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Required Primary Education in Uganda
Access to education is the foundation of a thriving society. Learning gaps exist in most sub-Saharan African countries. The education system in Uganda is underfunded resulting in a low teacher-to-pupil ratio and underqualified teachers. Pupils who are not wealthy and/or are girls lack proficiency in “reading, writing, and math” (Brookings). This can be seen in rural areas of Africa. A statistic indicates that only 50% of Africa’s 128 million children attends an academic institution. The education system is overburdened due to more refugees coming into Uganda. According to Borgen Project Organization, “Space is a major factor in the future of education in Uganda, especially in the face of conflict in Sudan. Uganda accommodates more than one million refugees, more than half of whom are children”. This was as of 2017 and many of the refugees came from Sudan.
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A study has been conducted to analyze Ugandan primary school children’s education. The study was conducted in Moyo, in north Uganda, in the West Nile region. Data and information gathered from few sources. The investigators made observations of Ugandan family life day in and day out, they performed interviews with families, and scrutinized documents related to family income and literacy levels attained. From performing hands-on research, the investigators concluded that earnings and literacy levels of the family directly affected Ugandan children’s education. Let’s say a family is poor and illiterate, the children in the family will have less of a chance to be successful. The article, “Influence of Parental Education and Family Income on Children’s Education in Rural Uganda”, noted that poverty is an impediment for Ugandan children receiving an education.
One of the investigators is an author, who came from a wealthy background, and taught in the West Nile region in Uganda from 1995 to 2004. She noticed that the impoverished students she taught did not speak English which is the language required for school. Also, they didn’t have school supplies and weren’t able to pay the school fees each year. They weren’t able to bring lunch to school, due to little food at home. She gathered information from where she conducted her hands-on research. Of the 630 million people who lived in the West Nile region, 18% were very poor and lived close to the poverty line. Moreover, she noticed that poverty and literacy levels of parents were directly linked to the level of children’s success in academics. Typically, the parents that were poor were unemployed and many had alcohol problems. This can impact children receiving a good education. Poverty can lead to slower cognitive development and poor attitudes toward schooling due to students’ feelings of underachievement. Many students did not have home computers. Their unhealthy diets due to the cost of nutritious foods can have cognitive effects. There are many cases of domestic violence at home due to the overall frustration of being poor. When children experience these events at home, they usually do not have any motivation.
Other studies and surveys were used to analyze the education and livelihood in Uganda. The National Resistance Movement was founded in 1997 to alleviate the burden of parents paying tuition. The government of Uganda now paid it. However, the parents are still required to pay for items such as uniforms, books, and school supplies. These fees made it difficult for many students to attend school. Also, there were high dropout rates due to girls getting married and getting pregnant at young ages in poor rural areas. A study conducted in rural Uganda in 2012, combined several theories and findings by Vygotsky, Feinstein, Hogan, Mason, Bryman, and O’Leary. They interviewed parents who were professionals. They unanimously stated that their high level of education was directly related to their families being lifted out of poverty. They desired the same for their children. A good education can usually lead to a good career along with a nice salary. Therefore, they were willing to assist their children to reach their highest potential in school. To conclude, the level of education attained by parents directly affects the positive results for themselves, their children, and society at large.
Bridge International Academy is a private school that students in Uganda attend through fifth grade. The school is located in Nsumbi, Uganda and 63 of them exist. The Ugandan government is analyzing the education system of Bridge in Uganda, “the academies lack proper licenses, approved curricula, adequate infrastructure, and qualified staff” (EBSCO host). The curriculum addresses the core subjects; however, the benchmarks are not being met. Many teachers do not have the required certifications. Additionally, the teachers earn low wages, particularly in Bridge International Academy. They earn only $63 each month. On the upside, teachers are present 95% of the time as opposed to the public schools where teachers are present for 43% of the time (EBSCO Host).
Bridge has a long-term focus in improving its education system. “The Bridge vision is bold: to educate 10 million children across a dozen countries by 2025” (EBSCO host). The mindset that Bridge has is similar to that of the United Nations’ sustainable development goal, Quality Education. The United Nations hopes to give children, including primary school children, a competitive education by 2030. However, this academy faces criticism from teachers’ unions. An example is, Education International, which was critical of Bridges’ policy of making profits from the students’ parents by having them pay increasing fees. The report released by the union “accused Bridge of exploiting its teachers and forcing parents into debt” (EBSCO host). The teachers’ unions, accuse Bridge of not hiring qualified teachers and therefore showing a lack of concern for the students’ education. There is a mixed reaction regarding Bridge International Academy in Uganda. Lily Eskelsen Garcia is the President of the National Education Association. She finds the business model behind Bridge unethical. She stated that Bridge International Academy’s ‘for-profit educational model is robbing students of a good education and depriving them of their natural curiosity to imagine and learn’ (Academic OneFile – Gale Group). Ms. Garcia claims that educating students should be an organization’s primary goal and not for the non-profit concerns. Lennie Jarrat, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute, argues in favor of the education Bridge gives its students. He said, “educating children is, at best, a secondary concern for the teachers unions” (Academic OneFile – Gale Group). Mr. Jarrat is saying that an education for students is not a major concern, according to the unions. He adds to this that the teachers’ unions use the government as a way to rack up money. The unions are not worried about Bridge International Academy’s reputation nor the quality education given to its students.
The expansion director at Bridge, Andrew White, boasts about paying his teachers on time and points to the fact that teachers are in attendance 95% of the time. He said, “We want to move beyond this ideological obsession with profit or non-profit and focus on whether kids are actually learning” (EBSCO host). Primary school students who attend the academy need to pay for school uniforms. On average, students used to pay between $6 and $8 for each school uniform. They now pay between $9 and $11 on average for each school uniform. Mr. White advocated for a better education for primary school students rather than increasing costs to the students. He said that students in the Bridge International Academy in Kenya had exam scores above the “national average” (EBSCO host). Out of 63 Bridge International Academy institutions, only Kenya had the best exam scores. This shows that students there are performing well academically.
The article also mentioned the state of the public schools in Uganda. The public schools are financed by the Ugandan government and by tax revenue. According to a World Bank study conducted in 2013, school teachers did not show up for lectures more than 50% of the time. One classroom had over 120 students and it had a limited seating capacity. Astoundingly, one classroom did not even have a teacher present! The students are not successful in school. For instance, according to one study done by Uwezo, a survey group in 2015, 25% of seventh graders performed at a grade level five years below in mathematics and reading. Additionally, in the article, “U.S. Teachers Unions Oppose School Choice in Africa”, there were people that were for and against Bridge and the founding of Bridge International Academy. Bridge International Academy was founded in 2009. Wealthy corporate officers such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg financed this chain of schools, along with World Bank. As of 2017, there are greater than 500 Bridge International Academies. The author of the article highly regards Ugandan students’ performance in these private institutions. Bridge International Academy’s website mentions that ‘In the 2016 Kenyan National Exam, Bridge pupils got an average of 59 percent compared to the national average of 44 percent’ (Academic OneFile – Gale Group). The young Ugandan scholars performed exceptionally well. The other private institutions and the public schools did not fare as well. Additionally, during the academic year, Bridge International Academy scored higher than public and government-sponsored schools. ‘Independent research shows Bridge pupils have fluency and comprehension scores 37 percent higher, and maths [sic] scores 24 percent higher than their peers in neighboring government schools’ (Academic OneFile – Gale Group). The Bridge scholars are very studious and they excel in writing, reading, and mathematics, which are important skills to have.
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The article, “Gender-sensitive pedagogy- The bridge to girls’ quality education in Uganda”, speaks to the challenges that are particular to female students in Uganda. The approach encompasses being “gender-sensitive” (Center for Universal Education at Brookings) to girls’ needs. It is essential that females are equally as educated as males due to Uganda’s goal for 2040 to achieve middle-class status for their population. While the Ugandan government has put in place “policies to empower girls” (Center for Universal Education at Brookings) in education, a disconnect is evident. The policies measure the significant progress that has been made in the increased number of girls who are now attending school, and the better access they have to schools. The disparity, however, lies in the quality of education the girls are receiving. For example, life skills which may improve the girls everyday living as a housewife and mother, will not advance them in the labor market. They need to be competitively employed as their male counterparts are. Females need to be empowered into being qualified for leadership positions. Unfortunately, today in Uganda, just 37.3% of women are in paid positions. They also experience inequality in wages.
The teachers in Uganda are reluctant to apply gender-sensitive pedagogy due to their bias regarding girls. They perceive females in much the same way as the Ugandan society. At home, boys are treated differently than girls. They are raised to feel superior to girls. The teachers perceive the girls as being shy and therefore, lacking in class participation. On the contrary, the boys are perceived to be more assertive than the girls. This presents a challenge to the girls being more equally successful as the boys being in school.
There are many refugees that are coming into Uganda from South Sudan. The largest refugee camp, Bidi Bidi, is located in Northern Uganda. It has thousands of refugees, who are primary school-aged children. There are eighty-two schools built in the refugee settlement, however, the classrooms are cramped. A lot of classrooms are not built in this settlement. The government officials stated that at least $2 billion is required in order to expand and make classrooms bigger. Many refugees that are coming into Uganda, emigrated from South Sudan. These refugees are seeking better education opportunities. European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is an organization that is helping these refugees. ECHO donated 2 million euros to assist the Sudanese refugees. Since July 2016, Uganda took in over three-quarters of a million refugees, and sixty percent of them are children. In regards to education, “Similarly, in the education sector, in both early childhood development (ECD) centers and primary schools, there are vast needs ranging from inadequate classrooms, teaching materials and latrines, among other needs” (ProQuest). Uganda has a limited number of classrooms for its students to learn in. In my opinion, I would want more classrooms built, so each student can learn better and receive more attention from the teacher. With the lump sum of money UNICEF received, the organization plans to build seven early childhood development centers. Children here will learn basic skills and support in order to be successful and to obtain an education. With UNICEF’s efforts, the organization helped more than 85,000 of these refugees obtain an education. Also, the organization helped 50,000 of the Sudanese refugees to enroll in early childhood development centers. I like what UNICEF is doing and I want these refugees to be successful.
The article, “Interethnic Relations in Exile: The Politics of Ethnicity among Sudanese Refugees in Uganda and Egypt”, mentions that refugees are coming into these countries. The refugees that are entering into Uganda are Sudanese refugees. The refugees that came to Uganda were from the Madi and Kuku ethnic groups. The article states that, “The case of Sudanese refugees forced into exile by civil conflict will shed light on these characteristics of refugees. Sudanese belong to various ethnic groups that became highly politicized in exile due to competition over resources, memories of victimization, and current circumstances in their countries of origin and asylum” (EBSCO Host). The Sudanese refugees are coming into Uganda because they need to exile their country due to conflict, poverty, and asylum. They are forced to leave their country for these reasons. This exile has two phases. The first phase of conflict took place between 1955-1972, and the second phase, began in 1983 through the present time. Often times, the refugees are met with violence over sharing of resources in Uganda.
In conclusion, there are many obstacles that need to be addressed in sub-Saharan Africa particularly in Uganda. Namely poverty, literacy attainment of parents and children, and the education system require continuous effort to reach their proposed goals.
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