Schooling in Uganda Differs from U.S. in Many Ways
Our U.S. sponsors often receive letters from their sponsored children talking about how they are performing in school. Sometimes, it is hard to put their conversations in perspective because schooling in Uganda differs from the United States in so many ways. Britain’s school system served as the model for how schools are structured in Uganda and for how students progress through schools. In addition, the resources Ugandan schools have, especially those that are government run, tend to be significantly less than the resources found in U.S. schools. Here are some notable differences:
School in Uganda starts in mid-February, while in the U.S., schools begin in August.
Public and Private Schooling
In Uganda, like the U.S., primary school is free. However, in Uganda where 33 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, many families struggle with the cost of books, pencils, the required school uniforms, black dress shoes, and PTA and exam fees. These costs prohibit many children from attending the “free” public schools.
There are also private schools in Uganda, like in the U.S., that cost more and often offer a better education and learning environment for the children. Uganda’s “free” primary schools often have one teacher teaching over 120 pupils.
In the U.S., we have elementary school (grades kindergarten through grade five), middle school or junior high (six through eight) and high school (nine through 12). In Uganda, primary school normally lasts seven years, but since many students in rural areas will often have prolonged absences, primary school can often last much longer. On a normal trajectory, secondary school lasts six years.
In the U.S., we have standardized testing yearly, but a student’s performance on these would rarely affect whether they progress to the next grade or level of schooling.
In Uganda, at the end of primary school, students take the primary leaving examinations (PLE). If a student does not pass the PLE, they do not move into secondary school.
Similarly, secondary school is divided into two parts and a student must pass the Uganda Certificate of Education exams to pass to the second level of secondary school. Once students complete the second portion of secondary school, they complete the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education. Those who pass may then move on to university.
Attendance and Drop-Out Rates
In the U.S., it is mandatory for children over 5 to between 16 and 18 (depending on the state) to attend school. In Uganda, nearly 70 percent of children are likely to drop out of primary school. However, this has improved since 1997 when primary school fees were abolished under Universal Primary Education (UPE). Since UPE, enrollment increased from 3.1 million in 1996 to 8.1 million in 2013.
While in the U.S., teachers could often be paid better, in Uganda, teachers are among the lowest paid public servants. This low pay affects the quality of the teachers and the quality of the education. Government paid teachers have high absenteeism rates and may miss as much as one day of school per week due to second jobs or low morale.
Outreach Uganda is fortunate to be able to support nearly 500 students in the Agatwa School along with an additional almost 100 sponsored students in Jinja and Kitgum ranging in age from children as young as 4 or 5 all the way through university. Our Agatwa School had its first class of primary seven graduates in December 2014, where 11 of 13 students progressed to secondary or vocational education. A second class of 20 P-7 students graduated in December 2015.