The social and economic costs of school dropouts in Uganda

RICHARD SEBAGGALA

BY RICHARD SEBAGGALA

The government has committed resources to increase the number of Ugandans with the education, skills, and training needed to drive the economy to middle income level. The introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) are some of the steps to achieve this goal.

That notwithstanding, there is an alarming number of students who fail to join both O-level education from primary schools. The recently released Advanced level results reveal that many students do not reach this level after sitting the O-level examinations.

The Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) figures of 2016 show that students who sat for exams were 102,858. This number has remained almost stagnant for the last six years yet the number of students who sat for O-level annually for the same period has been approximately 350,000.

This means that an estimated 70 percent of the students who sit O-level do not transit to A-level.

Like Prof Aaron Levenstein, a business professor at Bernard M. Baruch College of New York, once said,

“Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” Indeed, the statistics that appeared in the Daily Monitor of 25 February 2017 were only suggestive, but meant a lot for Uganda.

Out of the 1,837,277 pupils who enrolled for Primary One in 2004 across the country, only 102,858 sat for the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) in 2016. This represents a 94.4% dropout.

Apart from showing how leaky Uganda’s education pipeline is, this reveals many underlying challenges, and calls for a multi-layered response from different players in the country.

This article endeavours to outline the socio- economic costs of this huge number of drop outs.

In the current economy with gloomy labour market indicators like high unemployment levels, low wages and labour discrimination, people without higher education are not favoured. If the current trends continue, the future of our country is doomed.

The country’s GDP which is shared by everyone, depends on the skills and level of productivity of the workforce. A recent study by Thomas & Burnett (2013) using wage premium to estimate how much higher the GDP will be in roughly a decade if all of today’s out- of-school children are given primary education before they enter the labour market in 20 countries, the results show that countries with a high number of school dropouts lose close to 10 percent of GDP.

In Uganda, most dropouts have been known to be girls who are susceptible to engagement in unsafe sexual behaviour resulting in teen pregnancies, contraction of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases with long-term health implications.

Therefore, all of us are responsible for supporting students in our own capacities to stay in school.

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