Are Sanitary Pads a magic bullet to Good Performance in UPE?

Sanitary Pads Not Worth my Tax

31 years and counting, the NRM government is yet to fulfill its campaign promise of sanitary pads for school going adolescents. Is it the best thing government can promise its populace? Like really? Have we reached a level where we realize that pads are the stop-gap measures to improve the quality of education and perhaps the performance of our children in lower learning levels? I think both the led and the leaders’ one of them are misleading the other.

Let us forget the food flask issue. I remember in my early school life, we would take food (mawolo) to school for lunch. This would be either packed in banana leaves (enshandiiko) and banana fibres. It would only be kids from well-to-do families that would pack food in buckets. Whenever it would reach lunch time, we would all gather and we start eating (entanda) and we never complained of whether food was bad or what. And we passed. Who has made some people’s brains to stop thinking today?

Let us not lose sight of the fact that before the NRM came to power and perhaps before 2016, young girls were going to school. Was it a crime to experience periods? No, and is it a responsibility of government to regard it as a disability and that whoever undergoes such must be given free things curtsy on my taxes?

I think this pads revolution of holding government at ransom is acting like headless chickens. This doesn’t make sense at all. We surely need a population which can pressurize government on serious things that help improve the education sector. Pads will not put grades, pads will not pay teachers salaries, and pads will not buy chalk in school.

A research by UNICEF indicate that one in ten menstruating girls skip school for 4 to 5 days out of every 28 day cycle or drops out completely. About 23% of adolescents between ages of 12-18 drop out after they begin menstruating. A study carried out by the Netherlands Development Association in seven districts in Uganda revealed that girls miss 10% of school days due to menstruation. This is associated with the humiliation that comes with menstruation experienced by adolescents either for the first time and or failure by the parents to improvise for their children.

But who said that is government’s responsibility to provide everything? Where is a parent in the education of their children? Critics such as Nyanzi, Gashumba have been heckling over failure by government to prioritize sanitary pads; Gashumba Frank is on record bashing government move to provide free condoms and failing to provide for menstruation.

Can you guys give me a break? Did females go to school before the 1980s when the pad phenomenon became pronounced in the country? If yes, what did they use? Why would someone hold government at ransom to provide something that generations and generations have existed without them? Who is dying because they have no pads? If they are a priority, why wouldn’t anyone of you make noise so government can fund youth with projects such as MakPads and many other locally produced pads so as they can be supplied to schools freely. If government has failed to fully equip schools with textbooks, chalkboards, good classrooms, why would one want government to now focus on secondary issues such as pads? Would it help improve the quality of education? It is one thing to be a 1980 born but if in 201, a person still thinks like that, and then they must be misplaced. It is not just a matter of opening your mouths fwaa. Just think. How did our parents survive?

Last week, I happened to cover a two-day 1st National Conference on learning outcomes in Uganda in 2017 held at Kyambogo University. The conference was sponsored by Twaweza East Africa and attracted over one hundred educations from within the country and abroad.

The backdrop for the conference was the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG4 around education. Uganda fell short of meeting a number of previous global development goals including education.

AFRIpads is a local social enterprise organisation and Plan Australia partner that makes and supplies affordable and reusable sanitary pads. Based in Kitengesa Village in Masaka District, SW Uganda, the aim of AFRIpads is to curtail the high rates of menstrual-related absenteeism among primary and secondary schoolgirls in rural Africa. The pads are made by local Ugandan women giving them the opportunity to generate an income and send their children to school.
Many women and girls in Uganda cannot afford or lack the knowledge to effectively manage their periods and do not have access to proper menstrual products. This Plan Australia project is helping communities to understand reproductive health and is giving women and girls access to affordable and hygienic sanitary pads.

Participants at the conference attributed these failures to a number of educational challenges including poor governance and a deep lack of accountability, under-resourced environments and unmotivated teachers, and gender norms.

These educationists were concerned that the country should rethink its approach towards education sector. They want learning outcomes to be a measure of progress for Uganda’s education not just adhoc interventions such as offering lunch to kids, free sanitary pads to kids etc.

Previously, global demands and commitments to reforms in education exerted pressure on African governments to address challenges related to access, quality and learning outcomes. In Uganda, commitments to Education For All (EFA) yielded the current enrollment of 8,264,000 children compared to 5,303,564 about two decades ago when Universal Primary Education was introduced.

As focus was placed on addressing education challenges including shortage of teachers, classrooms, and instructional materials, slow progress was made in realizing EFA goals 2 (which as ensuring that by 2015, all children have access and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality), eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2015 and improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all however, these challenges still persist especially exhibited in the quality of the graduates of the pupils as seen from the learning outcomes.

Piloya Caroline displays a sanitary pad she handmade at Awere Primary School, Uganda, as part of a project aimed to help keep girls in school. [Edward Echwalu Photography] Global Village
For a new reader, the UPE concept was popularized by African Leaders at a conference for African Minister of Education in Addis Ababa in 1961. The conferees proclaimed that access to education was not only a fundamental right but was also Africa’s most urgent and vital need. By 1980, this universal, compulsory, “free” primary education had spread the whole continent. In Uganda due to several insecurities at the time it would later begin in early 1990s.

The moral issues surrounding UPE initiative in Uganda concerned its contribution to social equity in a society in which unequal access to education had been a major source of social differentiation.

Right from the start, government stopped schools from collecting some money at schools to cater for a few basics as the school awaits government subvention. At first, parents were willing to participate willingly both materially and financially in their children’s education since they believed education was important for the child’s future, to parents and to the community and the country as a whole. Because the government interests and parents’ interests had remained unresolved by the introduction of UPE especially with government wanting to take full control of schools, there emerged a conflict over quantity Vs Quality.

The concept of “free education” has considerably grown and is affecting the quality of our graduates. Parents neglected their duties and since it was presumed compulsory, all parents would do was send their children to school to live at the mercy of teachers who are ill-motivated with majority in addition to earning meager remunerations and poor or no housing at all.

It is common knowledge that majority of graduates are languishing on the streets with no employment. Despite Uganda’s huge unemployed labor force, the Ugandan economy still has a big shortage of appropriately skilled workers   which means that the education system has failed to tailor its outputs to the needs of the economy.

While some loud-mouthed humans think pads are the magic bullet to put right the education system in Uganda, I think they are misleading government on what should come as a priority in a country which struggling to take off.

It is indeed shameful to find a person who can afford to take their children to Kampala Parents, to Green Valley schools etc where fees is more than University tuition at Makerere to start demanding for pads from government instead of things that can help the country prosper.

To this I would propose that once government can focus on ensuring that infrastructure in schools are available, teachers are adequately trained and well motivated to meet the needs of children, parent are sensitized to ensure they equip their children with the basic requirements to aid them school well and then government on top of thorough supervision ensures that its subvention comes in time, then we can improve the quality.

During the 23rd Education and Sports sector review of 2016 at Golf course Hotel in Kampala, the Education Minister Janet Kataaha Museveni communicated the proposed action points for primary education. They included a policy to review pre-primary and primary education sub sector, nationwide campaign to promote school feeding, salary enhancement for primary school teachers and to have a UPE school in every parish.

The minister acknowledges disconnect between the Ministry of Education and the families of pupils on point of feeding the children at school. She mentioned that the Ministry was set to undertake a nationwide awareness creation campaign on the role of parents in educating their children which included the responsibility of parents feeding the children as the education policy demands in the education Act 2008. I don’t know if it says that government shall provide pads to pupils.

 

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