Education Summit Shows How Change is Possible

August 27, 2008


An education summit held in June with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has created a new dynamic in northern Uganda – a defining moment in the effort to expand education opportunities for children in the region.

After more than 20 years of a debilitating war, the prospect of gathering officials across party lines from northern and northeastern Uganda’s 40 districts to create a blueprint that will transform education in the region, understandably drew some skepticism.

But Creative Associates International’s UNITY program team – working with its subcontractor, the Pincer Group along with the Uganda Local Government Association (ULGA) and the Ministry of Education & Sports – has shown how change can be made possible.

The summit, held June 19 to 21 in Gulu, had been coined the “Renaissance in Education for Northern Uganda” and was heralded as “revolutionary” by the many participating NGO representatives. Falling under the umbrella of the President Yoweri Museveni’s Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for the north, the summit aimed to signal that the war-torn region is evolving from a state of emergency and humanitarian crisis to one of recovery.

According to UNITY Chief of Party Renuka Pillay, the event was “one of the project’s most successful and inspiring events to date.” The significance of the event was underscored by the attendance of President Museveni whose closing remarks lauded the participants for identifying education as a PRDP priority that requires urgent attention and collective responsibility.

Northern Uganda is in dire need of education reform and revival. The brutal conflict that has raged for more than two decades has left nearly 50 percent of the region’s schools destroyed and forced nearly two million people from their villages into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Although, since 2007, there has been the decongestion of IDP camps and the slow return of communities to their villages of origin, UNICEF estimates that 80 percent of children have never been to school.

The Gulu meeting was remarkable because it fostered a dialogue on accountability, analysis of data, and reports on the education sector among the 280 participants, including many district officials from across party lines.

“It is the responsibility of local governments first and foremost to ensure that their constituencies’ needs are met, thus ensuring that leaders become accountable to their people. The time for portioning blame has ended, the time for reconstruction has begun, and one of the sectors where reconstruction is paramount, is in education,” said Richard Andama Ferua, Vice President of the ULGA. “After all what greater responsibility exists other than ensuring the future of the nation: the children are given a fighting chance to become the future leaders of the country.”

REPLICA – which stands for Revitalization of Education Participation and Learning in Conflict Areas – is a component of Creative’s UNITY program and was showcased at the summit. The REPLICA program provides services to schools in peace education, school management, leadership and governance, psychosocial support and guidance and counseling, educating and mentoring girls, community integration and participation, and performing arts as tools for effective communication, education mobilization, sensitization, and behavior change.

REPLICA is implemented in partnership with the Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda’s north and northeast. UNITY is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The REPLICA program was developed as a response to a rigorous assessment conducted by Creative in 2003 of the north’s education sector needs. Currently, operating in 13 districts in the north and northeast, REPLICA is the first program in the region that specifically targets post-conflict recovery from an education perspective. The program was created with the optimum participation of local stakeholders during all phases of research, program design and piloting. Today, the program, which operates in 1,800 schools and has 707 model schools reaches 1,184,032 children, is so successful that both Uganda’s Ministry of Education and USAID plan to expand the program to all 40 districts in the north and northeast. After this expansion, REPLICA will reach 4,215 schools and 3,099,813 children.

Uniquely, the Gulu summit meeting gathered education technocrats as well as administrators and politicians. “The summit structure was a healthy mixture of tough and intensive reflection on issues, advocacy, and exhibits,” said Pillay, adding that the presence of President Museveni and Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, including four ministers and other high-level government officials and the Ambassador of Ireland, at a technical Education Summit had been heretofore unheard of.

During the summit, education practitioners and experts presented highlights of their programs and best practices. Discussions addressed the severe gaps in education and proposed measures for improving the sector and concluded with a blueprint for addressing northern Uganda’s education needs. The blueprint, presented to President Museveni during the summit’s closing ceremony, detailed education goals and provided a framework for context-specific action to close the gap between the PRDP region and the rest of Uganda.

President Museveni’s attendance along with his promise of a response to the blueprint within two months also bodes well for the future of children in northern Uganda, many of whom live in camps for Internally Displaced Persons. The Gulu meeting participants also set in motion plans to create a hall of fame honoring famous northern and northeastern Ugandans, as a way to inspire children of the region.

“The blueprint is addressing the recovery and restructure of the education sector in a comprehensive manner. If implemented even at 40 percent, the region will show vast improvements in education,” Pillay said. “The implications are that the government of Uganda, NGOs and donors need to work within the priorities identified in the blueprint to deliver education in a coordinated manner, so that funds can be targeted, duplication reduced and a framework for accountability put in place. This will contribute greatly to enhance education service delivery to the children and to give them HOPE for the future.”

— Alexandra Pratt with assistance from Jon Silverstone and Roseline Tekeu.

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