FDC Agenda – Quality Not Quantity

Last month, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) launched its policy agenda, dubbed Uganda’s Leap Forward that is expected to set the tone for their manifesto ahead of next year’s election. Amid fanfare, FDC president Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu launched the 48-page document, detailing the pillars for a future state.

Reading through it, one is left with the impression that education is one of the pillars on which the party will hinge their quest to transform the country, if they ever take over power.

BUDGET BOOST

According to Dr Patrick Wakida, one of the authors of this policy platform, the FDC government plans to dramatically increase budgetary allocation to the education sector from the present 18 per cent of the entire budget. In the 201415 financial year, government allocated Shs 2.3tn of the total budget worth Shs 15.5tn: this is 14.8 per cent of the total budget, with half of this spent on wages.

According to projections for the next financial year, released last month, government allocation to the sector will increase to Shs2.309tn but will decrease from 1 4.8 per cent to 12.6 per cent (Shs 2.309tn) of total allocation.

Wakida says the slight increment will mean that teachers and lecturers earn salaries, “that will make them feel they want to go to class the next day”.

TEACHER REMUNERATION

“In particular, we are committed to establishing teacher remuneration and compensation systems that give back honour to our teachers, build their pride and reward them for the sacrifices they make in the classroom every day,” reads an excerpt from the policy document.

The FDC also intends to make teachers’ accommodation a priority, according to Wakida, something they share with the NRM. Salaries have been at the heart of the conflict between government and teachers and lecturers with occasional industrial action disrupting learning. Teachers intensified demands for a 100 per cent pay rise in 2011, but government threatened that those who went on with the strike would lose their jobs.

Government then committed to a 50 per cent increment over three years starting with the 201213 financial year – and primary teachers received a 15 per cent pay rise while science teachers in secondary school got a 30 per cent salary boost. There are already warnings of industrial action if salary increment promises are not honoured.

The budgetary increment would also mean increase in school grants and capitation grants to figures that the senior university lecturer says will be available in their manifesto. Currently, the ruling government allocates Shs 7,000 Annually as capitation grant for each child attending school under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme. Government allocates Shs 41,000 to O-level students in public schools and Shs 47,000 private schools implementing the free education programme.

For each A-level student, government disburses Shs 80,000 to government schools and 85,000 to private ones implementing the programme. But the FDC thinks that the current grants are not well utilised. Dr Wakida, who is also lead researcher at Research World International, suspects that the figures reflected in the line ministry’s documents are rather way above given the high dropout rates of about 1.2 million learners every year.

But the FDC leadership would also ensure that the teachers do not cheat government by running away from their roles and continue to bag wages at the end of the month. Wakida says that inspection of education institutions is one of the measures that their government would put in place to ensure that learners are learning, not just schooling.

NOT SCRAPPING UPE

FDC believes the UPE programme has failed due to over politicisation. He says the NRM’s focus on numbers is meant to sway voters to their side, with a deliberate reference to the pre- 1986 enrolment figures.

The party believes that the free education programme should not be heaped into the bin of failed government programmes – because it is an international obligation – but rather be better planned.

Asked how the party would separate politics and education policy, if they took over power, Wakida said that independent professional education bodies would be put in place to monitor the progress in terms of quality, a favourable learning and teaching environment. Also, according to the policy agenda, FDC will monitor education through local governments.

He says the failure of the education system has perpetuated inequality with some regions lagging behind others. It is on this background that FDC’s quest for quality education is premised. He says the current education has kept children confined to their regions.

“Of what value is education to a child in Karamoja if they will keep in Karamoja?” Wakida asks.

The party is also ready to sacrifice quantity at the altar of quality.

“We should rather have a few attaining high-quality education instead of [many] attaining poor- quality education,” he says. “The worst food is the one that never gets ready.”

RESPONSIBILITY

The FDC also pins the government for taking away the responsibility of educating the Ugandan child from the parents’ hands – which policy the opposition that has attempted to unseat the current regime thrice, says backfired. Government has been unclear on how to sustain free universal education programmes with the president warning school authorities against charging parents for learners’ meals.

But Wakida says parents must play a crucial role while government’s part should be empowering them to support their children’s education.

The general policy of the party indicates that it would also work towards improving the livelihoods of parents – money into the hands of parents to enable them meet the ‘immediate’ costs of education services and the welfare of children.

He explains that the FDC government would define what lunch is and how it can be provided through an arrangement that encourages government-parent partnership. Parents, Wakida adds, should instil discipline into their children and support parents teachers associations in schools.

CURRICULUM

To make education relevant, Wakida reveals, the FDC will overhaul the entire education curriculum. The focus would see ‘irrelevant subjects’ such as “European History” scraped off the syllabus. The number of subjects would also be reduced to what children’s potential and talents are. These and more recommendations would be made by a curriculum review committee.

An early education teacher helping a student write on the blackboard

FDC also plans to establish specialised institutions meant to offer specialised skills and knowledge. Dr Wakida says the current regime has politicised such institutions by turning them into universities.

Citing an example of Kyambogo that was a hub of technical training, Wakida expresses dismay that the three colleges – Uganda Polytechnic Kyambogo, Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo and the Uganda National Institute of Special Education – into a university that is now offering academic programmes, including social sciences.

Wakida’s comments come on the heels of last month’s assertion by Makerere University chancellor Prof Mondo Kagonyera that Kyambogo should not have been elevated to a university, in the wake of its success as a centre of excellence in technical and vocational education.

The statement has consequently reignited the debate on whether the country needs the over 30 universities or, rather, more skilling tertiary colleges. Dr Wakida says the party would have no trouble with a large number of universities provided they offered quality education.

But even then, he adds, their government would extend support to and operationalize technical and vocational schools that will target students at all levels of education. In such endeavours, the policy document states, public-private partnerships would be encouraged.

EARLY CHILDHOOD

The FDC paper also indicates that the party would adopt a pre-primary strategy to deliver early childhood development programmes.

Recently, government proposed that all primary schools start nursery sections as a way of equipping pre-schoolers with skills in numeracy and literacy .

Early childhood education has been in the hands of the private sector, with some of them flouting guidelines outlined in the Learning Framework for Childhood Development and Caregivers’ guide that was developed by the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC).According to the ministry of education’s 2013 figures, there are 4,792 early childhood centres or nursery schools across the country.

Source : The Observer

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