An astonishing 71% of pupils who enrolled for Primary One in government - funded schools seven years ago never got to sit their Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) this year!
Only 29% of all the pupils in UPE schools who enrolled in 2006, nine years after free primary education was introduced, sat the examinations last week. Ministry of Education and Sports statistics indicate that 1,598,636 pupils enrolled for Primary One in government-supported schools in 2006. But Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) figures indicate that only 463,332 of these sat PLE this month.
The question on everybody's mind is: where did the others go?
There are many possible explanations. One of these is 'ghosts.' With the prevalence of 'ghosts' in virtually every Ugandan sector these days, it's possible that the pupils never existed in the first place, but rather the government was spending money on 'ghosts'!
Other possible explanations could be dropouts, death and pregnancies. It is understandable that not all pupils who start Primary One can possibly complete Primary Seven, as a result of some unavoidable developments such as death. It is also conceivable that some pupils transfer to private schools along the way.
In any case, one can bet that a combination of all the factors mentioned above is responsible for this phenomenon. But there's need for an investigation to confirm or discount these theories. More so because these figures appear to confirm what some critics have said about UPE all this time: that the programme is a failure as it has too many dropouts and the few who complete are half-baked.
Can UPE continue to be considered a success in as far as expanding enrollment is concerned, when three quarters of those enrolled are not completing? What must be done to reverse this trend? The funding, the ghosts, the quality of the teachers, the facilities, the small fees, the lack of lunch for some pupils; all these things are having an effect on the performance of UPE and must be addressed one way or another.
UPE has been a source of relief for many parents who couldn't afford tuition in private schools, but for the programme to be worth the effort and money put in, pupils must stay the course.