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Educational System—overview

Compulsory Education: In January 1997 Uganda launched its Universal Primary Education Program, which provides free primary school education for up to four children from each Ugandan family. While not compulsory, the goal is to enroll and ultimately provide a primary education for every Ugandan child. As a result of this program, primary school enrollment doubled in a period of two years to 5.4 million enrolled children in primary schools (Xinhua News Agency 2001).

Age Limits: Few urban children attend preprimary schools, but most Ugandan children begin their education at age six and most finish elementary school by age 13. As of the early 2000s, over 80 percent of primary school age children were enrolled in school. Normally, primary school extends from Grade I to Grade VII in Uganda. Better primary schools, whether public or private, tend to be attended by elite children from privileged backgrounds. Educated or influential parents use their knowledge and connections to enroll their children in the best schools, enhancing their children's advantages for future success. Museveni's government builds an additional 15,000 primary school classrooms each year to accommodate additional students. Surging enrollment have increased student to teacher ratios and diluted the quality of primary education.

Enrollment: Of primary school graduates, less than 25 percent go on to enroll in secondary school. They spend their first four years completing "O" level (ordinary school) courses or technical school courses. In 1979 there were 66,730 students enrolled in secondary schools; 320 students in vocational schools; and approximately 14,000 students enrolled in technical schools, technical institutes, teacher training institutes, and commercial colleges.

Immediately after Museveni came to power in 1985, he restored peace and began national reconstruction. Between 1985 and 1989 the number of secondary schools increased fourfold and enrollment increased 227 percent. By 1995, continued impressive secondary school enrollment growth increased this number to 292,321 students (UNESCO 2000). Remarkably, the teaching force grew by 260 percent during this period and the official teacher-student ratio decreased modestly from 23:1 to 21:1, but in rural areas the teacher-student ratio was higher, at 28:1. Museveni's government is making great strides toward reducing teacher-student ratios and improving the quality of education. Roughly 20 percent of "O" level grades advance to "A" levels, or two years of advanced level studies, more or less like junior college. No enrollment figures were available for this level.

Public and private primary schools compete for good students with few behavioral problems and excellent reading and math scores. In 1979 Uganda had 4,294 primary schools, and they enrolled 1.2 million students. By 1990 there were 2.5 million primary school students enrolled and this number climbed to 2.8 million students by 1994. Moreover, by 1995, enrollment figures reached 2.9 million (UNESCO 2000). As stated previously, this number doubled in a mere two years when President Museveni stressed the need for universal primary education, reaching 5.4 million students by 1999. Such growth is phenomenal. UNESCO figures for university level education suggest that Makerere University, the Islamic University, and Mbarara University of Science and Technology together enrolled 17,578 students in 1990. By 1995 this number had risen to 34,773 (UNESCO 2000).

Female Enrollment: Ugandan females are classified as a "disadvantaged" group, along with orphans, migrants, poor students, and the disabled (Fleuret 1992). Drop out rates for girls are high and increase as they reach higher levels. Girls' persistence in primary school is less than boys. Girls are 46 percent of first grade classes but only 39 percent of secondary school classes (Fleuret 1992). This percentage reflects higher representation than in the past. Makerere University has a deliberate policy of giving 1.5 points to each female applicant who qualifies for entrance to increase their competitiveness in the entry process. This policy has raised the number of women on campus. Ugandan communities often think that boys will make more significant economic contributions in the future, thus need more training. Some ethnic groups believe that a "girl's place is in the home" and her primary goal in life must be marrying and raising a family not seeking a career. Girls often marry and start families early in life, which limits access to education, especially in rural Uganda. Cultural attitudes about girl's roles are strong and resist rapid change. Many ethnic groups do not favor educating girls because they feel that they will just marry outside of the group and the value of their education will not benefit their family. There are signs of change however, including the fact that as average levels of bride-wealth paid for educated wives rises, parents put higher values on educating girls. Also, some Ugandans are beginning to believe that if a daughter has a steady income, she will care for aged parents, while boys might spend their money on their wives. These new cultural beliefs work to the advantage of girls.

President Yoweri Museveni also plays a role in the increase in female enrollment since he favors sex equity in education. Many female soldiers fought with him when liberating Uganda from Idi Amin's dictatorial control. Museveni, therefore, probably feels obligated to be fair to women.

Minority Education: East Indians, known as "Asians" in Uganda, built their own schools for Indian and Pakistani children. The Agha Khan, for example, built excellent schools for the Islamic sect known as Ismaliis. Sunni and Shite Muslims also built schools, and there were Hindu temple schools. Europeans also built special high-quality, expensive international schools for their children. In 1971 Idi Amin expelled "Asians" from Uganda, but the closure of their schools had little impact on Uganda's educational system since very few Africans attended these schools. The European and Asian populations were less than 1 percent of Uganda's population, even though they were the wealthiest element and exercised influence over Uganda's economy. A few Europeans and Asians stayed on throughout Amin's xenophobic years.

Museveni has invited Asians and Europeans to return, claim their property, rebuild their schools, and help the economy prosper. Asians and Europeans continue to be privileged populations with higher than average standards of living and excellent schools for their children. British teachers are a common sight in the European schools.

Academic Year: Throughout all three East African countries (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania), the school year begins in January and ends in December. Climate and tradition have established this pattern (Seers 1979).

Language of Instruction: It has long been customary to use English as the language of instruction throughout Uganda, beginning in the first grade and continuing throughout the entire educational system. Shortages of qualified English teachers, however, means that sometimes English language instruction cannot begin until fourth grade or later.

Swahili is the language of the military and police, thus, it is used in some training academies, but, due to its association with slavery, it has a negative association with oppression and mistreatment in the minds of many Ugandans (Mazrui 1975). This is a cultural and linguistic bias which reinforces Ugandans preference for English.

In the south central region of Uganda, Luganda is often the medium of instruction. The Baganda still take great pride in their language and culture, but other tribes view it as a language of a hegemonic, imperialistic people and avoid learning it for political reasons. In various regions of Uganda, the selective use of the following languages is common in the first four years of primary school: Karimojong, Teso, Lugbara, Luo, Runyankole, and Runyoro. In all cases, English remains the official language of Uganda's schools.

Examinations: As in England, national examinations determine advancement from one educational level to the next. The Uganda National Examinations Council (UNEB) assumes the role of an examining board. The first examination, the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE), is administered at the end of primary education. Only students who have relatively high passing scores are admitted into "O" level secondary schools. In 1981, over 150,000 students took the PLE and 30,000 passed, yet a mere 25,000 matriculated in secondary schools the following academic year.

At the end of their four year "O" or ordinary level education, students take a certification examination. This is known as the Uganda Certificate of Education. Results of this examination are used by schools to admit students to "A" level institutions, government training institutes, technical colleges, and grade three teacher-training colleges. Those with "high pass" are assured places in "A" or advanced level schools. Upon successful completion of two years of "A" level education, students attempt the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education. Those with "high pass" are the lucky few who are admitted to universities and other postsecondary institutions for additional education or training for professions and careers (Evans 1991). Thus, selection of students for universities, national teachers colleges, technical colleges, and government employment agencies is determined by the Uganda Advanced Certificate examination.

Uganda's educational system is a pyramid with a broad base but very narrow funnel that admits only a few to its top levels. Within each level of this pyramid students take class tests and the results of these internal tests decide who gets promoted to the next class. Pressure and competition cause many students to drop out.

Grading System: In general, students study subjects all year in preparation for one major end of the year examination. Such examinations are usually in essay format.

Religious Schools: Christian Missionaries traditionally used the lure of free education and hospital care to attract converts. The Anglican Church of Uganda operates over 969 primary schools, the Roman Catholic Church runs more than 1,146 primary schools, and there are approximately 200 Muslim schools. The Ismali community operates several Aga Khan schools, and there are also Hindu schools. The Islamic University, three Roman Catholic seminaries, the Bishop Tucker Theological College (Anglican), Bugema Seventh Day Adventist College, and the Anglican College of Tertiary Studies illustrate the range of institutions of higher education that are faith-based. These schools promote moral and ethical values, as well as patriotism, self-reliance, and reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Instructional Technology (Computers): The internet and computer technology are making their way into Uganda. There are more than 6,000 privately owed computers and the numbers are growing rapidly. Makerere University and other institutions of higher education have computer programming and engineering divisions. This technology will eventually find its way into primary and secondary schools alongside slide projectors, overhead projectors, 16-millimeter film projectors, and other technology now becoming common in schools.

Curriculum Development: Textbook and course syllabi development have been the responsibility of the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC) since it was founded in 1973. Mainly charged with primary school curriculum development, the center also serves secondary schools and universities. The textbook mandate calls for development of books that acquaint students with Uganda, Africa, the world, and themselves. In the past they learned a lot about England and little or nothing about their own country.

Foreign Influences on the Educational System: England has had a profound influence upon education in Uganda and all major examinations were at one time written at Cambridge University and graded by external examiners in England. This was true for Kenya and Tanzania also until independence when they, along with Uganda, began developing mechanisms for internally certifying students. The structure of the system and philosophy of education are still essentially English. As a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, Uganda still receives many teachers annually to man its classrooms from within the Commonwealth and still follows the English model.

Uganda receives external aid from the United States, Great Britain, Denmark, and Norway. The U.S. aid includes donations from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for Education. Educational assistance is used to help build additional schools, maintain existing schools, and fund educational research.

Role of Education in Development: Government provides the bulk of educational resources and funding. Poor performance of the economy due to internal conflict for decades adversely affected financing of education. Despite quantitative expansion of the system, severe constraints limit quality. Recurrent expenditure on teacher salaries is a major issue and early development budgets in the 1960s devoted 25 percent of the national budget to education. By the 1970s, Idi Amin was in power. Amin never went further than grade three of primary school. He did not place importance on education and consequently education dropped to 10 percent of Uganda's budget. During the turmoil of the 1980s, education's share of the national budget dropped by a ratio of 2:1. This was a gloomy time for educators in Uganda until Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1985. Museveni holds a degree in economics from Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania and he appears to value education for national development. By 1992 recurrent expenses for education jumped up to 18 percent of Uganda's national budget and continue to climb.

The effect of years of war on Uganda's economy are devastating. Despite this, Museveni grew the economy by 7 percent per year. An expanding economic base has permitted Uganda to devote 23 percent of its budget to education or more than double the amount Amin devoted. Uganda plans to increase funding further to improve teacher salaries and classroom expansion to accommodate the push for expanded enrollment of students at all levels. For Museveni, an educated population is the master key which will unlock Uganda's potential for modernizing its economy and achieving rapid economic and social development.

Parents pitch in by raising money to supplement low teacher salaries and to fund many school operating expenses that government can not afford. Economically disadvantaged regions lag behind wealthy urban districts and this widens the inequality gap. Through cost-sharing and the expansion of private education through fees, Uganda's elite try to insure that their children will be prepared for leadership roles regardless of war, famine, earthquakes, or economic downturn.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceUganda - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education