The Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) has proposed that the government introduce universal early childhood education (ECE) to ensure that all learners are well-prepared before joining primary schools.
The idea is one of the proposals that UWONET made to the education policy review commission, which is currently conducting public hearings.
Judy Kamanyi, a consultant that was hired to prepare a submission for the women’s network, said that ECD is a critical foundation for the learning of all children, but the government has left it in the hands of private proprietors who are also not properly regulated.
Early Childhood Education (ECE) is for learners aged 3 through 5 preparing for their entry into primary school.
Kamanyi, who is a policy expert and former Executive Secretary for Action for Development (ACFODE), says that although ECE schools, which are also known as Early Childhood Care and Education-ECCE centers, are important, they are currently concentrated in urban areas, thus denying access to rural learners.
She also added that in areas where they are available, they are expensive, another reason why many parents ignore them. In her view, if this level of education were made free for all children, access would increase and later translate into better results for other levels of education given the fact that the foundation of all learners would have been made firm.
This is not the first time that such a suggestion has been made; the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit of the Ministry of Finance made a similar suggestion in April 2016 based on a UNICEF study that found that 91 percent of Uganda’s children do not have access to pre-primary education.
According to the study, one of the main factors limiting access is the fact that eight out of ten Ugandans cannot afford the costs associated with pre-primary education. Additionally, it was discovered that the cost of not having access to pre-primary education in Uganda was equivalent to 600 Ugandan shillings for every 1,000 invested in Universal Primary Education (UPE).
In 2019, the World Bank also pointed out that although Uganda had done a remarkable job of providing universal education at the primary and secondary levels, more work needed to be done in the nursery sector as well.
Safaa El Kogali, the World Bank Education Practice Manager for East Africa, noted that focusing on primary education is not enough if learners are likely to fail or not complete school because they did not attain pre-primary education.
During the hearing, Col (Rtd) Nuwe Amanya Mushega, the chairperson of the commission, noted that this was a good topic of discussion tabled before them, given the fact that it is one of the things that many people have been debating for a long time.
He, however, added that he could not express his view on the issue at hand at the moment as it could bias the commission on the matter.
Brighton Barugahare, the Commissioner in charge of policy analysis and research at the Ministry of Education, also said that although some of the proposals presented to the commission are good, there is a need for those marking them to take into consideration legal and financial implications that they might have.
UWONET also proposed that in order to improve the quality of education, the policy should be expanded to include teaching and learning needs, as well as school facilities and buildings that are gender-responsive and accessible.
Kamanyi said that this will decrease the number of girls that are sometimes forced to miss school or completely drop out due to menstrual issues that are sometimes ignored.
Along with menstrual hygiene concerns, UWONET also presented further recommendations that could help close the gap between male and female students in the educational system, from pre-primary to higher education institutions.
In their paper, they noted that although there have been initiatives to support female students, particularly in higher education, it is necessary to extend such policies to lower levels for a variety of reasons, including to encourage more women to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects.
In 1990, the government introduced an affirmative action policy in the governance of higher education. From 1991, qualified women were entitled to bonus points of 1.5 for college admission, the purpose of which was to increase the participation of women in higher education.
However, for some members of the commission, like Barugahare, affirmative action might not be the right remedy to the problem. In fact, Barugahare wondered whether the time has arrived for the education system to reconsider female, or gender, affirmative action.
Monica Abenakyo Monge, a member of the commission, said that more and more people think that giving girls more rights has only taken those rights away from boys.
According to Monge, many who hold this belief also believe that, in the near and distant future, gender affirmative action may be required for a child.
Another member of the commission, Prof. David Kabasa, also challenged UNOWET to propose to the commission some of the policies that might be implemented now to stop future gender inequities within the educational system.
With a lot of discussion around gender issues, Dr. Joseph Muvawala, the vice chairperson of the commission, recommended that UWONET establish a working partnership with the commission in order to bring to light gender-related concerns such as teenage pregnancy, teacher deployment, sexual abuse in schools, and maternity and paternity leave of teachers, among others.