On Friday, January 27, 2023, the Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) released the 2022 Primary Leaving examination results. The results were delayed several times, causing widespread concern and speculation. Upon their release, critics were quick to point out a significant decline in student performance compared to previous years.
This decrease in student performance has sparked a heated debate about the state of education in Uganda under the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime. Some argue that the education sector has seen a decline since the previous regimes and that this is reflected in the results of the Primary Leaving examinations.
Renown author and vice chancellor of Victoria University, Dr. Lawrence Muganga, called for a change in mindset by the UNEB in assessing students. Appearing on a popular morning TV show, he raised questions whether the current system is still fit for purpose in the current times. He called the entire assessment process a malpractice and claimed that it promoted crammers to actual creatives.
Opposition politicians have also been quick to raise awareness of the dire state public of schools especially upcountry, pointing to overcrowded classrooms, inadequate funding, inadequate infrastructure and facilities as evidence of the decline in the education sector.
How does the Ministry of Education and Sports operate under the NRM government?
The Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in Uganda is a cabinet-level ministry responsible for the maintenance and control, monitoring, and supervision of all levels of education throughout the country. The mission of the MoES is to provide technical support, guide, coordinate, regulate, and promote the delivery of quality education and sports to all persons in Uganda for national integration, individual, and national development.
The MoES also governs several key organizations including the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), the Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB), the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), and the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC). The government of Uganda funds elementary and secondary schools through the UPE, USE, and UPOLET programs and is supported by several intergovernmental organizations, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, as well as foreign NGOs.
The MoES regulates over 30,000 pre-elementary, elementary, and secondary institutions spread throughout Uganda, ensuring that the schools adhere to quality standards. The ministry is currently led by Minister of Education and Sports Janet Kataha Museveni.
What is the legacy of the NRM government on the education sector?
Since the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) program in 1997, the number of children enrolled in school has increased significantly.
According to the Ministry of Education and Sports, enrollment in primary schools increased from 2.1 million in 1997 to over 8 million in 2016. Similarly, the enrollment in secondary schools has also increased, with the number of students in secondary schools growing from under 500,000 in 1997 to over 2 million in 2016.
However, despite these gains, there are still challenges in ensuring access to education for all children in Uganda. A significant proportion of children, particularly those from poor families, rural areas, and children with disabilities, are still out of school.
In addition, this has coincided with massive unemployment among the youth and a decrease in opportunities for higher education and skilled jobs. This has raised concerns about the future of the country’s workforce and economic development.
The government has responded to this issue through promotion of vocational training and science education. In 2021, government announced an increase in salary for science teachers in an attempt to attract more qualified professionals to the field and improve the quality of education.
The Ministry of Education and Sports has also launched several initiatives to provide students with practical skills and job training, such as the Universal Secondary Education with Skills Development program. The program offers a combination of academic and technical education to help students acquire both theoretical and practical knowledge.
The government aims to reduce youth unemployment by equipping students with in-demand skills and promoting entrepreneurship.
So, is there decline?
The Ministry of Education and Sports has defended the performance of students in the 2022 Primary Leaving examination, stating that the results are a reflection of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector. The ministry points to the closure of schools and disruption of learning that resulted from the pandemic as a major factor contributing to the decline in student performance.
Furthermore, supporters of the NRM regime argue that the education sector has seen significant improvement since its inception. They point to the launch of the Universal Education program and the government’s efforts to increase access to education and improve educational outcomes. They claim that the decrease in student performance is a temporary setback and that the long-term trend is towards improvement.
So, what is the truth? Are standards of education in Uganda declining under the NRM compared to previous regimes? The answer is not clear-cut. While there have been some challenges in the education sector, there have also been significant achievements.
One thing is for sure, however. The education sector remains a critical area for investment and attention for the government if it is to ensure that all Ugandan children have access to quality education and are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the future.