27.03.2014 30 °C
Morris is a 16 year-old guy from a small town called Bondo on the main road from Arua to Kampala. He traveled the 22 kilometres by bike to drop in on the ORA base trying to sell his home- made truck and bus for 5,000 UGX each (about £1.25). He tells us that it takes about 2 weeks to make one of them. He has been selling his incredibly detailed and expertly crafted vehicles made from sorghum stems to raise the money that he needs for school fees. February is the start of the school season in Uganda and marks the start for the scramble for school fees. Morris needs to raise 114,000 UGX (about £27) for a school term at the Bondo government secondary school where he hopes to complete his S3. He has done very well thus far as many children fail to reach secondary school at all. In our area, perhaps only 10% manage to reach this level of schooling.
As you can see from this table in one of the local primary schools, there is a huge drop in numbers attending primary seven from those attending primary one. In primary one, it is not uncommon to have 300 kids in one class, an incredible number for one teacher to effectively teach.
The drop-out rate is encouraged by parents who believe that a child is more useful at home helping with duties or the small family business selling tomatoes at the market than going to school every day. This must especially true when prospects for children who do attain any level of education is dire. Even university graduates are struggling for employment and instead are sitting at home looking after their family’s children. Another reason for high drop-out rates is the social pressure for girls to get ‘married’ at a young age and bear children aged 14, 15 or 16. These girls get bride wealth for their parents of goats and cows and other material things. Having babies is one of the highest goals of a woman.
At home, after school, children are expected to be involved in domestic work such as caring for the goats or digging in the garden. Water needs to be fetched and food needs to be prepared. Some children are so heavily involved in house work that it affects their school performance. No TV or computer games for these kids, there are duties to perform at home. In fact, if you are called ‘playful’, it means that you are not a very dutiful child because you are abandoning your domestic role. Children are trained to be ‘mini-adults’ from a young age. If the parents are out trying to earn a small income at the market, the older children are responsible to act as a parent by cooking food and looking after the other kids. All of these challenges and more mean that educating the next generation of Ugandan children is an uphill battle.
Education is a major headache in Uganda. Despite universal primary education (UPE) having been brought in to address illiteracy in Uganda as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, the circumstantial evidence shows that UPE may in fact be increasing illiteracy. Although many children start primary school, their performance and progress is a struggle meaning there is a high dropout rate. Schooling is a huge challenge. Not only are there big classes meaning a competition for a teacher’s attention or even a seat on a bench, school starts early and finishes late. Children are often not eating a breakfast before they leave in the morning and don’t get any lunch at school. Although UPE is supposed to mean free education for primary children, there are hidden costs such as school uniforms, pens, exam fees, and exercise books among others. These costs are not very high, but are still difficult for many parents especially when there are so many dependants to have to look after (Uganda has the 2nd highest fertility rate in the world; the average woman in Uganda bears 6 live children and over 50% of the population is under 15). Many families also include children from extended family who suffer with poverty or who are orphaned.
Many government schools are performing very poorly and pupils are learning very little at all.
ORA Uganda, the organisation that I volunteer for, attempts to address some of these huge community and social challenges by paying the school fees of sponsored children, children who have been identified by the community as being more vulnerable especially since one or more of their parents have died most likely through AIDS. Educational fees are paid throughout primary school and on into secondary and tertiary education. ORA Uganda also pays for teachers to teach some of the sponsored children after school to increase their chances of learning properly.
ORA Uganda is only able to help a few children in one sub-county of Uganda. There are countless other children like Morris who have to rely on their own initiative to try to earn some pennies for school fees. After all his efforts, I hope and pray that Morris will be successful and be able to complete his education and fulfil his dreams.