Uganda’s education system is nearly at crossroads like it was on the eve of independence as the country commemorates 60 years of self-rule, several educationists and observers have revealed.
Prof Fred Masagazi Masaazi, the former principal of the college of education and external studies at Makerere university, says that although several milestones have been achieved, the sector is still wanting in terms of quality and relevancy.
At independence, the education system supported the elite, while the majority of the population from poor families, who could not afford to pay for their education, remained illiterate. At that time, the indigenous majority was emerging from the third-class citizenry behind Europeans and Indians. Prof Masaazi says the quality and relevancy of education at that time was largely to serve the interests of the white.
“At independence, we aspired for functional education. Uganda’s leaders believed that education would help the country flourish and lift its people out of ignorance, poverty, and disease. Here we are at the same point. We still aspire to set up a better education system that can produce quality outputs and spur development as envisaged by the forefathers,” he said.
In his book “history and development of education in Uganda’, Prof. John Cristome Ssekamwa, says that to standardize and ensure equitable access to education, the new government expanded its role in education institutions taking over schools belonging to the three main religious bodies namely the Anglican Church, Catholic Church, and Uganda Muslim Education Association (UMEA).
The government also devoted a whopping 28 percent of the national budget to education, which saw the sector rapidly gain momentum. For instance, secondary schools increased from a mere 28 at independence to 73 in 1970 while enrollment increased from 2,000 and closed the decade at 30,000 students in O’Level. Between 1962 and 1970, some 10,000 – 20,000 students moved on to higher education and employment.
To ensure more access to education, the 1992 Government White Paper on education recommended Universal Primary Education-UPE. On implementation, UPE, and the subsequent Universal Secondary Education, were seen as a game changer that was going to offer education to all learners regardless of their background.
Wilson Maido, a retired headteacher and Inspector of Schools, says that during the early decades the focus was primarily placed on the quantitative expansion of education, with more children—including girls—attending school and each spending an increased number of years there. Maido adds that while initially there was a sense of quality in the educational system, as time went on, it has been diminishing.
“We are reaching a stage where every child now has some access. The hard part is to ensure these children learn enough to finish school equipped with the skills, competencies, and capabilities to be successful adults. Simply putting more kids through school is no guarantee of improved learning. We need effective teaching and learning, and quality education. That is the big question as we celebrate 60 years,” says Maido.
Catholic Bishops under the Uganda Episcopal Conference have a similar view of the education system. In their letter marking the 60 years of self-rule, through their chairman, Bishop Antony Zziwa, the prelates noted that the current education system is far from promoting key things like self-reliance.
In one of his last papers during his time at Nkumba university, the late Prof William Senteza Kajubi argued that there was a need to focus on the quality of education other than ensuring that at least everyone gets basic education; knowing how to read, write and carry out basic and numeracy.
“Although necessary, there are no longer adequate tools with, which to prime the pump of economic and social development so as to enable Individuals and nations to compete even minimally, let alone effectively in the global information and knowledge-based economy,” Prof Kajubi’s paper reads in part.
To him, in the 21 century Knowing how to read, write and count, for example, without being able to access and process information through the computer is no longer regarded as functional literacy in the modern technological era.
Dr. Jane Egua-Okou, the Director for Higher Technical Vocational Education and Training in the Ministry of Education and Sports agrees, saying there was an emphasis on quantity in the first years but as the country moves on, there is a need to improve the quality of education.
“The quality we are talking about is the education we offer. This can be seen in the products we put out. Previously our curriculum has been designed with much focus on knowledge but now we are saying; what about the skills? We are at a point of redefining our education system with several policy reforms,” she said.
The director adds that; “the curricula are being worked on and people agree that this is the right direction. We also want a high-quality Technical and Vocational Education and Training-TVET sector to provide our people with the necessary skills. We are also conducting reforms in teacher education to ensure quality teachers. All these and much more are based on research and upon implementation, they will uplift our education system.”
In order to meet quality education, the education ministry has over the years been developing policies to guide the sector. However, critics say that although the laid-out policies are good, they have remained paper and ink.
For instance, Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga, the former Director of Basic and Secondary Education at the Ministry of Education, mentioned in a recent interview that the famed 1992 government white paper gave the nation a better blueprint. The white paper, in his opinion, was a “wonderful work of art,” and if it had been properly applied, it would have significantly improved the quality, but it was never given the chance.
But, the sixty years are coming at a time when the country has started a process ofoverhauling the entire education system as it looks to replace outdated policies to ensure quality. Some of the key changes being considered include reviewing policies on assessment, teaching, regulation of private schools, and placement of learners, among others.
Prof Masagazi Masaazi says that in addition to the country’s struggle to provide high-quality education, it also faces a significant threat from outside influence. According to Masaazi, the bulk of decisions are not made to advance education in Ugandans’ best interests but rather in westerners’.