A draft report by the directorate of education standards has shown that about 20 per cent of head teachers, teachers and pupils are estimated to be absent for at least two days in a week at primary schools in Uganda.
Abdallah Mutazindwa, the director of education standards while presenting a report on the quality of education in Uganda, said the primary education sector has in the last one year been characterised by inadequate and inefficient teaching and learning, resulting from absenteeism among teachers, head teachers, and learners. Additionally, the problem of low teacher motivation is attributed to poor salaries, limited promotional avenues as well as lack of proper accommodation predominantly in hard-to-reach areas.
These and many other factors have affected the quality of education. However, there is a greater hurdle that has vastly contributed to the current state of the poor quality education in the country. Education as a fundamental right lays the onus on governments to ensure all children are able to access it. Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared its importance first in 1948. However, although many governments accepted this act, their inadequate resources prevented them from reaching their goals especially on the quality of the education. In this framework, privatisation was seen as a possible tool to achieve education for all.
Consequently, private schools started to become prevalent particularly in developing countries. A phenomenon that has seen previous giant government schools dwindle due to insufficient state support. Sadly, these academic institutions were the pride of the nation having nurtured and churned out many of East Africa’s great and the mighty individuals.
The concept of privatisation, according to Belfield and Levin (2002), is defined as, the change of hands of managements, commitments and assessments from government-state establishments to private organisations.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be justifiable dimming the advantages of a privatised economy. However, it’s important to consider that some sectors especially subtle ones like education, the foundation on which every strong country develops, is not to be left to the mercy of profit-making. The mere fact that there are numerous figures of children without access to a tangible education coupled with a substantial number of illiterate adults creates a good base for private businesses to profit from declining state investment in education.
Allowing the private sector’s incursion wholly into the education sector with minimal government regulatory capacity is obstructing the purpose and aim of a productive and sustainable education model. Resultantly, multiplication of social-economic problems and challenges becomes inevitable particularly, because of the strategic role education plays in the promotion of fairness and distribution of opportunities.
Promoting private schools is synonymous with agreeing to the idea of autonomy and independence as keys to improved schools. However, according to Dr David Zyngier a senior lecturer at the faculty of education Monash University, autonomy and independence are codes for privatisation that will further entrench difference promoting privilege, hierarchy and social disadvantage and halting any upward social mobility within the education system. Schools that might benefit from more autonomy are the very ones that need least help. Autonomy, then, is a means for dismantling public schooling, freeing it from interest groups such as teacher-parent associations. It should be noted that it’s not just a case of school ownership but of the social values inherent in government schools.
Autonomy for non-government schools permits them to raise hurdles such as high fees only enrolling those who can pay. So what about the concern of the poor students who are left behind in the deteriorating public schools that have lost out on the support and pressure from more educated parents to improve quality. And the teachers, will they be motivated to teach in those impoverished schools with less pay compared to their counterparts in private schools? To compound it all, do the children in the rural schools have any chance in as far as scaling their academic pursuits is concerned, do they have any fair and equal opportunities like all the other Ugandan children?
Education as a life-enhancing, horizon-broadening experience should not be too exclusive. Government while taking steps to regulate private education should concentrate on enhancing the adequacy and quality of public education as well as improving the system principally in regard to teachers’ welfare and motivation. Additionally, putting in place an enabling policy and regulatory framework under which private schools operate effectively and efficiently without undermining government schools is paramount. Also the wider public interest should be considered as well as protected.