• Authored By: Jude Sebuliba
15 Mar 2024

The Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) released the results for primary seven (P.7), senior four (S.4), and senior six (S.6) for the year 2023. However, what took the limelight were the highflyers. But beneath the glittering headlines, there are staggering numbers of students whose futures are uncertain due to failure.

 The results show that a total of 749,254 pupils registered for the primary leaving examination (PLE), and 88,269 failed. Out of 349,459 students registered for the Uganda Certificate of Examination (UCE), 14,879 failed, and 28,845 students failed to get at least two principle passes out of 110,553 who registered for A ‘Level. Many of these failures came from rural schools. Another 12,200; 2,774; and 1,065 students either did not appear or only partially appeared for P.7, S.4, and S.6, respectively.

This poor performance and absenteeism can be attributed to several things that are beyond the student’s control. They include factors from the student`s side, including family conflicts; children living in child-headed homes, among others. Lack of student motivation means that families are not able to motivate their children by counseling and guiding them. Poor family backgrounds hinder them, resulting in poor health, emotional disturbances, mental retardation, and an inability to help them complete their exercises. Affection from parents: students who have much affection from their parents and guardians tend to perform better in school than those who have less or no affection from their parents emotionally.

School children in class in rural Uganda Photo/Unicef

However, most of the problems originate outside of students—for example, inadequate teachers, according to UNESCO data for the period 1970–2017. The average ratio for Uganda during that period was 40.61 students per teacher, with a minimum of 27.69 students per teacher in 1992 and a maximum of 59.43 students per teacher in 1997. In 2017, the ratio was 42.66 students per teacher, compared to the same year world average of 21.75 students per teacher in primary school.

A recent validation exercise conducted by the Education Service Commission (ESC) indicated the nation requires an additional workforce of over 78,880 primary school teachers to achieve the desired goal of maintaining a 1:40 teacher-pupil ratio at the primary level.

Many schools have limited basic resources, an inadequate number of textbooks, desks, chairs, and other learning resources, along with crumbling and inadequate infrastructure. Sitting on the floor or sharing desks with up to five students. According to Forbes data, 60% of primary schools in Uganda still lack a proper library, leaving countless students without access to essential reading materials. Nearly 90% of schools still did not have electricity in 2014 (Simbi Foundation survey), and the majority don’t have computers with internet connectivity.

Additionally, the prevailing weather conditions and child -labour worsen the already strained learning environment. The Uganda National Household Survey Report 2016/2017 showed that 18% of children aged 5 to 17 years are engaged in child labour. A large percentage of rural children work in agriculture and, at the time of harvesting, are expected to help their family members on the farm, leading to absenteeism, lateness, and irregular school attendance. Consequently, students are unable to catch up with what was taught in class and are always behind.

 Besides, teachers’ general competence levels have been controversial for a while. In recent years, some local government officials have subjected teachers to assessment tests to gauge their competence levels. It should also be noted that in 2016, the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE) revealed that eight out of every 10 primary school teachers who qualified in 2015 could neither read nor solve basic primary-level mathematics questions

Finally, Uganda`s education system is experiencing several challenges, such as overstretched facilities, overcrowding in schools, especially those in urban slums, child labor, mostly in rural areas, high pupil-teacher ratios, and limited learning materials such as high pupil-to-textbook ratios.

Therefore, there must be the right combination of various strategies that can be used to help improve the performance of students in PLE. Some of the strategies include infrastructure and human resources provision, effective supervision of instructions to guide teachers, parental involvement through recognition of their children, full support, adequate supplies of learning tools, and good communication between parents and children.

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