Working in Partnership to Educate All Ugandan Children
By Alice Albright
Those truths are certainly not lost on the Ugandan government, which has energetically placed a priority on strengthening its education sector and ensuring that all children get the quality schooling they deserve.
That’s why Uganda joined the Global Partnership for Education in 2011 to get additional international support and build a stronger, better quality and more durable education system that will serve its children for a long time to come. Indeed, I am in Kampala this week to meet with public officials and a variety of development partners to review how our partnership can help reach those goals.
The Global Partnership has provided US$ 100 million to the Ugandan government for implementing some important activities towards achieving the country’s primary education goals. In addition, the partnership worked with all stakeholders in education to draw a strategic plan for education sector in Uganda.
The funding supports, among other initiatives, the Uganda School and Teacher Effectiveness Project, which focuses on training substantially more of the country’s teachers. The project, implemented by the government with supervision by the World Bank, aims to equip teachers not only with the fundamental teaching skills they need to succeed in the classroom, but also with the know-how to make schools more hospitable for all students – especially girls.
Why girls? As of 2013, approximately seven percent of primary-school age Ugandan girls were not in school at all and only 54 percent who do go to primary school complete it. This means they will almost certainly go without the basic literacy and numeracy skills they need to escape a lifetime of poverty and other social and health threats. These gaps put their families, communities and, indeed, all of the Ugandan society, at risk to fall far short of their full economic, intellectual and social potential.
Getting girls in school requires efforts to lower cultural and economic barriers that keep many families from sending their daughters to school. It also relies on the presence of teachers, particularly women, who understand girls’ needs, such as protection from harassment or sexual violence, on safe, reliable transport to and from school (especially in remote areas) and on the availability of clean and separate toilets. These strategies have worked well in many countries and Ugandan leaders need to identify what works best in Uganda.
The Global Partnership’s funding also makes it possible to teach head teachers and other school administrators to manage schools more effectively and efficiently. One of the school management training programs will train more than 300 head teachers from eastern Uganda through weekend classes. These and other trainings will strengthen Uganda’s education sector by expanding the pool of administrators who have the indispensable skills to lead and motivate other educators, manage cost-effective budgets and address the changing learning needs of their communities.
A portion of the funds from the Global Partnership grant will also go to building more and better-equipped school buildings, as well as housing for teachers working in remote regions of the country.
Overall, support from the Global Partnership will help expand an education sector that has struggled to keep up with the remarkably high population growth Uganda has experienced over the last decade and a half.
Uganda bears an even greater burden to ensure that refugee children from neighboring countries also get an education and has played a commendable role as a host. Additional support from UNHCR and UNICEF, among many other partners, is helping these children keep a semblance of normalcy and continue to learn even in difficult circumstances. Ensuring that children continue to go to school during crisis and conflict is key to re-establishing a sense of normalcy and ensuring refugee children (and their parents) remain hopeful and prepared for a better future.
Today’s support from international donors should enable Uganda’s education sector to be more self-sustaining over the long term. This also means that Uganda needs to invest more in basic education from its own revenues. Ideally, the Global Partnership expects countries to gradually increase education spending to 20 percent of the national budget. Currently, Uganda spends about 13 percent. And it will be important that domestic education financing targets poor populations in particular as the learning gaps between rich and poor Ugandan children have been widening in recent years.
It’s much too soon to measure the impact of the Global Partnership’s initiatives in Uganda, as the program has only started this year. But we are hopeful that the mix of interventions Uganda’s Education Ministry is deploying will yield real, lasting and positive results.
If Uganda can sustain its tenacious commitment to meet the important goal of educating all its children, the transformation of its education sector – and of all Ugandan society – will be striking and profound.
Alice Albright is Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education, which supports 61 developing countries to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education, prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable and those living in fragile and conflict-affected countries.