Uganda Table of Contents

Mission schools were established in Uganda in the 1890s, and in 1924 the government established the first secondary school for Africans. By 1950, however, the government operated only three of the fifty-three secondary schools for Africans. Three others were privately funded, and forty-seven were operated by religious organizations. Education was eagerly sought by rural farmers as well as urban elites, and after independence many villages, especially in the south, built schools, hired teachers, and appealed for and received government assistance to operate their own village schools.

Most subjects were taught according to the British syllabus until 1974, and British examinations measured a student's progress through primary and secondary school. In 1975 the government implemented a local curriculum, and for a short time most school materials were published in Uganda. School enrollments continued to climb throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s, but as the economy deteriorated and violence increased, local publishing almost ceased, and examination results deteriorated.

The education system suffered the effects of economic decline and political instability during the 1970s and 1980s. The system continued to function, however, with an administrative structure based on regional offices, a national school inspectorate, and centralized, nationwide school examinations. Enrollments and expenditures increased steadily during this time, reflecting the high priority Ugandans attach to education, but at all levels, the physical infrastructure necessary for education was lacking, and the quality of education declined. School maintenance standards suffered, teachers fled the country, morale and productivity deteriorated along with real incomes, and many facilities were damaged by warfare and vandalism.

In 1990 adult literacy nationwide was estimated at 50 percent. Improving this ratio was important to the Museveni government. In order to reestablish the national priority on education, the Museveni government adopted a two-phase policy--to rehabilitate buildings and establish minimal conditions for instruction, and to improve efficiency and quality of education through teacher training and curriculum upgrading. Important long-term goals included establishing universal primary education, extending the seven-year primary cycle to eight or nine years, and shifting the emphasis in postsecondary education from purely academic to more technical and vocational training.

The School System

Formal education had four levels. The first level consisted of seven primary-school grades (standards one through seven), usually beginning about age six. Based on test scores in seventh grade, pupils could enter one of several types of institutions--a four-year secondary school ("O-level"), a three-year technical training institution, or a four-year teacher training college. About 40 percent of those who passed "O-level" examinations continued their education through one of several options--an advanced two-year secondary course ("A-level"), an advanced twoyear teacher training course, a technical institute, or a specialized training program provided by the government. Those who completed "A-level" examinations might study at Makerere University in Kampala or they might study abroad. Other options for "A-level" graduates were the Uganda Technical College, the Institute of Teachers' Education (formerly the National Teachers' College), or National College of Business Studies.

Primary Education

In 1989, the last year for which official figures were available, the government estimated that more than 2.5 million youngsters were enrolled in primary schools, of whom about 45 percent were female. This figure represented a four-fold increase from primary enrollment levels of the late 1960s and a near doubling of the almost 1.3 million pupils enrolled in 1980. In that year, just over half of eligible six- to twelve-year-olds were attending government-aided primary schools, while an additional 80,000 pupils were enrolled in private primary schools.

Officials estimated that roughly 61 percent of primary pupils completed seventh grade. Of those, about 25 percent went on to further study. The central government was responsible for training, posting, and promoting primary school teachers, setting salaries and school fees, providing supplies, inspecting schools, and appointing educational committees to deal with local problems. Local school officials, including the headmaster or headmistress, and district education officials were responsible for collecting fees, ordering supplies, and administering the school according to national policy. The District Education Office provided an important intermediary between the school and the Ministry of Education.

Secondary Education

In 1989 secondary school enrollments on all levels totaled 265,000 pupils. Of this number, 238,500 were enrolled in forms one through six in government-aided secondary schools; 35 percent of those enrolled were female. Some 216,000 pupils were enrolled in the first four years (forms one to four) in "O level" studies, while an additional 22,000 were attending teacher training schools or technical institutes on the lower secondary level. Just over 22,000 pupils were enrolled in forms five and six in upper secondary ("A level") studies; at the same time, 4,400 other pupils on this level were enrolled in teacher training colleges or technical institutes.

The most complete breakdown of primary and secondary enrollments was for the year 1980, when about 7 percent of children aged thirteen to sixteen years (about 75,000 pupils) were enrolled in the first four years (forms one to four) of secondary-level education in about 170 government-funded schools. About 70 percent of these pupils were boys. Roughly 66,200 were attending secondary schools in preparation for "O-level" exams, which would qualify them for further academic study, teacher training, or other technical training programs beyond the secondary level. Roughly 6,000 people in the thirteen- to sixteen-year-old age group were attending teacher training colleges, and about 2,800 were enrolled in technical schools.

Upper secondary education (forms five and six) enrolled about 6,900 pupils in 1980. In addition, about 1,200 students were enrolled in teacher training colleges at this level, and 1,100 in technical training institutes. These 9,200 pupils represented 1.8 percent of the seventeen- and eighteen-year-old age group. Female students made up roughly 20 percent of the total. In addition to these enrollments, a further 20,000 pupils were attending private secondary schools.

Postsecondary Education

Established in 1922, Makerere University in Kampala was the first college in East Africa. Its primary aim was to train people for government employment, but by the 1980s, it had expanded to include colleges of liberal arts and medicine serving more than 5,000 students from Uganda and other African countries. In 1986 the College of Commerce separated from Makerere to become the National College of Business Studies, and at the same time, the National Teachers' College became a separate Institute of Teachers' Education. In 1980 these institutions enrolled 5,750 postsecondary students, roughly 23 percent of whom were women. By 1989 enrollments totaled an estimated 8,900 students.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) financed the opening of the Islamic University at Mbale in southern Uganda in 1988. This campus provides Islamic educational services primarily to English-speaking students from African nations. In late 1989, a second national university campus opened in Mbarara. Its curriculum is designed to serve Uganda's rural development needs. Development plans for higher education rely largely on international and private donors. In 1989 Makerere University received US$50 million in pledged support from its graduates as part of a US$150-million renovation plan.

In the late 1980s, many other educational opportunities were available. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare operated four vocational training centers, providing apprenticeships and classes to upgrade technical skills. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries conducted training courses at eighteen district farm institutions. Ministry of Community Development personnel also staffed fifteen rural training centers. Other government ministries offered in-service training in agriculture, health, community development, cooperatives, commerce, industry, and public services to satisfy technical labor requirements of these agencies. In addition, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) offered a variety of training courses for women.


There was a severe shortage of teachers during the 1980s, made acute by the departure of both Ugandan and expatriate teachers during the 1970s and early 1980s. Aside from shortages of supplies and equipment, high student-teacher ratios, often more than twenty-five to one, made teaching especially difficult. Teacher morale suffered, although the number of teacher training candidates continued to rise during and after the 1970s. The proportion of untrained teachers in primary schools also increased from 14 percent in 1971 to 35 percent in 1981. Although unlicensed teachers continued to teach during the 1980s, teacher training colleges had full enrollments and attempted to train teachers to cope with both the educational and economic problems they would face.

Educational Finance

In the mid-1980s, the educational sector was the largest public-sector employer, but after 1986, observers estimated that the defense establishment surpassed education in this regard. The Ministry of Education received about 18 percent of the government's current budget, most of which was used to pay teacher salaries in government schools. Primary and secondary pupils paid school fees ranging from US$5 to US$10 per year, and most schools asked pupils and their parents to contribute labor, food, or materials to the school. "A-level" secondary schools, teacher training institutions, and other postsecondary institutions did not charge fees during the 1980s, but their students were required to bring materials, such as food and bedding, for their own use.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress