As many as 160,000 students will miss free Universal Secondary Education next year unless the government urgently finds Shs26.6 billion to plug a financial gap in the programme, a new report says.
The report prepared for the Parliamentary Committee on Social Services on the 2008/09 budget shows that out of Shs65.1 billion required to maintain an estimated 579,734 students under USE, the government has only provided Shs38.5 billion.
"The current budget of Shs38.5 billion can only cater for S.1 and S.2 for Term III in the 2008 academic year and S.1, S.2 and S.3 term II and III in the 2009 academic," the report reads in part.
"This implies that a whole class (S1) beginning school year 2009 has not been allocated any resource," adds the report, which estimates that 159,556 pupils will be affected if the money is not found.
Presenting the committee findings to Parliament last week, its chairperson and Wakiso Woman MP, Ms Rose Sseninde, said, "The total requirement (for at least three classes) inclusive of projected enrolment is Shs65.13 billion. This figure is inclusive of the headcount costs amounting to Shs350 million."
Education Minister Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire told Daily Monitor yesterday that to avert the crisis, the government had initiated talks with the World Bank and the African Development Bank for financial assistance.
"We have already approached our development partners and the Ministry of Finance has agreed to review the process in order to address the Shs26.6b deficit," Ms Bitamazire said. "The deficit is there but we are in discussions to overcome the problem."
A financial shortfall in the USE programme would be a serious reversal of gains made in the education sector, which has had free Universal Primary Education since 1997.
Although UPE helped school enrolment rise from about 2.5 million to 7.5 million, it has been dogged by challenges of congestion, inadequate classrooms, teacher absenteeism and a high drop-out rate.
Introduced in a phased-in manner for Senior One and Senior Two, USE has helped increase the transition rate from primary to secondary school from 46 per cent to 69 per cent according to government figures. Secondary school enrolment rose to almost a million students in 2007 while those enrolled under USE almost doubled to 317,171.
According to the financial requirements submitted by the Ministry of Education to the committee, some 217,329 students in S1 require at least Shs18.5 billion, 204,071 students in S2 require Shs26.1 billion and 158,334 students for S.3 will cost he government Shs20.2 billion. Under the USE scheme, government pays at least Shs15,621 per student per term.
"In view of the importance of USE and the need for an effective education system that allows a clear transition from UPE to USE, this important government programme should take priority in budgeting process," the committee recommended.
"This money should be provided so that there is no doubt in the population about government capacity to sustain (its) own programme," it adds.
Debating the committee report, a host of legislators across the political divide, unanimously insisted that any successful implementation of USE will require Finance Minister Ezra Suruma to commit more resources to the education sector.
Committee vice-chairperson Chris Baryomunsi (NRM, Kinkizi East) said: "This money is urgently needed if the government is to continue offering free secondary education to our people. As a committee, we have taken a decision to lobby for either a supplementary budget for the Ministry of Education or an internal reallocation to cater for USE deficit."
The education sector received Shs899 billion in the 2008/9 budget inclusive of donor funding, which is 17.5 per cent of the overall national budget.