By Mildred Barungi, Francis Mwesigye and Musa Mayanja Lwanga

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The Government of Uganda is desirous of inclusive growth, a situation where all citizens will have equal opportunities and benefits of economic growth will accrue to every section of society. This strong desire is manifested for example, in the country’s National Development Plan II theme of “Strengthening Uganda’s Competitiveness for Sustainable Wealth Creation, Employment and Inclusive Growth”.

However, the “inclusive growth song” may not become a “hit” if affirmative action is not taken to include the out-of-school children, especially girls in development initiatives. While employment initiatives (such as the Youth Livelihood Program) are commendable, most of them target special interest groups of youth aged 18-35 years, hence excluding the young adolescents (aged 15 -17 years) who are out of school and are of legal age to work – 14 years.


Over 19 children in every one hundred children aged 15-17 years stop schooling before attaining any form of academic award. The proportion of female school dropouts exceeds that of boys. Moreover, school dropouts mainly come from less educated households—most parents/guardians of these children have no or little education, and perhaps attach little value to education.


Usually, the main reason why children drop out of school pre-maturely is lack of school fees, reported by about 47 percent of children aged 15-17years. It should be emphasized that many parents/guardians cannot afford to send their children to school despite there being Government’s Universal Primary Education [UPE], Universal Secondary Education [USE] and Universal Post Ordinary Level Training [UPOLET] programmes, that are meant to reduce the cost of schooling.


Partly due to lack of employable skills, most out-of-school children, especially in rural areas are engaged in agriculture. The percentage of girls engaged in agriculture (79 percent) exceeds that of boys by two percentage points.
Since agriculture is the biggest employer of the out-of-school children and youth, there is need to design and implement programmes along various agricultural value chains so as to support the children and youth to engage in the sector in an economically meaningful way. Quite few out-of-school children (24 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls) are paid employees; and they earn meager wages/salaries—on average, the monthly pay is 41,000 shillings for males and 32,000 shillings for females.


As noted, most out-of-school children, especially girls are engaged in agricultural production, which requires a certain package of inputs for output maximization. For example, children, especially girls may lack inputs of production such as land, improved seed, fertilizer, irrigation facilities and labour input, among others.


Like adult farmers, young farmers too require loans to be able to engage in profitable agriculture. However, available information shows that rural out-of-school children, especially girls, face the greatest exclusion from sources of financial services compared to older age groups. The limited access to financial services means that these children are most likely to lack sufficient capital to establish viable income generating business entities.


Given the above situation, Government’s desire to attain inclusive growth could remain an illusion unless action is taken. The following can be done in the short and medium term;

Massive skilling of school dropouts: As noted, most of the young persons drop out of school before completing primary school level. Dropping out at this stage implies that these young persons have little or no education and obviously no marketable skills. Little or no education limits their productivity and the acquisition of necessary skills to access gainful employment.

It is therefore important to equip young person who drop out school with skill to enable them survive in the job market. Vocational skills in farming, carpentry, metal works and construction could provide an alternative to the mainstream formal education. The existing vocational schools ought to be well staffed equipped with modern equipment. Where possible, young persons should be facilitated to rejoin formal education to improve their level of education.


Increasing children’s access to financial services: Young female school dropouts are generally financially excluded; this leaves them unable to invest, save or vulnerable to shocks. While this may be due to lack of financial services in places where these children reside, it could also be due to financial illiteracy and lack of collateral. Therefore, designing financial inclusion programmes that target young female school dropouts would go a long way in improving access to finance and triggering a more gender inclusive growth.

The article contributed to New Vision's online story titled "Economists ask gov’t to create development programs for girls" published 8th March 2017 

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