While there is state funded primary education available to all, the money available to schools in the state sector is tight and class sizes are huge by our standards: in one school we visited the entry level class for 7 year olds had 207 children and the teacher recognised she could only reach a fraction of the children since those at the back of the class wouldn't be able to hear her. The teachers are also struggling for rights and recognition: many are paid on an irregular basis, some bring their own toddlers to school with them and all are battling against insufficient resources, lack of teaching materials and nowhere to display notices etc, and yet they remain incredibly dedicated to their cause.
As a consequence, enlightened parents want to send their children to the growing number of privately funded primary schools which, although in rudimentary buildings with very basic facilities, do have smaller class sizes and give children the start to life they deserve. Other parents might wish to do this but they are unable to pay the fees, and there are also orphans and children of displaced families who are not able to access this kind of education.
There is very limited provision for children with disabilities to gain an education. Those few schools which have the appropriate staff and facilities need additional financial input from parents or charities to fulfill this role.
The Education system in Uganda reflects the British system left in place when Uganda gained independence. Universal Primary Education was only introduced in 1997 with the aim of improving enrollment and attainment in primary schools. We understand from the media that the sudden influx of pupils led to poor quality education, low pupil achievement, untrained teachers, improper infrastructures and classroom settings. In 2004 Universal Secondary Education was introduced but only about 10% of Primary pupils progress to secondary.
Classes start at a very early age in private schools – Pre-primary can start at 2 - 3 years of age and consist of 3 or 4 year groups. There are 7 Primary classes and in the 7th year, Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) are set, the results of which determine a student’s secondary education options. There are 4 years at Secondary level, studying 8 compulsory subjects, leading to O level exams, known as Ugandan Certificate of Education, followed by a further 2 years studying for A-levels (Ugandan Advanced Certificate of Education). All final exams, at all levels, are set and marked centrally by the Ugandan National Examinations Board which also sets the curriculum, standards and examinations. If successful, students can apply to University or Teacher Training College. There are a number of universities both public and private. Those who do not pass the required PLE standard can either apply to Vocational Colleges, Technical Colleges or seek work. Whilst the majority of children take the PLE at age 13/14 it is not unusual to find much older children sitting the exam. Many children start Primary School when they are older or, through family circumstances, have been forced to take a year out.