New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Love Affairs Affecting Performance?

The year 2013 has begun with not-so-good news in the education sector, following a countrywide decline in students' performance in the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations.

Of the 262,987 candidates who sat UCE last year, 13,363 or (5.1%) failed, according to the results released last week by the National Examinations Board (UNEB).

Compared to the 2011 results, 11,173 (4.2%) failed out of the 267,024 candidates who sat UCE exams.

According to UNEB chairman Fagil Mandy, love affairs are the cause of the decline in performance. He explains that he had interacted with over one million students in candidate classes and did research for five years to find out why students fail.

Love affairs topped the list.

As a result of love affairs, Mandy noted that most students were spending a lot of valuable time on telephones, gossiping and social media, instead of concentrating on their studies.

Mandy's assertions are not far-fetched as various reports indicate increasing promiscuity among Ugandans, especially teenagers.

Molly Businge, who heads Kawaala Health Centre III in Rubaga Division, Kampala, last year, revealed that between six to seven out of 10 adolescents, who visit the clinic, have sexually transmitted diseases.

The AIDS Indicator Survey 2011 Report also revealed that about three quarters of Ugandan teenagers aged between 15 and 19 engage in high risk sex with minimal condom use. This means that about 2.6 million (71%) of the 3.6 million teenagers in this age bracket have sex, yet less than half of them use condoms.

Risky sexual behaviour is more common in teenage boys than girls. Some 92.6% of boys aged between 15 and 19 engage in sex compared to 49.2% of teenage girls. The report also revealed increasing levels of cross-generational sex.

Analysts have attributed the poignant trend in teenagers' behaviour to widespread pornography.

"Children, even those in rural areas, have unlimited access to video halls, where they watch pornographic movies. They always want to try out what they have watched," explained Regina Ssali-Mugabi, a nurse in charge of the HIV clinic at Kisugu Health Centre III in Makindye.

Mugabi also blames wealthy parents for giving teenagers a lot of pocket money, which they eventually use to seduce girls into sex.

Due to the increasing sexual relationships among students, Uganda's teenage pregnancy rate continues to rise, at 25%, as per the 2004 National Survey of Adolescents. A teenager who gives birth is not only likely to perform poorly, but also drop out of school.

Ironically, this high promiscuity among teenagers comes after psychologists around the world have analyzed hitches associated with "falling in love" and concluded that it is one of the most complex feelings.

Canadian psychologist Mathew Kopfler observes that when teenagers fall in love, the situation is made a lot easier when they have an adult to talk to about these confusing feelings.

Sadly, it is highly unlikely that Ugandan parents will tolerate any romantic relationship their children might be involved in.

Catherine Mwine, a policy scholar, expert in teenage behaviour and lecturer at Uganda Christian University Mukono, says: "At home, parents are too busy, while at school, teachers are too strict and children only have their peers to talk to. That is a looming disaster!"

Science teaches that the human brain continues to develop from birth through the adolescent years and into the mid-20s.

Dr. Joyce Nalugya of Mulago Hospital explains that the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning and decision-making, does not completely mature until after the teen years. "Emotions as intense as love can, therefore, disorganise a teenager's life," she says.

Beatrice Lwanga, a psychologist with Naguru Teenage Health and Information Centre, agrees. "Considering what relationships do to an adult's brain, imagine what they can do to a teenager!" she says.

Lwanga says a teenager in a relationship is taken over by a flash of mood-swings that they have no control over.

"If a break-up happens just before exams begin, teenagers will not concentrate, yet they have no adults to talk to."

This lends credence to the fact that most single-sex schools perform better than the mixed ones. For instance, three out of the five best schools in Wakiso district in the just-released UCE results are single-sex.

Likewise, half of the best six schools in Kampala district are single-sex schools. This could be linked to less distraction from the opposite sex.

Traditionally, top performing schools have been boarding and single-sex schools, save for some few like King's College Budo and Uganda Martyrs Secondary School Namugongo, among others, that have maintained top performance over the years despite being mixed.

Lwanga urges teenagers to desist from love affairs until they complete their studies.

Wakiso district education officer Fred Kiyingi notes that parents have neglected their duty of guidance and counseling, which has worsened students' discipline.

"Look at the number of strikes we had last year. Students are errant and performance is affected," Kiyingi observed.

Barnabas Langoia, a teacher at Namilyango College, believes love affairs should not be entertained in schools if they affect a student's studies.

Could sex education help?

Despite the widespread sexual perversion, sex education remains low in Uganda, thanks to the traditional cultures that consider it a taboo.

Only 33.8% girls and 22% boys aged between 12 and 14 have received sex education in school, according to a report, Protecting the Next Generation in Uganda: New Evidence on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs, published by Guttmacher Institute in 2008.

At home, 71% girls and 64% boys had never talked with parents about sex-related matters, according to the 2004 National Survey of Adolescents.

Critics argue that children stand a risk of making wrong choices when it comes to sex because they lack education.

Wakiso district education officer Fred Kiyingi decries the fact that sex education programmes in schools like Straight Talk and the Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategic Communication ended.

"We should put more emphasis on sex education so that the children learn to guard against unnecessary love affairs."

Catherine Mwine, a lecturer at Uganda Christian University, says it is time society acknowledged that once a child reaches puberty, they are likely to develop romantic feelings.

"Children need to be told that it is okay to feel that way. However, they must know what consequences will arise from pursuing any such feelings." Mwine insists that policies to ensure that every school has a qualified counselor to guide teenagers should be put in place.

Over 94% of adult Ugandans agreed that children should be taught to wait until marriage to have sex, according to the AIDS Indicator Survey 2011 report.

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