USAID’s Ten Year Investment in Education Yields Results
February 24, 2011
In 1908, Winston Churchill called Uganda “the Pearl of Africa” for its majestic scenery and mountains bounded by twelve lakes, including the renowned Lake Victoria. Despite its physical beauty, Uganda’s history has been marred by ethnic conflict and the misrule of the infamous tyrant Idi Amin. More recently, Yoweri Museveni, who was sworn in as Uganda’s president in January 1986, is credited with appointing a broad-based government across party and ethnic lines to help unite his country. Under Museveni’s leadership, many sector reforms have been enacted, including the 1997 Universal Primary Education statute which provides free education to up to four children per family. With the assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Uganda has made genuine progress in education reform. This overview and the accompanying stories in this edition of Creative magazine outline how long term investments in Uganda’s basic education sector are yielding substantial results.
USAID’s investments in basic education in Uganda are timely and strategically important. Uganda has one of the world’s fastest growing populations and as the world’s most youthful country, counts more than half of its population—56 percent—under the age of 18. Of these, nearly two million are orphans from the AIDS pandemic or the conflict in the north. Further complicating efforts toward achieving universal primary education is the doubling of the population in the past 20 years. At this growth rate, it is estimated by the Financial Times that the education system will have to educate twice as many children in 15 years time.
These demographic facts underscore the importance of collaboration among government, donors and Ugandans themselves to facilitate access to quality education for millions of children. Despite its immense natural resources, Uganda remains a poor country and educating its youth is the most powerful resource at its disposal for economic growth.
Understanding the value of long- term engagement in improving the quality of basic education, USAID has provided sustained financial and technical support to Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports through a series of projects including the Basic Education and Policy Support (BEPS). Today, the Agency’s cornerstone education project in Uganda is the Creative-implemented UNITY or Ugandan Initiative for Teacher Development and Management System and Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to the Youth (PIASCY).
Launched in 2006, the UNITY project builds upon the work of the BEPS project which was also implemented by Creative from 2000-2006. UNITY provides support in curriculum reform, teacher professional development, HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation, increasing parental and community involvement in school management, and developing and tracking education policies. UNITY supports national initiatives to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS and lower its rate of infection through the PIASCY program initiated by President Museveni himself. Additionally, among USAID’s priorities is improving the conditions for peaceful development in northern Uganda, which was devastated by more than 20 years of conflict ignited by the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Through the Revitalization of Education Participation in Learning in Conflict Areas (REPLICA) component, UNITY assists with the slow, but crucial, process of rebuilding these northern communities.
Foremost, among USAID’s priorities, is developing and strengthening the Ministry’s capacity to deliver and monitor education services. Located within the Ministry, the UNITY team works through Ministry of Education and Sports Technical Working Groups to develop, implement, and monitor UNITY’s activities. The members of the Working Groups provide both technical guidance and policy direction to project implementation. Additionally, all primary level activities are implemented through the Ministry’s decentralized Teacher Development Management System, or TDMS. Using this modality helps to develop the skills of the district level personnel to independently carry on support to teachers and Primary Teachers Colleges (PTC). By utilizing the Ministry’s existing structures, the project ensures that its strategies will contribute to systems strengthening and capacity building. Engaging the Ministry’s technical experts and working through the TDMS system is both valuable for project activities and is also essential for Ministry ownership and the longer-term sustainability of the initiatives.
BEPS and UNITY followed closely upon the heels of the Government of Uganda’s declaration of Universal Primary Education. This initiative spurred an unprecedented rush for student enrollment that led to overcrowded classrooms where the teacher-pupil ratio reached as high as 1 to 200. Notwithstanding the overcrowded classrooms, poorly trained teachers found themselves without resources or support, resulting in high teacher absenteeism and compromised quality delivery of primary education. To address the problem, the BEPS and UNITY projects emphasized reforms for teacher development that are helping to transform the way teachers are recruited, trained, and supported in Uganda’s PTCs and primary schools. Among the professional development courses offered by UNITY has been the very successful Certificate in Teacher Education Proficiency Course, which trained teachers and teacher educators in modern pedagogy, classroom management, and skills in how to provide peer-to-peer support. The course was so well received that it has been accredited and institutionalized by Kyambogo University. The Ministry is now extending the course to National Teachers’ Colleges with funding from the World Bank.
UNITY has also helped the Ministry launch a new primary school curriculum aimed at helping learners to improve their skills in literacy and numeracy, as well as life skills. A reading pilot conducted during BEPS for first grade children demonstrated to the Ministry that teaching children in local languages increases their literacy levels. “The children’s competencies in reading improved 60 percent,” said UNITY Chief of Party, Renuka Pillay, who has been at the forefront of Uganda’s education challenges for over 14 years. “It was phenomenal, and eventually the Government of Uganda’s entire curriculum reform was based on our findings.” The UNITY project has helped the Ministry expand on this reading pilot by developing and implementing a new local language curriculum based on themes rather than subjects for primary grades 1-3. The Ministry is funding the roll out of this intervention on a national scale.
UNITY has also been instrumental in contributing to the Government’s efforts to mitigate the HIV/AIDS pandemic by integrating PIASCY into the school curriculum. Uganda has the largest number of AIDS orphans in the world and PIASCY has been effective in teaching the young to understand the serious afflictions of HIV/AIDS. A kind of “social vaccine,” PIASCY provides a window of hope for Uganda’s fight against HIV/AIDS as it targets the young, especially the uninfected. Over the years, UNITY’s PIASCY activities, which are implemented on a national scale, have reached approximately 17,000 primary schools and targeted an estimated 4 million children between primary grades three and seven, and 1,907 Post Primary institutions. To ensure that PIASCY is carried out well, UNITY has trained 11,758 teachers and educators in specific techniques for addressing issues of human sexuality, prevention, stigma, guidance and counseling and distributed 965,133 training guidebooks that meet the needs of teachers and children. Additionally, 2,686 district officials, and 23,462 school management committees have been trained in PIASCY methods.
In addition to its national level programs, UNITY works at the grassroots and employs a range of strategies to motivate parents to become more involved in their children’s education, help communities advocate for quality education, and hold schools accountable for its provision. UNITY has helped to set up and train School Management Committees and is assisting them to develop and implement school improvement plans. By training district leaders in management and leadership, UNITY has also set up a process for identifying emerging problems and implementing solutions for schools to improve teaching and learning performance.
One of the cornerstones of UNITY’s grassroots work and community engagement is REPLICA. When UNITY began its work in northern Uganda, the education landscape was one of half-built or completely dilapidated schools and a ceaseless tumble of children in over 200 Internally Displaced Persons camps, most of them traumatized from being born and growing up in a war zone. Pillay notes, “The REPLICA component grew out of the Ministry’s decision to address the needs of disadvantaged children and opened the door for working in northern Uganda. Under REPLICA, we deployed a cluster of 32 projects and sought to develop a concept that would be owned by northern Ugandans. We did a rigorous needs assessment and engaged youth, teachers, many of whom were in IDP camps at the time. REPLICA emerged from our needs assessment.”
REPLICA now supports efforts to engage teachers in professional development and leadership activities, and to mobilize parents and communities to improve the school environments and make schools child-friendly. Its school level activities help traumatized children, parents and teachers through guidance and counseling services, psychosocial support for those affected by HIV/AIDS and trauma, and peace education initiatives. Through the REPLICA program, UNITY also supports districts to develop legal ordinances to govern education activities in the primary subsector at the district level. These ordinances are developed through a consultative process and enable parents and communities to both understand their responsibilities in the delivery of education and to hold the school system responsible for delivering quality education. Beginning as a pilot effort in some 30 schools, the REPLICA program now reaches nearly 2,000 schools in the region and approximately 2 million children.
“Whether you look at BEPS or UNITY,” says Pillay, “it demonstrates that Africans can support the development of their social service systems and they can do it damn well. I think that our largest contribution has been institutional capacity building. The legacy is that the work we have done has resulted in the creation of new departments at the Ministry such as policy units, guidance and counseling and simply observing the rigor of what is needed of a ministry.” UNITY has provided a combination of good, strong, sound, creative leadership says Pillay, and UNITY leaves numerous policies behind. The policy interventions started by BEPS and continued by UNITY have led to a special Policy Department in the education ministry so that policy work continues. “It’s a fantastic contribution that USAID and Creative have made. Even the work we did in special needs education will remain. That’s phenomenal for an African country.” Today, says Pillay, there is a draft policy for special needs education (the first ever in Uganda) which is ready for Ministers to endorse. “They are considering training more than 1,000 teachers in special needs issues such as dyslexia, and for the deaf and blind. It’s a legacy that the project is leaving. This is sustainability.”
With UNITY scheduled to conclude in November 2011, in order to reinforce the sustainability of USAID’s investments, UNITY has helped support the Ugandan government’s Joint Action Framework bringing different government ministries together to develop a five-year blue print for improved delivery of education. “UNITY’s work is approved and our indicators are aligned with the Ministry’s as well as the Ugandan government. This demonstrates a clear change of the landscape. This education ministry is a trend setter by the know-how they have demonstrated. The Ministry and donors are partners at the conference table and the Ministry is very much in the driver’s seat,” added Pillay.
Creative is proud to have been USAID’s implementing partner in Uganda. The years of sustained and thoughtful hard work in systems management, teacher training, community engagement, and HIV/AIDS prevention have helped “the Pearl of Africa” to develop the rich human capital it needs to rebuild from chaos and strife.