Education in Uganda
Uganda is a young country, where more than half the population is under the age of 16. This creates a huge challenge to the education sector especially as the population is scattered throughout the country with many people living in rural and remote areas. Provision of schools is patchy and young children often walk several miles each day. Access to secondary education can be even more challenging and boarding away from their families is often the only way that some students can attend school.
Since 1997 the government of Uganda has had a stated policy of universal primary education. The intention is that all children should have access to a free school place; however, in practice this has proved to be too challenging. In part, because of this policy, demand outstrips supply and there are not enough places to go round. Poor infrastructure and lack of trained teachers have resulted in low quality education, not helped by class sizes of 50 or more. Furthermore, many children are kept at home because parents cannot afford school uniform and basic materials like exercise books and pencils. It has been estimated that less than one third of pupils complete the seven years of primary education.
In response to the inadequacy of government schools, an increasing number of private and community schools are being set up. These are fee-paying schools, often supported by voluntary agencies, where local leaders play a prominent role in the school management.
In 2007, Uganda became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce universal secondary education. Under the scheme, students who perform well at primary level are entitled to a free place in a public school or a grant towards fees at a private school. Parents have to provide the students' uniform, stationery and meals.
Since the introduction of the scheme numbers enrolling at secondary level have increased as have the number of O-level candidates. Nevertheless, as with the primary sector, there are difficulties. Because of inadequate infrastructure – schools, classrooms, laboratories, libraries – the system is struggling to cope. Inadequate teaching space and materials, a shortage of teachers, and inadequate and late disbursement of government funds have led to a decline in standards.
Observers comment that the most pressing concern is not just academic. Secondary education is too focused on passing exams at the expense of crucial life and social skills, things like respect for work and discipline. This criticism also extends to the lack of opportunities for vocational education.