Parent walking children to school.

Half of Ugandan parents (46 per cent) do not speak to anyone about problems they identify at their children’s schools. If parents do report problems they see, they tend to speak to proximate school leaders rather than people in government.

Parents mention head teachers (26 per cent), School Management Committees (17 per cent) and teachers (10 per cent).

Further, 8 out of 10 parents do not do anything about the problems in the education sector beyond reporting them. Previous Sauti za Wananchi findings have shown that citizens claim they are more likely to take action in education than other sectors.

When parents do report an issue, they are met with limited response. Around 1 out of 10 say the problem was solved completely (7 per cent), three out of 10 say it was partially solved (32 per cent) and the rest, six out of ten, say the problem was not solved at all (61 per cent).

The findings were released by Twaweza on Thursday in a research brief titled, ‘Preparing the Next Generation: Ugandans’ opinions and experiences on education’. The brief is based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, Africa’s first nationally representative high-frequency mobile phone survey. The findings are based on data collected from 1,878 respondents across Uganda in September and October 2018.

Main problem facing children’s school

When asked to name the main problem facing their child or children’s school, however, more parents name school contributions than any other issue for both primary (14 per cent) and secondary (23 per cent) schools. The second most reported issue is distance (12 per cent both for primary and secondary schools). Parents report paying for tuition / extra classes (68 per cent), food items (60 per cent), school books / materials (58 per cent) and construction (57 per cent).

Citizens’ engagement with schools

Nonetheless, citizens are engaging with schools. One out of three have asked for financial information from their local school (34 per cent), although men are more likely than women (38 per cent vs. 30 per cent) and rural residents are more likely than urban citizens (36 per cent vs. 30 per cent) to do so. In more than half of such cases, citizens were able to find some financial information on display.

Awareness of capitation grant

On school finances, however, half of citizens (57 per cent) are familiar with the capitation grant (41 per cent aware, 16 percent aware after probing). And even more citizens cannot name any item that the Capitation Grant is used for (59 per cent) while only 2 per cent say they know the amount of the grant. Among these the responses range from Shs300 to Shs3 million per pupil. The Capitation Grant may help to reduce some of the burden of contributions on parents.

Whether citizens are fulfilling responsibilities in school governance

The findings show that citizens are also fulfilling their responsibilities in school governance: 1 out of 10 report being members of school committees (10 percent) and almost all of the citizens claim to be active participants.

Knowledge on who should be on school management committees

The research established that parents have some knowledge about how school committees function, who is supposed to be a member and the type of issues committees are supposed to work on, ideally and in practice.

Half of citizens have seen a teacher out of school during school hours (47 per cent). Half of them (24 per cent) report having approached the absent teacher to raise the issue. “The most popular reason given for not approaching the teacher was the fear of negative repercussions (42 per cent of those who did not speak to the teacher directly mentioned this). Parents do see teacher attendance as the primary responsibility of the school or head teacher (63 per cent),” says the report.

School values and learning of pregnant girls

When it comes to school values, citizens hold emphatic views. Almost all citizens (94 per cent) want girls who get pregnant to continue with their education whether after giving birth (74 per cent), during pregnancy (13 per cent), or in another school (7 per cent). And this appears to be a far-reaching problem: four out of ten citizens (35 per cent) know of a family member who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Among these, half are now housewives (51 per cent), 14 per cent are unemployed and 12 per cent are back in school.

Citizens’ views on boys who impregnate girls

When it comes to the male students who impregnate school girls however, citizens are tougher: half want them to continue in their school while the remainder want them to be punished either by transferring to another school (30 percent), being expelled (16 percent) or being arrested / imprisoned (6 percent).

Citizens’ views on schools that cheat exams

Citizens are similarly tough on schools found to be cheating in national exams. Citizens think these schools should be closed down (37 per cent), those involved should be punished (20 per cent), or arrested (11 per cent) or schools should have their results cancelled and be required to repeat exams (11 per cent).

Citizens’ views on schools that perform poorly

When it comes to schools that perform poorly, one out of ten (14 per cent) think this should be an offense punishable by closure but many more think teachers or head teachers should be transferred (31 per cent).

“This may be because the majority of citizens cite high exam pass rates (80 per cent) as the most important factor informing their school choice. The second most popular quality, and the only other one named by more than half of citizens, is motivated teachers (69 per cent),” says the report on the research findings.

Marie Nanyanzi of Sauti za Wananchi at Twaweza at the release of the findings in Kampala said: “Despite many saying they don’t report problems they see at schools, Ugandans are engaged in the education sector. However, these findings throw up three important challenges. First is the issue of contributions at school and relatedly the Capitation Grant.”

Ms. Nanyanzi said there is no clear information on the amount of this grant and what it should be used for, or for how contributions are supposed to be collected and managed. This can lead to confusion, mismanagement and can undermine the free primary education policy.

“Citizens seem more willing to approach local school leadership, who are close to citizens’ lives rather than with responsibility for how the system works overall. Head teachers and teachers are named across the board as responsible for financial management, teacher attendance and challenges faced by parents,” she said.

She said that when parents find that the problems they report are not or are partially resolved, it discourages them. “When most parents who report problems find these are not or only partially resolved, this may discourage anyone who wants to report in the future,” she said, calling on the government to invest more into explaining the Capitation Grant and its uses, and into complaint reporting and handling procedures.