One a bright sunny day, Missionaries from Church Missionary Society, arrived at the court of Kabaka Mutesa 1 in Buganda. They carried a Christian bible with them. They came to spread Christianity, at least that was the initial claim. The arrival of these Missionaries, was the beginning of formal education in Uganda. At the time, it was restricted to Bible reading and perhaps learning how to speak the English language.
By 1962, the education had evolved from Bible reading to full scholarly work. Church Missionary Society alongside other Christian groups set up schools such as Mengo Primary School, St.Mary’s Kisubi, Mary Hill High School and many others. The Colonial Administrators also built schools such as Ntare School. Makerere University was first established as a Technical Institute in 1922. In 1943, the British Protectorate government proposed the university, which led to a controversial struggle. It was described as "a plot to steal African soil for European settlement," by the Bataka Party. In response to this campaign, there was rioting in the capital of Kampala.
In 1949 Makerere College was granted University status and in the same year, the Bataka Party had been banned by the British Protectorate government, because of acts of riot and arson committed after a Bataka protest gathering.
The ‘standard’ of education offered in all these institutions was excellent. It was not unusual for a student to go to Primary in Kinyasano Primary School in Rukungiri and then move to St. Leo’s in Fort Portal for O’level and end up at King’s College Budo for A’level before proceeding to Makerere University for a Bachelor’s Degree and off to University of Dar es salaam for post graduate studies. This was a golden age of Quality Education in Uganda.
On 25th January 1971, Idi Amin toppled Apollo Milton Obote in a coup. Through his fear of the educated and because of his own ignoramus view of his place in the World, Amin and his henchmen persecuted the ‘intelligentsia’. The lowest point was the brutal murder of Makerere University’s Vice Chancellor Frank Kalimuzo in 1972. Many Lecturers, students and teachers left Uganda with many helping Kenya and Tanzania develop their own Education sector. At that point, it was downhill for Uganda.
In June 1979, Amin was toppled by a joint force of Tanzania Peoples Defense forces and Ugandan exiles of FRONASA and Kikosi Malum. Many academics slowly started returning to Uganda. The infrastructure of especially upcountry schools was however, badly damaged and had fallen into a pathetic state by 1979. The little that was left, in school libraries especially, was looted or burnt. The ensuing fracas of the Obote II government (1980 – 1985) did little to rehabilitate the Education Sector. Training of teachers, and lecturers was NEVER a priority of Obote’s government.
On 25th January 1986, the National Resistance Army arrived in Kampala. The junta of Bazillio Okello and Tito Okello was no more. Ugandans had finally “kicked” the undisciplined Uganda National Liberation Army out of Kampala. By December 1986 all of Uganda was free.
From then, to now, this government has made tremendous achievements in the Education Sector over the years. A major change came with the liberalization of education and introduction of Universal Primary Education in 1997 and then Universal Secondary Education in 2007. Free higher and technical education and the Student loan scheme followed. Liberalisation of the education sector has seen increased private sector investment across the entire education range, from Kindergarten to University, in Uganda. From one Public University in 1986 with less than 1,000 graduates, Uganda now has more than 8 Public Universities, over 35 registered Private Universities and hundreds of Tertiary Institutions which all together combined churn out more than 400,000 graduates annually.
Uganda is a signatory to Agenda 63 of the African Union. Among the goals of Agenda 63, is “An Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children” and “A prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. Also, the fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Uganda’s Education Sector in as other sectors, continues to meet the expectations and goals set by the UNs SDGs as well as the African Union’s Agenda 63.
Challenges however, do still abound in our Education Sector. A poor pupil-classroom and teacher-pupil ratios are just some of the challenges. In the recent past, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) has called nationwide teacher strikes. The main agitation, just like that of Lecturers in Public Universities, is Welfare and a call for better working conditions. Government through the direct intervention of President Museveni is addressing these challenges. Senior lecturers in Public Universities will starting this year earn 8 Million Shillings per month. Indeed since 2003, the welfare of teachers and lecturers has increased significantly.
Government, as pointed out in the fifth NRM manifesto, will and is investing in staff houses, setting up primary schools in each parish in Uganda, providing free sanitary pads to girls in school, sensitizing parents on feeding their children – a campaign dear to the First Lady and minister of Education, and reorienting the syllabus to suit today’s digitalized and global economy.
As the Liberation day (26th January) approaches, the Education Sector enthusiast in me believes that the precious lives lost in the NRA struggle to liberate this country were not lost in vain given the evident strides we have made not just as a government but as a Ugandan people towards improving Education in our motherland.
Besi Ndereya works with Government Citizen Interaction Centre, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.