Education in Uganda

Following a recent post that indicated some of the challenges of rural Ugandan households’ struggles to pay for school fees for their children, we were asked about the costs of school fees and how many children wouldn’t have access to education. This article will attempt to answer that. To accomplish this, we will first have a look at education in Uganda, more generally, and then move on to a more focused view of Soroti District, where our project site can be found. It will also note a few of the additional challenges related to education, that are facing potential students.

The Ugandan education system

Uganda’s education system consists of three levels. There is basic education, which consists of two of these levels – primary and secondary – and higher education, such as university and other technical training institutes. The basic levels run from February to December and consists of three terms.

Primary education in Uganda usual starts at age 6, although some maybe younger or older. It consists of 7 years, or grades.

Secondary school is divided, further, with the first 4 years known as lower-secondary, and the remaining two as upper-secondary. But in addition to this, there are two class-tracks – Ordinary and Advanced level, or O-Level and A-Level. The difference between the two is that to achieve O-Level, a student must undergo examinations for at least 8 courses at that level. However, to gain A-Level status, one must complete at least 3 exams at the advanced-level. Note: For those who desire an alternative secondary education, there is a three-year technical training, which would replace the either or both of the lower and upper levels.

To complicate things a bit further, there are varying degrees of education options. There are public schools, private schools (boarding and non-boarding), and international schools. Each of these offers something different, usually in terms of the quality of education, but also come with varying fees. International schools, are by far, the most expensive; however, they are rarely attended by the typical local household children. With this in mind, a look at the public-school system will be outlined before discussing private schools in Soroti, specifically. Other challenges related to education in Uganda will also briefly be examined.

Public education: Universal Primary Education

In 1997, the government introduced a Universal Primary Education (UPE) program. The hope of this program was to increase enrollment and broaden access for at least primary level. It originally intended to provide primary education to four children per household, at no cost. However, due to the much larger sized average household, this was extended to included all children.

But that wasn’t the only problem. The costs of the UPE were far more than expected, and as you can imagine this was felt by the students most, in the form of lower quality education and unproductive learning environments (lacking structures, supplies, etc.).  But, it also meant that households were required to take on some of the expenses, such as uniforms, course materials, etc., which given the majority of households that would rely on this free education are from poorer households, this still places an overwhelming burden to an already struggling scenario.

Private schools in Soroti

For Ugandans fortunate enough to afford better educational opportunities for their children, there is an option for kids to attend private schools. Within this umbrella, there are two options – boarding or non-boarding attendance. The fees to attend these schools vary from school to school, and the level of education. To look at this a bit further, let’s use the example of Soroti.

In Soroti District, private boarding school fees for primary education ranges from about 390000-450000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately US$110-125), per term. If the child is not boarding, then the fees are reduced to between USh200000-270000 (or an estimated US$55-75) per term. For secondary education, boarding fees per term are generally between USh650000-700000 (US$180-195), while non-boarding is more likely to be around USh300000 (US$85) per term.

As a Westerner, these fees may not seem like a lot, especially given that uniforms and supplies are included. But what is important to keep in mind, is the fact that the average household income is US$1 per day, or USh3600. Based on this, it is easy to see why many households cannot afford to send all, if any, of their children to school. Even affording just the uniforms and supplies for those attending the UPE program can be a strain on the household.

Further challenges

Interestingly, enrollment in the first level of primary education has continued to increase, but this does not indicate that all who enter will complete, even the most basic levels of schooling. This is especially true of Ugandan girls, as many (an estimate 30%) will drop out of school once they begin to menstruate. This has more to do with an inability to access or afford sanitary pads, but still emphasizes the difficulties in obtaining education, particularly as affordability goes.

So, there are many facets of education available, but it has more to do with the ever-present need to choose one or the other. Does a household pay for a child’s education, or do they spend the equivalent of school fees on food, shelter, or health and medical expenses? These are questions that most people outside of the so-called developed world wouldn’t ever have to consider – especially at such a basic level. But, this is very much-so the reality for many around the world, including Uganda, and more specifically, the Gweri sub-country where YAI is set to operate.

While the focus of YAI is to teach a technical skill (agriculture), with the added business management component, we also hope to implement a bit of the basic education that many of our students would have missed. This will be especially true of basic conversational English (to help them converse at the market level), basic numeracy (to boost the business side of things), and value addition (to create further income opportunities). Through this education, it is our aim to enable the households of our successful students to be able to move ahead of the poverty line, increase food security, and eventually help to pay the school fees of younger household members, in an effort to break the cycle.


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