Since 1986, 26th January and 6th February of every year are marked as special days (Liberation day and Tarehe Sita) in the life of post-independent Uganda since 1962.
Both during the colonial and post-colonial era till 1996, no single Government in Uganda had either piloted or rolled-out a primary education system intended to directly benefit every single person interested in attaining education, beginning with the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme.
UPE was then appreciated as one the strategies for reduction of mass poverty in Uganda, following the global, national and local calls for debt relief.
Uganda Debt Network (UDN) was part of this call and cause and in fact was launched by the First Lady Janet Museveni.
These calls made Uganda the first country in the world to benefit from the World Bank/ IMF debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.
Rather than pay-back to creditors (principle and interest), Uganda was asked to channel such resources into mass poverty reduction programmes like feeder roads, PMA, primary health care, etc.
The HIPC “financing” window coupled with the 2006 NRM Manifesto and the obvious need for education on ground became a good ingredient for establishment of the UPE policy and programme in 1997.
UPE is to that extent, a child of the NRM regime, even though so far it does not enjoy a day similar to the Liberation Day and Tarehe Sita.
Despite relative investment and achievements, the challenges of primary education in Uganda remain as numerous as the grass in the Teso plains.
This time, nonetheless, I will deal with one challenge of financing or lack of it – capitation.
UDN fieldwork monitoring of Government expenditure and studies show that, in spite of the existence of an allocation formula for allocation of UPE capitation, some district officials, head teachers and members of the School Management Committees (SMCs) and/ Finance Committee are not aware of this formula.
We recall that in the FY 2006/07, the Ministry of Education provided for UGX 16,000 per pupil per year as the unit cost for minimum education standard in primary schools.
The reality has been that primary schools, instead, receive about UGX 7,260 as capitation grant per pupil per year to-date.
A recent interview with 40 head teachers and members of SMCs in a sample of 3 districts: Bugiri, Bushenyi and Katakwi affirms this ignorance.
It was in 2012/13, a revised uniform rate was increased to UGX 450,000 per term, regardless of the pupil population in such a school. That money is expected to cover fixed costs and any other incidentals.
Bugiri Primary school with 1,003 pupils in 2011 was even receiving UGX 4,965 per pupil per year, or UGX 1,655 per pupil per term.
This was only 22% of the required amount. So really, schools have been condemned to receiving money much less than what is required for their basic operations.
Most head teachers are perpetually indebted to the nearby trading centres and some individuals, in order to run a Government school!!.
Moreover, the amounts received by schools per pupil per term keeps on varying even with a constant number of pupils in a school.
Yet no serious explanation is provided by the responsible authorities to explain these money fluctuations.
This has rendered effective school budgeting and planning quite difficult for the school authorities.
For they are never sure of how much they are to receive in a term and late disbursement to schools. In some cases funds are usually are arriving at the end of the school term.
Mr. President, is this really the amount of funds that the Government which you provide over sends to each UPE school? Or is someone out there doing some mischief?
Isn’t it time to rethink that UPE schools accommodate some moderated cost-sharing, to partly remedy underfunding of UPE? Shall we re-priotise certain budget areas and cut on opulence in some Government institutions, to avail funds to UPE? Else, UPE schools under current challenges can at best offer sub-standard service.
So, as we mark 26th January and 6th February (Liberataion day and Tarehe Sita) we need to cross-check how much is released from Kampala to our schools and whether this actually is what is received by any UPE school or there is a failure even at this point.
All in all, once we join hands, UPE still has room in improving the welfare and development life of Ugandan households in the post-independent Uganda.
Uganda Debt Network