Members of Parliament on the Education Committee recently demonstrated a rare commendable show of nationalism. They put politics aside to address the dire state of the national education sector. Citing a Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) report, they showed that 50% of potential secondary school students aged between 13-18 years are out of school. That’s in the capital, Kampala. In the rural areas it’s 70%! Their worry is that owing to increase in school fees, amidst economic pressures, more learners are bound to drop out. This casts a very gloomy picture for the nation’s future.
It threatens to erode all gains so far achieved in the national literacy levels, offered through UPE and USE. Besides, Uganda is already grappling with a growing mass of elites—able to write, read and understand, but unable to constructively operationalize knowledge.
These are developments emerging when the budgeting process for FY 2023/24 has just started. But even if the government were to review its priorities from hard infrastructure to the major social-cover sectors of education, health and agriculture, with the effects of Covid-19, Russian crisis and the public debt burden still raging, it can hardly earmark sufficient resources to make a significant impact in the short term.
What can be done?
Something can be done. Every right question has a right answer. Drawing from the Public Relations practice, government is an entity dependent on a number of publics to achieve its goals—including delivering quality education services. Among major government publics are the internal staff—all those serving under it—and therefore, drawing their salary from public coffers. Now for any entity to succeed, its internal publics must be central in that effort. They must endorse and be proud of its products and services. Education is one of such services offered through public education institutions.
Unfortunately, if UBOS were to conduct another survey seeking to establish the number of government internal publics loyal to its educational institutions, particularly in the critical sections of primary and secondary, the outcome is obviously another heart-breaking setback. If they don’t endorse government-owned schools, who will? Are you proud of the government itself? Are you proud of the people of Uganda whom you should be primarily serving under this government? Then how about their public-good institutions?
Therefore, it is the government’s responsibility to persuade, in patriotic terms all its internal teams—Ministers, Members of Parliament, Local Government Leaders, Councilors, civil servants including ministry of education officials and the opulent among citizens to enroll their closest relatives—including sons and daughters into the nearest public schools.
What can be the impact?
Enormous. It will mark the beginning of the process to revamp the education sector. As oversight roles become automatic so is the teaching staff vigilance and their welfare improvement. As performance levels improve so are the enrollment and learner retention numbers vis-à-vis dropout rates. With more public schools emerging on the basis of performance and gaining bragging rights, that privilege declines among traditional giant schools. To retain relevance, old giant schools come to terms with the realities—in regards to reasonable fees structures as well as the necessary ‘requirements’ lists.
Most importantly, however, is that among ‘new’ parents are those who call the shots at their work stations. Such parents’ advocacy matters and will drive things towards the most needed overhaul of the entire education system. A system that is meaningfully consistent with the 21st century trends—which are knowledge and information based; not fantasy rhetoric. It is going to be a win-win impact for the government and its internal publics on the one hand and Uganda and Ugandans on the other. Endorse it, come academic year, 2023.
The Author is an Assistant Lecturer, Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU)
Mass Communication Dept
P.O Box 7689 Kampala, Uganda
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