Education sector reform in Uganda: a critical assessment

The Government of Uganda launched an ambitious education reform programme in 1998. How has this programme helped the country to make progress towards the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to meet the 2000 Dakar Education For All (EFA) Commitments?

Uganda’s reform programme, the Education Strategic Investment Plan (ESIP), was prompted by President Museveni’s promise to provide free primary education for up to four children in every family. The introduction of free primary education from 1997 gave rise to a significant increase in the number of children accessing an already over-burdened education system. The level of consultation and technical analysis underpinning the ESIP led to a national framework for the Government’s education planning and budgeting, and amounted to a breakthrough in relations between the Government, development partners and civil society.

A book by the UK’s Department for International Development details several studies of the education reform process. It explores the main ESIP activities implemented from 1997 to 2004 (financing education reform; improving basic education quality; funding access and equity in primary education; and increasing access, equity and efficiency in post-primary education) and records the changes and lessons learned. It shows how combining political commitment with a clear and rational conception of reform, and generous external financial support, has helped the country to make significant progress towards its MDG obligations.

Financing education reform

In response to the problem of education funding and aid management, the Government established a Sector Wide Approach (SWAp) under the ESIP. It included the setting up of budget support modalities. This eliminated many of the usual problems related to donor co-ordination as only one programme, the ESIP, was supported. The SWAp has been successful, mainly because decision-making was devolved to the Ministry of Education and Sport (MoES), and also because the Government developed a more comprehensive and coherent approach to aid management.   

Improving the quality of basic education

This focuses on primary curriculum reform, the language of instruction policy for lower primary, the provision of basic learning materials, primary teacher development, and the establishment and maintenance of education standards. Some of these areas have experienced significant challenges. For instance, there was little ownership of the new primary curriculum among the MoES and schools, and so it was not wholeheartedly supported when introduced. The curriculum has high cost implications, but these were not clearly resolved. Therefore, when it was launched, at least four subjects lacked adequate learning and teaching materials.

Funding access and equity in primary education

The Government established the Universal Primary Education (UPE) school facilities grant (SFG) to cover the cost of tuition fees and basic school operational costs. However, families still need to provide writing materials, uniforms and lunches. The flow of UPE funds to schools has been significantly delayed due to lengthy supply chains, yet the funds largely enable local ownership of schools. SFGs were designed to help the most needy school communities to construct classrooms, toilets and teachers’ houses, and purchase furniture. Essentially, they have been successful, although the book reports several concerns.

Increasing access, equity and efficiency in post-primary education

A five-stage approach was taken to planning the equitable and efficient expansion of post-primary education, which translated into a strategic plan of action. This shows that under complex conditions of conflict and diversity, consultation can lead to positive results.

The book identifies many insights that may offer guidance to policymakers, practitioners, decision-makers, governments, development partners and non-governmental organisations. These include:

‘Education Reform in Uganda – 1997 to 2004: Reflections on Policy, Partnership, Strategy and Implementation’, UK’s Department for International Development (DfID): Education Papers, Researching the Issues 60, DFID: London, by Michael Ward, Alan Penny and Tony Read, 2006 Full document.
'Education Sector Reform: The Ugandan Experience', International Journal of Educational Development 28 (3), by Alan Penny, Michael Ward, Tony Read and Hazel Bines, 2008

Funded by: The UK Department for International Development

id21 Research Highlight: 25 February 2008

Further Information:
Michael Ward
Department for International Development
1 Palace Street
London, SW1E 5HE
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 207 0230000
Fax: +44 207 0230019
Contact the contributor: mp-ward@dfid.gov.uk

Department for International Development (DFID), UK

ORDER THIS AND OTHER DFID EDUCATION PAPERS FREE OF CHARGE: Please provide your name, address and the titles of the papers you require (see below for a full list of papers)
DFID Education Publications Despatch
PO Box 190
Sevenoaks TN14 5SP

Tel: +44 (0)1734 748661
Contact the contributor: enquiry@dfid.gov.uk

Full list of DFID Education Papers

Other related links:
‘The INEE Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies: lessons from three case studies’

‘A culture of quality: distance education in Uganda’

‘Rebuilding education in Afghanistan: the challenges ahead’

‘Are governments and donors honouring EFA financial commitments? ’

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