Kampala — FOR long, increased access to both primary and secondary education has been government's top priority. This gave critics a field day that the Government policies of universal primary education (UPE) and universal secondary education (USE) emphasised numbers at the expense of quality education. With high enrollment now achieved, this policy has shifted, according to priorities in the 2009/2010 national budget.
The major focus will be to improve the quality of schooling through construction, provision of instructional materials and improvement of school inspection.
The education sector funding, like in previous years, has increased from sh899b to over sh1trillion. This translates into a percentage increment of 19% up from 17% the previous financial year. However, unlike in the past where UPE took about 60% of the entire education budget, this time it will take only 41% (sh451b). This is because USE has been extended to cover all lower seconadary levels up to S.4 and, therefore, requires substantial funding of sh204b (18.6%).
Although this appears lower than the 22.9% allocated to the sector last year, officials say other critical areas shall be covered under cross-cutting allocations. Out of this, sh117b will go to wages. The capitation grant will take sh77b, while sh9b will go to local development.
As a quality assurance mechanism, the Government will intensify school inspection to check on teacher absenteeism and school fires and continue monitoring the number of children in schools.
Access to primary education grew by 2.4% from 7.3 million in 2007 to 7.53 million last year, while secondary school enrollment went up by almost 17.2% from 814,328 to 954,328 over the same period.
To consolidate the gains of UPE, the Education Act 2008 which makes primary education compulsory, will be enforced vigorously. As part of monitoring and implementation of these programmes, a census of children under these programmes will be undertaken.
The USE programme will roll out to cover S.4 and complete the cycle for lower secondary education. In addition, establishment of seed secondary schools and construction of additional classrooms in over-enrolled schools will be undertaken.
To increase access and enhance the quality of secondary education, the Government has secured $80m (about sh176b) and $150m (sh330b) from the Africa Development Bank and the World Bank, respectively. This is for continuation of the school construction programme and the provision of instructional materials.
What will the funding support?
According to education minister Namirembe Bitamazire, the funding will support the construction of 6,200 new classrooms in over 500 schools which are over-enrolled; 2,300 five-stance latrines, 405 multi-purpose science rooms and 144 libraries. The projects will also support the completion of 1,900 half-built classrooms in another 400 schools and purchase 1.7 million textbooks and 6,300 science kits for both government and private schools.
The funding from the African Development Bank will also be used to expand 12 schools, construct 15 new ones and rehabilitate 42 traditional secondary schools and two business technical vocational education training institutions, turning them into centres of excellence.
The Government has also earmarked sanitation in primary schools as one of the most urgent needs to be addressed.
Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, says emphasis on sanitation is long overdue since poor sanitation, especially lack of private latrines for girls, has perpetuated the problem of girls dropping out of school. This is echoed by the United Nations Children's Fund. It estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation.
Announcing the budget last week, finance minister Syda Bumba said sanitation in primary schools has been identified as one of the most urgent needs in the education sector. She said primary schools require replacement of latrines and improvement of sanitation. At least about sh19b (90%) of the sh21b school facilitation grant allocation will go to latrine construction.
Will increased funding address the disparities in education?
However, while many have welcomed the increase in funding, many are pessimistic that unless corruption is checked and enforcing institutions are empowered, the money meant for improving the quality of education might be misused.
In the past, cases of misuse of public funds have marred the success of UPE. President Yoweri Museveni announced last week that he is instituting a judicial commission of inquiry into USE and UPE funds.
Nuwagaba argues that increased funding might not mean better services because of corruption which has been the case in the past. He notes that in the budget, funding of institutions which check value for money of public funds has been cut.
Rose Mary Seninde, the chairperson of the social services committee in parliament, has welcomed the increased allocation to education as a good gesture in improving the quality of education. She, however, notes that the main worry is whether there will be any budget cuts in future.
"Sometimes by the middle of the financial year, there is a budget cut," Seninde says, adding that the issue should not be just mere allocation of the funds but also their utilisation. "I don't want an increment in figures, but it should also translate and be seen on the ground. The increment is a good gesture, but we must have this implemented," she says.
Budget allocation over the last four years
- 2008/2009 - sh899.3b
- 2007/2008 - sh900b
- 2006/2007 - sh720.26b
- 2005/2006 - sh633.43b.