The Ministry of Education’s budget for the financial year 2019/20 is estimated at Shs3.3 trillion three times up from Shs1.1 trillion since the First lady Janet Museveni took over the docket in 2016. Earlier this month, the ministry sounded their own trumpet praising the first lady for the achievements that they had reached since she took office.
Among them is infrastructure development which included the construction of 256 new classrooms in 45 districts across the country. According to the Ministry of Education policy statement, 23 new primary schools this financial year. For this, I join in in singing the chorus of praise for this improvement registered. Well as this is welcomed, it does not mean that learning happens inside the four walls. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests there is a learning crisis in many of the government schools, at its core, a teaching crisis. The most recent report by the World Bank speak of this crisis. “less than half of the pupils in primary six have acquired competencies in Numeracy and English literacy specified in the P6 curriculum. It is an easy win to build a few classrooms it is much harder to build an educated population.
For pupils to learn, they need good teachers and a system that monitors not only their presence in the classroom but also what they do in classrooms if we are to have learning gains. Unfortunately, the ministry of education has paid little attention to this despite knowing the challenges of teacher absenteeism and poor lesson delivery for decades. Teacher training and support is essential if we want good schools. Teaching is so important and yet many teachers are left in schools alone with learners, no help, no materials, no coaching. They stand at the front of the classroom struggling with the material they teach.
Attention now should be shifted to the quality of teachers that we have in the classrooms, their abilities to deliver lessons; the training and coaching they receive and establishing a “monitoring system” that will light red when they do not turn up in class. The ministry also needs to establish systems that will assess who is learning in the classroom and who is not especially in congested classrooms widely observed in several schools across the country. The ministry has little idea what is happening in remote classrooms or schools or who is present. This is were technology plays an important role. Uganda appreciates the advantages of technology so why not use it to improve our school system which is struggling? Once established, it can take the burden from school inspectors who have been challenged by financial support from the center for executing their work, it can make sure that data is consistent and it can help the ministry control and improve what is happening in the classroom.
Speaking of technology, it might be time now for the ministry do some bench marking on some of the institutions that have embraced technology in registering learning gains, which schools and institutions are delivering strong PLE results. Bridge Schools for example have a technology platform that could be easily adopted by government not only to deal with teacher absenteeism but also lesson delivery inside the classroom. Other Governments in Africa – like Nigeria – are using it and some are transforming their public education systems with it, why is Uganda not when Bridge has been here for many years. Why are others leapfrogging us?
While the ministry is trying to address the low salaries for teachers by raising it to Shs469,000 up from Shs280,000, constructing houses for them, and building few schools. They are missing the point. What use is a classroom if no learning happens. Why do parents want a textbook, if their children can not read it? There is a need to focus in Uganda – as the rest of the world is focusing – on whether children are learning; whether they can read, write and count and help Uganda grow as they become adults. The Ministry needs to establish a system that will ensure that it gets value for money from the millions of shillings spent on teachers and schools. This can only be evaluated by assessing the learning gains of the pupils inside them. New school buildings are always welcome, but without a system that means that learning happens within them, it is pointless.
Simon Kaggwa Njala
Journalist at NBS and Akaboozi