On 16 March, I attended a symposium on higher education in Uganda, and the debate was intense.
The debate was supported by DRUSSA (Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa), a five-year programme that was established in October 2011 to support 24 research-intensive universities in 14 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
In a room filled with higher education gurus, professors and heads of universities, I was privileged to capture various explanations in response to the frank discussions on the quality of education in Uganda, and the answers were varied, if not interesting.
In a room filled with higher education gurus, professors and heads of universities, I was privileged to capture various explanations in response to the frank discussions on the quality of education in Uganda, and the answers were varied, if not interesting.”
The experts offered several explanations, including the following: The teacher is the core of quality education and that you cannot expect the best if your teacher is worst; Uganda has quality education but it is not uniform; the content may be irrelevant; we are doing assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning; and Uganda’s education assessment indicators are so high..
One stunning statistic came from Vincent Ssembatya, the director of quality assurance directorate at Makerere University in Uganda. His most recent research revealed that of the 1.8 million children who get into school annually in Uganda, 500,000 drop out in primary one.
It was a defining moment for the leading lights of higher education in Uganda as they wanted to know the reason for such statistic. They did not ask verbally, but one could easily discern it from the expressions on their faces. Ssembatya had no answer.
Eriabu Lugujjo, an electrical engineer and professor, who spent 35 years teaching engineering at Makerere University, offered his understanding of the situation. Lugujjo, who is also the vice-chancellor of Uganda-based Ndejje University, said children go hungry because the schools do not feed them and their parents do not pack lunch for them.
Others thought the kids just got bored of school. In primary one? I wondered. To my surprise, some educationists were of the view that most parents have abdicated their responsibilities and are not taking care of their children anymore.
Ssembatya said the system has failed to link UNESCO ‘Education for All’ goals one and six, which seek to improve early childhood education and ensure quality at the higher level.
The two goals fall far apart in Uganda, he argued, as the educationists concurred that if they clean up the base, there will be quality at the higher level.
Joseph Oonyu, an associate professor at the School of Education at Makerere University, said the quality of basic education influences the quality of higher education, prompting me to agree that Uganda needs to prioritise early childhood education to enhance the quality of higher education.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.