backgroundimage

Access to Education Critical to National Development

By Emma Were Belinda

Uganda’s education sector suffered devastation in the 1970’s owing to civil war and unrest that characterized the country at the time. School infrastructure was run down; man power was lost mainly due to brain drain, combined with neglect.  
Shortly after the NRM government came to power, reforms were suggested to revamp the education system and the programmes that the system came up with were mainly to address issues of access, equality and sustainability.
A lot of progress has been made over the years with construction of seed schools, existing schools have been rehabilitated and avenues to increase access to education were initiated. Recently, we witnessed President Museveni officiating at the UPE graduates ceremony- pioneers of the program which was started by the NRM Government as part of its ideological mission of modernization.  We all agree that education equips societies to contribute to the socio-economic progress of a country. This can be reflected in the choices we make, ranging from water usage, choice of transport or how many children a person may have. Most of such values we learn from school, workplaces, church and other social interactions.
For the uneducated they may not get the opportunity to learn these values save from church, or other informal forums that may not offer much.  So for a country to transform, it begins with an informed population, more reason that government prioritized education since 1986 with the introduction of UPE and USE respectively.
With free education in place twenty years ago, Uganda has realize a more liberated people, able to make informed decisions and having the ability to positively make a difference in the economy, participate in democracy for example many of us are able to vote for a particular party over another and are aware of its importance because we are educated.
It also goes without saying that an educated person will get worthwhile employment or has the ability to create their own job because they have acquired the skills in school to do so which in turn propels the economic status of any nation.
 More recently, Government created the Higher Education Students Financing Board to enable underprivileged, but qualified students access loans and scholarships to pursue higher education.  A report recently released by the Board shows that 2014/15 academic year, out of 1,703 applications, 1,325 (77.8%) were approved to get loans. The percentage is an indication that more people are getting access to education.
To qualify for this loan, one must demonstrate they are poor and the criterion I was privileged to access at the Board is very impressive. Amongst the requirements is an LC1 letter, letter from former head teacher who most likely knows the history of the student and also a letter from the town clerk of your district of origin. There are many more requirements that I won’t divulge into, making it a tedious exercise but worth to follow through because it’s then that the most qualified persons access the loans.
‘One must first get admitted to apply for a loan,’ said the Executive Director Mr. Wanyama.  Applicants are required to draw a map leading to their homestead and it’s from these that government makes random visits to these homes to confirm this status. I must commend the due diligence undertaken by the Financing Board because it’s through such rigorous interventions that bona fide applicants are identified.
The loan scheme is meant to benefit everyone and ensure regional balance in higher education and to support courses that are critical to national development. The loan covers Tuition fees, Functional fees, research fees any and Aids and appliances for people with disabilities.
Final beneficiaries are published in the media for everyone to confirm that whoever is benefitting from the loan is really needy and qualifies for it.   The Higher Education Students Fund recently put out a call for loan applications and will stop accepting application in early this August.
Despite the progress made, the education sector still faces challenges ranging from teacher absenteeism, inadequate pay and high numbers but it’s a matter of time and all this will be a thing of the past.  It’s a work in progress and still at the stage of work yourself up the ladder.
Increased access to education comes with limited capacity to absorb everybody within the job market. The youth need to add innovation to achieve development because the programmes set for them are to soften ground and designed to elevate their wellbeing.
The writer is a graduate student at Makerere University.