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Uganda Makes Great Strides in Addressing Gender Gap in Education

UNESCO’s recently released Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring report lists encouraging statistics regarding gender parity in Uganda’s educational system. The report states that Uganda improved by 95 per cent over the last decade. Statistics from the Education Ministry show that net enrollment for girls increased from 82.3 per cent in 2000 to 97.2 per cent today. Among boys the same figure rose from 88.8 per cent in 2000 to a current rate of 96.3 per cent.

Scout Leader of Uganda Martyrs School planting tree at the school, Mbarara, Uganda 2011

This is a step forward for Uganda, which ranks among the lowest nations in the United Nations Development Programe human development rankings. And though getting students into class is a starting point, some are stressing that quality is more important than quantity. “If we are seeing both sexes at par, how many of those can read and write?” asked MP Rosemary Sseninde. “I think we must appreciate that we are making strides. We are determined to address all the challenges, like improving facilities, access to scholastic materials and ensuring that classrooms are not overcrowded,” said Jessica Alupo, Uganda’s Education Minister.

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Public-Private Partnerships Advance Secondary Education in Uganda

In the classroom of a primary schoolUganda’s school system, despite having achieved encouraging progress in primary education, is currently unable to meet its population’s need for secondary schooling. To improve the situation, public-private partnerships like those of the PEAS organization (Promoting Equality in African Schools) are stepping in to create self-sustaining secondary schools in areas that need them most.

Uganda has increased its primary school enrollment rate to above 90%. Secondary school enrollment rates remain low, however, hovering around 25%. The lack of secondary schooling limits job opportunities for Uganda’s young, growing population, and often traps families in a cycle of poverty.

There are not enough secondary schools to meet the need, and those that exist are often poorly managed, and teachers often strike over missing and delayed paychecks. Promoting Equality in African Schools, a UK-based charity, is one organization promoting a new type of secondary school to address some of these problems.

PEAS schools operate as public-private partnerships. Funding from the charity is supplemented by the Ugandan government and tuition paid by parents. PEAS currently operates 21 schools in Uganda, and plans to expand to 100. The goal, according to PEAS founder John Rendel, is for charity funding to eventually taper off, leaving schools completely self-sustaining by the year 2021.

The PEAS model relies on structured curriculum and standards, with adequate monitoring and school accountability. Schools focus on providing access to high quality education to students from poor families.

PEAS schools charge a fee for tuition- a controversial move, as UNESCO findings have shown that any fee can deter poor families from enrolling their children. Susan Opok, the PEAS managing director, notes that although the fees are “a very big sacrifice” for some parents, they are necessary to pay teachers and ensure that schools can achieve financial independence in the future.

Though public-private partnership schools like those run by PEAS don’t solve every problem in the school system, they do create hope of wider access to better quality education for more students. And for a country like Uganda with tens of millions of youths approaching adulthood in need of education and employment, they are a huge step in the right direction.

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1500 Women Die Yearly in Uganda after Unsafe Abortions

IMG_1593In Uganda, approximately 1,500 women die yearly due to complications from abortions.  These deaths account for nearly one-third of all mortalities from pregnancy-related causes. With high rates of unwanted pregnancy and laws severely restricting access to abortion services, many women resort to high risk abortion practices out of desperation.

These women either seek help from untrained providers who use unsafe abortion procedures or may try to induce abortion themselves. These forms of abortion often lead to serious complications such as death or severe and potentially permanent injury; yet these women often delay or avoid needed medical care because of the stigma attached to the practice of abortions.

Women are forced to resort to these unsafe alternatives because they lack access to needed reproductive health services. Ugandan law only allows abortion under special circumstances such as when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s physical or mental health. Since the interpretation of this law remains vague,  most health providers choose not to provide abortion services for fear of legal repercussions.

Dr. Charles Kiggundu, the president of the Association of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Uganda, clarifies his position: “This makes providers of service to fear. Nobody wants to be punished, so you do not touch. We need the law to be interpreted. We do not want to give a service then end up in jail for 14 years.”

High rates of unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancies also significantly contribute to the country’s struggle with high risk abortions. In Uganda, 24% of girls get pregnant before they reach the age of nineteen. Additionally, of the 2 million pregnancies that occur yearly, 900,000 (40%) are unplanned with 400,000 (20%) of these resulting in abortion.

Several circumstances contribute to these statistics. Premarital sex is common throughout Uganda but it is stigmatized, making it difficult for women and girls to access contraception and the sexual education they require. As a result, girls under the age of 20 experience high rates of unwanted pregnancy, school dropout, and sexual violence and coercion. In a study of rural secondary students, the Guttmacher Institute found that 43% of girls were unwilling during their first sexual experience. According to Monicah Amoding, the National Female Youth MP, “we need services that will help young people avoid early pregnancies. These should be spread in rural areas in modes that are easily accessible for both parents and children.”

In an effort to begin providing necessary resources and services to school-aged children, the Ugandan government has announced plans to make sex education a compulsory subject. This initiative seeks to teach children about their sexual health rights and options in order to reduce premarital sex, unplanned pregnancy and school dropout rates.

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Ugandan Teachers Strike For Better Pay

Ugandan StudentsPublic school teachers in Uganda began striking Monday, September 16, after the government rejected their demands for a 20% pay increase. Uganda’s 160,000 teachers are among the country’s worst paid public employees.

Primary school teachers in Uganda earn an average of 250,000 shillings ($100) a month, while secondary school teachers earn 450,000 shillings ($175). In 2011 the government promised to raise teachers’ pay, but now insists that it lacks the funds to do so.

James Tweheyo, leader of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU), says the strike will continue until demands are met, and that teachers will resist any attempts to intimidate or harass them.

“We expect some government officials to visit some schools to intimidate some teachers, but… even if teachers are harassed to [go] to schools I am sure without doubt these teachers are not teaching,” he said.

UNATU officials recently met with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who appointed a commission to resolve the issue. Talks stalled, however, when UNATU representatives highlighted areas in the national budget where funds could be redirected to teacher salaries.

“We pointed out money which was meant for luxuries for ministers like entertainment, foreign trips and they want this money for end of year parties,” says Tweheyo.

Ofwono Opondo, a government spokesperson, told the press that it was not possible for the government to satisfy teachers’ demands at the moment.

The Ugandan government has found itself struggling to meet budget needs since the international community cut off aid to the country last year. As aid was suspended due to allegations of government corruption, questions as to why the country cannot find the money to pay its teachers may further damage the administration’s reputation.

According to UNATU, the government “holds the key” to ending the strike.  As soon as demands are met, Tweheyo says, teachers are ready to “settle down to class and teach these children to our best.”

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Ugandan Research Declares That Cultural Norms Hinder Girls’ Education

Precious SmileResearchers at the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University in Uganda have presented a study concluding that Ugandan cultural norms are holding back girls’ education and women’s empowerment. At the presentation of the research, government officials promised to use the findings to address challenges girls and women face in the country.

Lead researchers for the project, which ran from October 2012 to March 2013, included Makerere University Professor Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, Dr. Florence Kyoheirwe, and Dr. Carol Watson. According to Professor Bantebya, the researchers uncovered widespread discrimination against Ugandan girls with respect to education and empowerment, mostly rooted in religious beliefs, and cultural attitudes, norms, and practices.

Professor Bantebya cited cultural attitudes that consider boys to be more important than girls, and told the audience that factors like child marriage and unequal gendered division of household labor inhibit girls’ education.

“Despite government interventions to educate girls, progress is still held back by so many constraints. Our girls are given in marriage at an early stage for bride wealth . Even some male teachers discriminate against girls, calling them less intelligent,” she declared.

To tackle the issue, the project’s researchers recommended a mass sensitization campaign, increased government focus on the problem, and a repeal of divorce and inheritance laws that discriminate against women.

Researchers plan to implement a second phase of study, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. The next stage will compare trends between Uganda and other nations, including strategies used by other countries to overcome the problem.

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Indian Universities Work To Recruit East African Students

India’s higher education sector is determined to once again achieve the title of being the leading destination for students from Africa and is holding workshops in East Africa in an effort to attract more students.

Studying

According to Sibabrata Tripathi, the Indian High Commissioner to Kenya, Indian universities are popular because of the affordable cost, use of English, and the quality of education. Additionally, the institutions arrange for visas for the students, making the process easier on the students and parents.

Some of the courses that marketed to foreign students include Bachelor’s Degrees in: engineering, nursing, commerce, information and communication technology, and law.

Kenya, with 3,500 students in India, currently has the most African students there. Uganda is currently working with India to sign a pact to ease the student visa and temporary work permit process for students, due to a growing interest to study there.

There are currently 25,000 African students studying in 500 public and private universities throughout the country.

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The Second Eastern African Forum Paves the Way to Universal Education

Primary School Classroom, EthiopiaSince its inception in 1990, Education for All (EFA) has encountered its fair share of obstacles to achieve its six goals by 2015.  Most recently, these challenges particularly unique to Eastern Africa were addressed during the Second Eastern Africa High Level Forum on EFA from July 9-10, 2013 in Kampala, Uganda.

Regional Ministers of Education identified a total of thirteen main challenges prevalent in the region, including the lack of empirical policy development, planning, monitoring, and evaluation along with overall cooperation critical for effective implementation.

The heart of the discussion at the Forum laid on the EFA Acceleration Framework, also known as the “Big Push,” which contains additional five courses of action that are to expedite the EFA process. Other topics evaluated the progress and results brought about by EFA as well as Eastern Africa’s post-2015 agenda.

The Forum has culminated in the Kampala Commitment, a collective pledge signed by ten Eastern African countries: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania (Mainland) and Zanzibar, and Uganda. The Commitment’s purpose not only serves the achievement of EFA but also the post-2015 agenda for Eastern Africa. The ten countries will continue their cooperation till June of 2014, through comprehensive national assessments leading up to a final review of their progress.

The Forum first started in 2011 under the Mombassa Call for Action. This year, it was hosted by the Minister of Education and Sports of the Government of Uganda, supported by the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and Uganda National Commission for UNESCO. The Republic of Rwanda will host the third one next year.

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Teacher-Training College Opens In Midst of The Sudanese Civil War

Nuba village -  Kordofan - Sudan

In the midst of a decades-long war several thousand children brave the threat of air raids to attend primary school in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The Sudanese government in Khartoum has been withholding education services from the population, but the Catholic Diocese of El Obeid funds the schools in the area. They plan to open a new secondary school next year, and recently opened a small teacher-training college.

The war is a conflict between black African, Christian rebels and an Arab, Islamic regime in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. In addition to withholding basic services, the Sudanese government continues to bar humanitarian aid organizations from the mountains.

As the fighting continues, however, the local people have revived the efforts to restore education. Bishop Massem Max Gassis, the head of the diocese, stated that the new teacher-training college is “the future nucleus of education in the Nuba Mountains.” His hope is that the college will provide the Nuba people a measure of self-sufficiency and serve as an impetus for the continuation and spread of schools in the region.

A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, with South Sudan seceding in 2011, leaving the rebel party to continue the war in the Nuba mountains. When fighting resumed in mid-2011, close to 100 primary schools, and the only two secondary schools, shut down. Across five rebel-controlled counties, there are approximately 36,300 students in 141 primary schools. However, the population is estimated to be as high as one million.

The most qualified teachers were expatriates from Kenya and Uganda, and fled when the fighting resumed. The children also fled the schools to remain in the protected rocky hills of their homes. Approximately 20,000 students stopped attending schools.

As the fighting enters its third year, the local people hope to retain a level of normalcy in their lives, and education provides it. Patrick Alalo, the principal of a primary school in Kauda, stated, “Education is so important- without it we are useless.”

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Ugandan Government Attempts to Reintegrate School Dropouts

Older StudentsUgandan school dropout rates are among the worst in East Africa. In an attempt to combat this issue, the government is setting up a committee to help re-admit those who have already dropped out, especially girls.

In Uganda only 30% of students who begin primary school manage to complete it. According to Dr. Hilda Tadria, of the Mentoring and Empowering Program for Young Women, the statistics are even worse for girls.

“Yes, only 30% complete primary seven. But of this 30%, the majority are boys,” she said.

According to Dr. Tadria girls often drop out due to unintended pregnancy. Factors like a lack of sanitary materials and having to share latrines with boys also play a part in this problem.

Dr. Chrysostom Muyingo, higher education minister, says that students also drop out due to poverty. Many children, especially orphans, cannot afford school fees. The government, he says, realizes that it has a duty to educate them.

The committee in charge of the reintegration project plans to research effective methods and begin readmitting dropouts early next year.

This move is part of a wider awareness of the need for change in Uganda’s educational system. Recent events such as a meeting of the Uganda Women’s Network to discuss gender equality, and the government’s Skilling Uganda project, intended to promote technical skills among graduates, have kept public discourse open and the government in search of new ways to improve education.

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Uganda: UNDP Report Reveals Low Ranking Performance in Human Development

Uganda In a new report entitled Human Development 2013, Uganda is ranked 161 out of 182 countries in human development, a position the country has held for the last three years.

The report was launched in Kampala, where the United Nations Development Programe (UNDP) senior economic advisor Alex Warren-Rodrigues pointed out that although Uganda’s global ranking has not changed, it has made great progress in education and health when compared to the last 20 years.

One of the Ugandan government’s most progressive decisions was introducing free education, boosting their education sector and championing Uganda as a role model for the rest of Africa.

It is expected that Uganda’s educational focus will continue as the government has decided to allocate close to sh1.4 trillion to the education sector throughout 2013. The source of this wealth needs to be considered however, as much of the money is funded by donors and international financial institutions.

Proof of their decisive success has been supported by Rodrigues, who states, “Today, Ugandans are better off than they were 20 years ago despite the fact that the rankings have remained the same.  Life expectancy has improved and the education levels have also improved. However, we note that maternal mortality rate among women and the quality of education remain issues that need to be addressed.”

The country is still below average in provision of basic human needs to stimulate human and economic growth, the report adds. The report however emphasizes that economic growth alone does not automatically translate into human development progress.
“Pro-poor policies and significant investments in people’s capabilities can expand access to decent work and provide for sustainable progress,” the report says.

“To sustain human development for the generations to come,” Rodrigues said, “Uganda and other countries need to address the issues of inequality, unemployment, democracy and education.”

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