New report tags poor performance on paid kindergarten education

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Children attend class at  Nakasero Kindergarten 


  • Some parents enroll their children directly in Primary One without attending pre-primary. However, such pupils face challenges with socializing, toilet habits, sounds, reading, drawing, and paying attention to the teacher.

Human rights defenders have attributed the poor performance of learners to the lack of free kindergarten education in the country.

In a new report released on June 12, the human rights defenders indicate that while the government provides free primary and secondary education through the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) programs, pre-primary education remains in the hands of private investors.

The research report titled; “Lay a strong foundation for all children: Fees as a discriminatory barrier to pre-primary education in Uganda” shows that if the government continues to neglect the implementation of free pre-primary education for all children, it will result in lifelong inequalities in the education sector.

To add on the above

While presenting the key findings in Kampala, the Executive Director of Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, Ms Angella Kasule highlighted that children who miss pre-primary school generally perform worse in primary school compared to those who attend.

In Uganda, kindergarten is usually for children aged five and six years old to help them socialise and learn basic life skills.

Ms Kasule indicated that all the teachers interviewed confirmed that children who attend pre-primary school are better prepared for primary school.

A head teacher at a primary school in Kampala noted, “Some parents enroll their children directly in Primary One without attending pre-primary. However, such pupils face challenges with socializing, toilet habits, sounds, reading, drawing, and paying attention to the teacher.”

In contrast, the head teacher added that children who attend pre-primary education gain essential skills that “kick-start their learning” in primary school.

Ms Hajjat Tafuma, a teacher at Nakasero Primary School who was present at the launch, added that children who attend pre-primary tend to be more comfortable when they join primary school.

This comfort according to her stems from their familiarity with teachers and peer groups, facilitating a smoother transition and better performance in primary school.

“Children from pre-primary develop skills like sharing and cooperation and are familiar with basic concepts like colors, shapes, and letters. They also understand the school routine and can manage their emotions better,” she said.

She added that children who join primary school at seven years old often find it hard to adjust to the environment and need extra support to adapt to the classroom setting.

She also noted that the post-COVID-19 period saw many children joining primary school without pre-primary education, posing significant challenges.

“In Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools, parents are often not earning well and bring children at seven years old, but these children are not accustomed to the school environment since it’s their first time,” Ms Kasule said.

Interrupted education was also cited as another danger of not having free kindergarten education.

Ms Kasule said even if parents and guardians can initially afford fees to enroll their children in pre-primary education, fees may later become unaffordable, particularly if the parent’s income is not consistent and predictable.

In such cases, the school may send the child home, or the parent is forced to remove their child from the school.

A pre-primary teacher in Omoro district explained that pre-primary enrollment was low in her area, and that “when the school sends a pupil back home for fees, the parents just leave them to stay at home and they never return,” Mrs Kasule noted.

Other dangers that were cited included high drop-out rates, high rates of repetition, premature enrollment of children in primary one when they are only four years old, as opposed to the recommended six years, and increased access issues among others.

The government was also faulted for failing to regulate school fees for kindergarten.

This was a general response from all parents and teachers interviewed for this report indicating that kindergarten schools are charging exorbitant fees, ranging from Shs5,000 per child per term in Nakapiripirit to Shs800,000 per child per term in Kampala.

In other instances, fees can be significantly higher, citing some pre-primary schools in Kampala charging Shs1,750,000, an amount they said is more than the annual tuition for many programs at Makerere University.

“All parents interviewed for this report who did not send their children to pre-primary school cited the inability to pay for it as a key reason for their decision,” Ms Kasule said.

It is against this background that UNICEF Country Director, Dr Safieldin Munir, asked the government to rethink its decision and implement free kindergarten education.

“Learning outcomes for learners who attend nursery schools are higher than their counterparts who do not. Since the government of Uganda was a pioneer of UPE and USE, it should also become a pioneer of pre-primary education, which is free and accessible to every child,” Mr Munir said.

The Assistant Commissioner of Pre-Primary Education at the Ministry of Education, Ms Elizabeth Mbatudde, indicated that the increasing dropout rate is caused by children who missed pre-primary education. Children who struggle in the early grades are more likely to drop out before completing their education.

“According to the economic impact, lower future earnings without a strong education foundation may reduce academic and career prospects, leading to lower lifetime earnings,” Ms Mbatudde said.

She added that the education system incurs high costs to provide remedial education, where they have to group the learners according to their academic level so that they can be handled differently but at the same time.

The State Minister of Primary Education, Ms Joyce Kaducu, whose speech was read by the Director of Basic Education, Mr Ismail Mulindwa, said that the government will implement free pre-primary education when it is ready.

According to him, adding each class of the nursery section to each Universal Primary School would mean additional funds for infrastructure, teachers, and study materials.

“The government will have to amend section 10 of the Education Act 2008 to enable it to provide free nursery education, which was initially entrusted to private owners. This is not a problem and it will be done once the government is ready,” Mr Mulindwa said.

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