students to remain there. WFP, other donors and parents contribute to the cost of food. Those parents who cannot afford to pay help to prepare the food or provide wood for cooking.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) – a vision and strategic framework adopted by African leaders in 2001 – refers to education as an important step in reviving prosperity in Africa. NEPAD, with the WFP and other partners, is linking school feeding programs directly with agricultural development so that schools buy food from local farmers. This arrangement reduces malnutrition and improves school enrollment, attendance and performance and at the same time provides farmers with an opportunity to sell their produce to participating schools in their communities thereby reducing transport costs.

By 2007, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia were participating in the first phase of the NEPAD initiative. Given the benefits to school children, job creation and incomes associated with school feeding programs, the Uganda government is urged to champion these worthy arrangements without delay.

In conclusion, there are important lessons from the above presentation that could be incorporated into the present system of education to improve enrollment, attendance and quality.