THE Uganda Debt Network (UDN) recently released a damning report on the state of education in universal primary (UPE) and universal secondary education (USE) schools. However, all is not lost since the advent of UPE in 1997 and USE four years ago.
The UDN report followed a survey in selected schools in which parts of classrooms were found to have been converted into teachers' accommodation, pupils shared latrines with teachers, girls and boys shared latrines and pupils studied in highly congested classrooms without desks.
However, despite the seemingly gloomy picture, the implementation of UPE and USE policies by President Yoweri Museveni's Governments have been land-mark developments in Uganda's education history.
First, Uganda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce USE. One of the greatest achievements of UPE was the substantial increment in primary schools enrollment from around three million to over five million children in 1997 to todays over eight million.
With the introduction of USE, secondary schools enrollment also rose by over 100,000 to the current 790,000. The same programmes also saw education taking the lion share of the national budget, coming off the 7% in the 1990s to over 15% today.
The wealth bias that characterized access to primary education prior to the programmes have been eliminated. The 20% poorest households now have as high enrollment as the 20% richest households; with the 84% to 85% respective access to primary education, according to a 2004 World Bank study.
Large quantities of learning materials have been supplied in schools and reduced the pupil – textbook ratio. In 1993, there were 37 pupils per book, compared to today's 3:1 for P3 and P4, for core subjects. Millions of three-seater desks have been supplied to pupils and over 5,000 pieces of furniture for school offices.
A massive investment of billions of shillings has been done to achieve this. But save for all this; pressure is mounting on the infrastructure and human resource, due to increasingly high enrolment every other year Challenges still about
However, despite the above achievements, challenges still abound. The UDN report corroborates the Education Standards Agency report and the 2012 USE headcount report calling for massive investment to improve the physical infrastructure as well as academic standards in the public primary and secondary sectors, lest the country loses all its gains.
The minimum standards stipulate that a class should not comprise more than 60 pupils, a desk should be for only three pupils, every latrine should be for 40 pupils, and that there should be at least 4 teachers' houses per school.
However, all schools that were surveyed by UDN were found with a classroom to pupil ratios above 60 with some classes housing triple the expected number.
"Due to lack of enough space, some primary schools were found to have portioned classes to accommodate teachers who come from distant places or for other office work; hence forcing children to squeeze in the remaining small space," reads the report. Similarly in the latest headcount report, it was revealed that up to 34% of USE schools were overcrowded and needed urgent decongestion.
The UDN report also showed acute shortage of furniture with most pupils sitting on the floor especially in Northern Uganda. Ariet primary school in Kapujan sub-county in Teso was found with a total of 777 pupils but with only 10 desks in use and 140 piled