Shining the spotlight on primary education completion and foundational learning in Uganda

A new report placing the spotlight on foundational literacy and numeracy in Uganda was published and launched this morning at the Foundations for Learning Conference organised by the Aga Khan University in Kampala. The work was undertaken by the GEM Report in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports.  It is part of the second cycle of the Spotlight, or Born to Learn, series on universal primary education completion and foundational learning in Africa, a partnership with ADEA and the African Union. This cycle, ‘Learning counts’ consists of one continental and four country reports, focusing on the alignment of the curriculum, textbooks, teacher guides and assessments in mathematics at grade 3 and the last grade of primary – and on concrete areas for improvement.

The Uganda report is the second one to be released, following a report on South Africa launched in March. It will be followed by the launch of the continental and Zambia country report in May and the release of the report on Mauritania. As with all national Spotlight reports, the study in Uganda comprised a set of activities, each generating evidence and findings related to the study’s research questions: literature review, document mapping, fieldwork, and Initial/final Validation workshops with national stakeholders. For the fieldwork, Uwezo Uganda engaged and its own researchers to each of the four districts, in each of which a local civil society organization also provided research assistants who spoke the local languages.

The number of children enrolled in primary school increased from 6.5 million in 2000 to 9 million in 2017 the latest year for which official data are available. Yet, while the out-of-school rate has slightly declined from 15% in 2000 to 11% in 2022, the demographic pressure is such that the number of out-of-school children is estimated to have increased due to rapid demographic growth from 745,000 to 1,065,000. While the completion rate increased from 35% in 2000 to 41% in 2010, it had declined to its 2000 level by 2020. This is the official definition of the indicator, which is calculated over children aged 3 to 5 years above graduation age (blue line). The data show that children finish primary school with several years delay. Taking into account late completers, the ultimate completion rate increased from 55% in 2000 to 63% in 2010 before declining to 57% in 2020 (grey line).

Primary completion rate, 1990–2020

In terms of learning, data from the last time Uganda participated in a cross-national assessment with recognized comparable standards, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality in 2013, show that only one out of five pupils at the end of primary school achieved the global minimum proficiency level in numeracy.

Low levels of foundational learning have since also been suggested in other assessments funded by development agencies. For instance, the USAID-funded School Health and Reading Program (SHRP) and Learning Achievement and Retention Activity (LARA) which carried out Early Grade Reading Assessments in 2015 and 2019 and found that about 45% of grade 3 students could not read a single word. This makes it more likely they will fall further behind each school year and drop out of school.

Classroom and teacher shortages hinder the effective implementation of the curriculum in government schools. Overcrowding poses a major obstacle to delivering quality education and assessing student learning adequately. Access to textbooks remains a significant hurdle.

The analysis assessed the content alignment between the Ministry’s vision for foundational numeracy and its implementation in practice. In Uganda, strong alignment is found between that curriculum and the content of teacher guides to support teachers’ teaching practices, but less strong alignment between the curriculum and what is being assessed. For example, in the grade 7 curriculum, 58% of content is dedicated to numbers and number operations, yet these represent only 35% of the learning opportunities in a typical grade 7 textbook and 22% of the learning opportunities assessed in the P7 national exam.

Alignment between core grade 7 documents in Uganda

Pedagogical alignment was also flagged as requiring attention: Uwezo’s field research found that only 42% of observed teachers asked questions that required students to use creativity or imagination, or likewise, to apply information to new topics during mathematics lessons.  Also, 54% of observed teachers utilized material from the textbook, as opposed to the curriculum or the teacher guide, when planning lessons.

Language barriers to learning are prominent. A transition from local languages to English as the medium of instruction is intended to take place in grade 4,  However, there is as of yet no specific guidance for how this transition should occur.

Although there are indications that there will be an increase in funding per pupil, the latest spending levels were 2.7% po GDP in 2021, as opposed to an international benchmark of at least 4% of GDP.

The report is highlighting Uganda’s positive practices that are improving foundational learning and can be shared with its peers in the continent. It has embedded the achievement of universal foundational literacy and numeracy skills in its Early Grade Reading programme covering 80% of public primary schools and encompassing 6 million pupils, which has been shown to improve learning at grade 3 level. In addition, its Teacher Development Management System and Cluster Coordinating Tutors are important building blocks for strengthening teacher training.

These and other findings inform the recommendations of the report across six broad themes, offering concrete actions to improve and strengthen learning in Uganda.

  1. Articulate a clearer vision for achieving foundational literacy and numeracy.
  2. Rethink curriculum content and structure. Pupils need to learn more problem-solving skills and application of foundational numeracy skills from the outset of their schooling.
  3. Improve accessibility of the curriculum and student textbooks, including making materials available in local languages.
  4. Improve clarity and content of teacher guides and provide additional training for teachers to implement the curriculum effectively.
  5. Prioritize assessment for monitoring student progress along with in-service training to develop teacher skill to carry out classroom assessment.
  6. Strengthen foundational learning opportunities through various strategies ranging from remedial education for learners who have fallen behind, to addressing teacher shortages and absenteeism, and implementing a school feeding programme.



1 comment

  1. This is a great study and is informative. it clearly compounds what needs to be improved in improving foundational literacy and numeracy. Implementation of the school feeding programme is however becoming difficult to implement with parents and guardians abdicating their responsibility ostensibly indicating that UPE is free. Cash for meals is difficult to collect since no money should be charged because of UPE. This defeats the principle of feeding the learners.

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