FOCUS: ENHANCING EDUCATION FOR YOUNG GIRLS IN UGANDA-- CHALLENGES STAKEHOLDERS FACE

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Akello Patience (11 years old) has a dream of becoming an Engineer

[Africa Focus: Education]

GULU, Uganda--Eleven-year old Akello Patience rolls her eyes innocently as she opens them widely to the click of my phone camera.

Akello is one of the lucky pupils in the northern part of Uganda studying at Baptist Primary School and has manages to reach up to primary six, still with a dream of becoming somebody in the future when she completes her education cycles up to university. “I want to study hard and become an Engineer”, as she declares the profession of her dream to The Black Star News.

Most girls drop out of school before reaching primary seven because of very many factors.

According to the District Education Officer (DEO) of Gulu, Rev. Vincent Oceng-Ocen, 15% of girls in primary schools drop out before completing primary seven, while the percentage of boys dropping out stands at only 10%.

Gulu has only 155 primary schools under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) program with a total of 112,676 pupils. The percentage of girls who have enrolled in primary school this year  stands at 48% while for boys it's 52%. This is only 57% of school age going children in Gulu while 43% have never gone to school.

I met Akello during a one-day conference organized by Uganda’s Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports (MESTS) at St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring School in Gulu town on 23rd September 2015.

The conference seeks to “engage key stakeholders to develop strategies and commitments to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy and child/early marriages” which makes the girl-child like Akello, still with a dream for the future, drop out of school.

Significant barriers to education in Uganda include poverty, child labor, distance from school, teenage pregnancies, child marriages and unequal access to education due to gender and cultural factors. Over the last decade there has been increasing awareness of the impact of conflict on education systems and the importance of education for children and youths as part of post-conflict reconstruction in Northern Uganda.

A survey which was conducted by Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) in 2011 in Uganda reveals that drop out of girls from school is increasing due to teenage pregnancies at 34%, poverty at 28% and engagement in sex at 11%.

Stakeholders are expected to "increase school participation, completion and achievement rates of girls in primary education, like Akello, through addressing the various barriers to girls’ education such as sexual and gender based violence, poor sanitation and poor management of menstruation, among others”.

Statistics of Gulu district show that here there are more girls than boys now enrolling for primary education, but there are more boys who complete school than girls. The reverse is true for completion rate and Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) performance index. Boys who complete primary education in Gulu stand at 96% while only 74% of girls complete primary education over the same period. Only 58% of girls pass their exams in Gulu as compared to boys whose percentage is 63% percent.

“The Ministry of Education wants to re-engage all stakeholders on issues of skills for out-of-school children and the need for non-formal education, teenage pregnancies, early marriages, re-entry of child mothers and menstruation management”, reads part of the concept note for the dialogue. 

The Director of Basic and Secondary Schools in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports, Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga says Ugandans must ensure that all school age going children must be in school, stay in school and complete school.

“We must join in a common struggle to restore the pride of our people in this region and the whole country regardless of race, ethnicity, sex and gender. We must take all our children to school, support the girls that have given birth and end the vice of child early and forced marriages. Our girls are too young to marry before attaining University education”, says Dr. Nsubuga.

One participant, Mr. Moses Okello, the Centre Coordinating Tutor (CCT) of Paicho sub-county, says he has spent more money educating one girl than he has spent in educating five boys.

‘The money I have spent on this girl is more than the money I have spent on the five boys. We should look for ways of making schools more interesting for girls than homes”, says Okello.

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