The just released-Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) results produced some positives and negatives.
On the positive side, there was an improvement in the pass rate, from 86.4% in 2011 to 88.4% in last year's examinations. The chief examiners also reported that the quality of answers was much better than previous year's. On the negative side, absenteeism continued to be a problem, with 3.7% of registered candidates not sitting the papers. This problem, which is related to the more pronounced school dropouts, has been prevalent in previous years too, and must be tackled.
Also, some 1,603 pupils' results were withheld due to alleged examination malpractices. As Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) works to eliminate cheating completely, investigations into cases of malpractice need to be handled expeditiously so that innocent pupils and parents are not needlessly inconvenienced. Another negative to note is that despite government's best efforts, science and mathematics were the worst performed subjects. Obviously more effort needs to go into why this remains so.
Besides, the rural-urban divide remains quite alarming. Some schools in central and western Uganda have more than one hundred times more pupils passing in Division One than entire districts such as Amudat and Buvuma, which registered two and seven candidates in Division One respectively!
Our education system will not realise its strategic goals until it is possible that all Ugandan pupils have an equal chance at success regardless of where they are born or attend school. Meanwhile, dropping out of school remains a big challenge. Figures indicate that out of the 1,763,284 pupils who reported for Primary One in 2006, only 543,071 sat exams seven years later. That means as much as 68% of these pupils either repeated some classes or dropped out altogether for some reason.
The possibility that more than 50% of the pupils who begin Primary One this year will not be in position to sit PLE in 2019 is alarming indeed. To ensure that doesn't happen, the ministry of Education and Sports needs to go to work now.