Kampala — THE Government has rejected a controversial report, which says universal primary education is yielding illiterate students and that private schools are better than the Government institutions in teaching.
The Uwezo report, an initiative of the Uganda National NGO Forum, said: "Generally, children are not acquiring the necessary basic competencies at the appropriate level. There is a high inefficiency level and potential wastage throughout the primary school cycle."
The report was based on a study conducted in April by a team of 1,620 village volunteers, who visited 16,200 households in 27 districts.
A sample Primary Two (P2) test in literacy and numeracy was administered to 34,752 children aged six to 16 years.
"About 19% of the children sampled in Primary Three (P3) in the 27 districts surveyed across the country could not read the alphabet and only 2% could read and understand a story text of P2 level," said the report signed by Uwezo country coordinator Richard Ssewakiryanga.
"There were no major differences in reading skills at P3-P5 level. The 11.4% girls could not recognise letters of the alphabet compared to the 10.9% boys," added the report.
On numerical tests, based on P2 standard, Uwezo said four out of every five children sampled (79.9%) could not solve at least two numerical written division sums correctly.
Only 17.6% of children sampled in P3 in government-aided schools compared to 32% in private ones could solve at least two numerical written division sums.
But the Government, through the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), has questioned the report, saying the purported P2 standard tests were far above the level. "Secondly, the report does not align the findings to the objectives," UNEB Secretary Matthew Bukenya wrote in a response.
In its assessment studies, UNEB said the competency levels among pupils have steadily picked since 1999. The latest National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE) study conducted by UNEB shows that proficiency in literacy and numeracy among P3 pupils had risen from 44.7% in 2007 to 52.7% in 2008.
"Pupils demonstrated competence in the numerical concepts taught between P1 and P3. They could, for example, carry out addition and subtraction of two-digit numbers although some of them found difficulty in applying these concepts in real life situations," the NAPE 2008 report said.
"At P6, some 53.5% of the pupils were rated proficient, which is low, but relatively good, considering that in 2007, only 41.4% obtained a similar rating," the report added.
In his rebuttal, Bukenya said the report does not acknowledge the Government's effort in enhancing the quality of education at primary level.
"The study assumes that no useful contribution has been made before in assessing the learning achievements of children in Uganda. It shows ignorance about the Government initiatives aimed at improving education outcomes," he said.
UNEB further said there was poor curriculum coverage by the instruments used, which raises a question over Uwezo's "questionnaire validity, unorthodox method used in administration of instruments and wrong definition of competencies used."
The board questioned "where Uwezo derived the empirical evidence on which it based the claim of high inefficiency and potential wastage." It also said the study considered households as sampling units, yet the analysis and reporting are based on class.
"Households do not represent the known characteristics of classes of primary schools. Measures of quality assurance were also not clearly stated. All these compromise the reliability and credibility of the findings," argued Bukenya.
He described the report as negative in that it emphasises what children cannot do other than what they are able to do. It also does not give explanations for the results and recommendations.
But like Uwezo, the NAPE report also indicates higher achievement levels in urban than rural schools. Both reports also show that achievement levels in private schools were higher than those of public schools.
The report said over 94.8% of the pupils in private schools in P3 and P6 were rated proficient in numeracy and literacy compared to 70.2% of their counterparts in government-aided schools.
When contacted, Uwezo programme assistant Judith Tumusiime said they had taken the Government's responses into consideration and made minor changes, but insisted the findings were true and no changes were made on the figures.
"On the issue of the P2 tests used, we called our experts who set the tests and they maintain that it was okay. We have a justification for the test and will hand it over at the launch," he added.
The permanent secretary of the education ministry, Francis-Xavier Lubanga, commended Uwezo for carrying out the study.
But, in one of his communications to them, he said: "I feel there is a substantial amount of work you need to do if the exercise is to benefit the beneficiaries."