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Early ghosts in schools as UPE probe starts

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Every public sector in Uganda is breeding and exuding corruption. President Museveni has admitted, without expressly saying so, that stealing and abuse of public resources under his government has run out of control. He has now sought divine intervention of God. On June 20, the president declared a day of national prayers to help rid the country of corruption. Before that, the country has been disturbed by various reports of abuse and outright theft of government resources in nearly all sectors of the economy.

One classic example is the Universal Primary and Secondary Education (UPE& USE) and the challenges surrounding the free education scheme. The president set up a commission of inquiry on December 12 last year to investigate prevalent corruption in UPE funds and other resources. The commission, headed by Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi, is required to make a comprehensive review of the UPE and USE programmes,  investigate alleged existence of ghost pupils and teachers in schools per district and look into the efficiency of using enrolment numbers instead of attendance lists as a basis for releasing capitation grants to schools.

The commission was initially supposed to produce its report by June 12 but the deadline was extended December 12 and the investigation will cost Shs 4.3 billion.

According to Ketrah Katunguka, who is the secretary and counsel to the commission they have already visited schools in Masaka and Ankole, Kigezi, Toro and Mubende. It is now in Busoga region after completing inquiries in Buganda.

We are establishing why students are not learning if that is the complaint, finding out what the cause is and how it can be avoided. We find out whether teachers are doing their work, and if not, why and how do we make them teach? We are investigating students and teachers absenteeism, says Katunguka.

She said the commission has already discovered ghost schools, teachers and pupils in the visited regions. The number of ghosts is expected to get higher as the commission covers more regions.

Early this year, the Transparency International (TI) Africa Education Watch Programme report: Africa Education Watch: good governance lessons for primary education showed that the governments perception that massive enrollment is a sign of success of the UPE programme must be revised to address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, studying under trees, poor financial management, illegal fees, and lack of school inspection. The report exposes irritating embezzlement of UPE funds and abuse of authority by head-teachers who charge illegal fees, make students offer labour on teachers projects, sexual harassment, and systematic teacher absenteeism. The report noted that 85% of schools surveyed had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In most cases, financial records were either unavailable or incomplete. The survey found limited financial documentation at district education offices and at schools. Most people who handle school grants had no training in basic finance management.

Another survey titled, The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda, conducted in 2007 by the Ministry of Education to determine efficiency in provision of education services found an average rate of teacher absenteeism of 27% in Uganda, compared to other countries like Zambia (17%), and Papa New Guinea (15%). The aggregate loss caused by this absenteeism constituted 19% which translates into Shs 53 billion out of the Shs276 billion of the Education ministrys wage bill.

In a swift headcount at the beginning of this year, the Education ministry established that the number of pupils listed in primary school registers was 25% higher than those actually studying. Similarly, the report established that the number of students in lower secondary schools had been exaggerated by 12%. For instance at Amaji Primary School last year, the school register had 816 pupils. But when the headcount was conducted the school administration could not account for 302 pupils.
It is reported that many districts chief administrative officers have failed to show proper accountability for the UPE and USE funds.

At least 8 million pupils and close to 600,000 students are benefiting from the universal primary and secondary education programmes respectively.

Critics say the surging UPE and USE enrollment has been achieved at the expense of quality of education. They say the quality of education in UPE and USE schools has been severely compromised by the overwhelming enrollment that is not supported by corresponding expansion teaching staff and other scholastic infrastructure like classroom space and textbooks.

Studies have shown Uganda has higher primary school dropout rates compared to other countries in the region. A study by UNESCO released in April showed that a follow-up of every 100 pupils who began P.1 in 1999 only 25 (25%) completed P.7 in 2006. Yet in Kenya, 84% of pupils reached P.7. Tanzania had 81% and Rwanda 74%.

However the Ministry of Education has put the primary education completion rate at 60%. But according to the UNEB statistics, 444,019 pupils sat last years Primary Leaving Examinations. This was half the 890,997 pupils who enrolled for P.1 in 2003, meaning the dropout rate before P.7 was less than 60% contrary to the claim by the ministry.
It is these challenges that the Justice Muhanguzi commission is expected to find solutions for in order to transform the free education programme from a quality diminishing to an enviable scheme for all.

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