Abolish Exams in the final grade of Primary school-World Bank tells Uganda

The issue of how Uganda can sustainably improve learning outcomes for its young school going citizens has, once again come to the fore; with the World Bank proposing in its 13th edition "Economic Update on Human capital in Uganda- report” that the country, among other things-abolishes PLE [National exam in the final grade of Primary school] as a means to improve transition rates to lower secondary and to achieve universal lower secondary enrolment.

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Where are they? Uganda's Rap Pioneers

Where are Uganda’s rap icons?

Lately, a group of young budding Hip Hop Hip Hop artists like Fefe Bussi, Rachel Rey and Da Agent have enjoyed considerable media attention, thanks to a trending rap battle song called-“Who is who”.

But whilst Bussi and his co get the laurels and shine for supposedly putting the spotlight back on Hip Hop with their “who is who” back and forth songs; hordes of the genre’s fans argue that the current crop of artists are not talented enough to transcend the legacy left by the genre’s forerunners.

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In many African societies, people living with albinism struggle to find social acceptance. In environments pervaded with albino phobia, stigma and negative stereotypes, it is a tall order.
There are people living with the condition however who are intent on shedding the negative stereotypes associated with albinos. One of those people is Gerald Byamukama; a 15 year old from Rubirizi district in western Uganda.
Many people ill advisedly regard albinism as a handicap, but I prefer to look at it differently, Byamukama says.

“Albinism is not a handicap in any kind of way. The only handicap I see is placing limits on myself because of people’s illusions about my condition. As long as my attitude is right, I know I can bring a value to my life. Albinism is not by choice and it should not be a basis for anyone to judge me or to hold me in a low regard. There are many great albino people out there making a difference in their societies and I intend to do the same,” a buoyant Byamukama says. “The difference in my skin appearance does not make me any less human as some people would want to make it seem. Albinos have rights just like normal skinned people and nobody should infringe on them. Nobody will make me hate myself. I will also not let people patronize me under the guise of trying to be friends,” he says. There have been moments however, when Byamukama has been inundated by some people’s indifference. “On several occasions, I have faced discrimination and disdain. People have called me ridiculing names. Some have even gone to the extent of calling my condition a punishment from the gods. It got to a point when I started hiding in the house, almost the whole day.  I can only wonder how life is for that beat down, often stigmatized and socially withdrawn albino child or adult who lives in an environment where traditional myths and superstitions about albinism abound. There is need to promote greater awareness of albinism throughout the country,” Byamukama says.

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American Historian, Henry Adams put it aptly, when he said teachers affect eternity and can never tell where their influence stops. That maxim in many ways speaks to the legacy and influence of 60 year old veteran teacher, Mary Khalayi Mayatsa.
Mayatsa, a mother of 9 has been teaching for 40 years and is on the face of it, not about to slow down. She recently decided to come back in harness and teach, though she had formally retired. “I retired honorably as a secondary school head teacher. I still teach because I want to serve as an example and to help others achieve,” the Mbale based mayatsa says.

Mayatsa’s erstwhile students speak of her in high terms especially as regards the influence she had on them. 28 year old Rogers Wekesa, a construction worker says Mayatsa molded her into the disciplined and hard working person he is today.
“She was an outstanding teacher and a strict disciplinarian who emphasized hard work and diligence to all her students. In many respects, the precepts she stressed to me at school have laid a strong path for me in life. That path has seen me bring a value to my life and to other people’s lives,” Wekesa says.

Mayatsa came out retirement in 2012. She is currently head teacher at Nyanga Integrated Primary school in Bumboi, Mbale. The school is family owned and a brain child of her late husband, George William Mayatsa, who himself was an Educationist.
At present, the school only has only a Primary section, though it had a Vocational section in its early fledgling days. In Mukhuwa and Bumarobole village, Bumboi, where the school is located, Mayatsa has struck quite a chord with the locals.
“Most people living in the villages surrounding the school are thankful that the school is operating again and that Mayatsa is in charge. She is a lady with a big heart and down to earth as a person and as a teacher. She like her late husband has helped a lot of people in this area and not only in terms of education. In many ways, the teaching service she is offering now at the school is a welcome development as most of our children are now going back to school,” Idi Makhafu, an elder in Mukhuwa village notes.

There was a favourable change in Nyanga’s academic performance trajectory when Mayatsa took over the reins in 2013 after her retirement. 12 out of 14 school pupils got second grades in the PLE exams that year. That was quite a feat considering that the school was just getting back on track and is located in a remote place, devoid of power and short on teachers. Last year 15 pupils sat for PLE exams. 12 got second grades. The rest got third grades. Mayatsa expects even better results this year and even more pupils to enroll at the school.
She teaches Mathematics. Erick Sakwa, deputy RDC Jinja, one of Mayatsa’s erstwhile students says the good performance of the school’s pupils in the years after Mayatsa took over speaks volumes about her dedicated efforts towards teaching.

Mayatsa is a secondary school teacher by training but she says making the transition to teach in Primary was not a tall order. “I had to break the mould and bring my wealth of experience to bear at the school. We had few teachers and I owed to myself to myself, my family and the school to teach and pass on knowledge. The area where the school is situated has many children but few go to school. I wanted to be part and parcel of the change in that status quo in the area,” Mayatsa says.

Mayatsa begun teaching and tutoring in the late 70’s. “After completion of my studies at Kyambogo and Makerere, I taught at Shimoni teacher training College. That was from 1976-1981. From 1982-1991, I tutored at Nyondo Primary teachers College in Mbale. From 1992-2002, I taught and also shouldered responsibilities as a deputy head teacher at Mbale high school.  From 2003-2009, I was head teacher at Wabwala Secondary school,” she says.

Mayatsa says she cherished the experience of teaching at the threshold of her career, because of the consistent acknowledgement and respect, teachers got.  “Notwithstanding challenges like low pay and the turmoil the country was experiencing, teaching in the years of old was in many respects a worthwhile endeavour. There was a certain fulfillment that deeply endeared us to the teaching profession. Most people formed the decision to join the teaching trade because of the acknowledgements and laurels teachers often got. It was hard to find people who joined the profession as a last resort, like the way it is these days. The government needs to rethink the issue of teacher supervision and evaluation to improve the quality of teachers being churned out,” she says.

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The Ministry of health in Uganda has secured $20 million from the Global Financing Facility to foster the result based financing initiative, which aims at improving the quality of health care at health facilities country wide.
Prof. Anthony Mbonye, the Director of health services in charge of Clinical and Community Health in the Ministry of Health revealed this while addressing Journalists at the first national symposium on universal health coverage that took place last week at Silver springs Hotel.

“The hope is that more private and public health facilities will get accreditation because the more a facility avails services to pregnant women and children of immunisable age, the more funding it gets. This performance based funding is meant to improve quality of care at health facilities and to make sure health workers get allowances, uniforms and buy supplies. This will be one of our stronger paths to universal health coverage,”He said.

 At the symposium, there were further earnest deliberations on how best Uganda can build an understanding on attaining universal health coverage. Universal health coverage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is the goal that all people have access to health services and do not suffer financial hardship in paying for them. It ensures that all people have access to needed promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health services of sufficient quality. The symposium was convened by Makerere University School of Public Health under the umbrella of the Supporting Policy Engagement for Evidence-based Decisions (SPEED) project- an initiative that focuses on advancing Universal Health Coverage in Uganda.

Speaking on the opening day of the symposium, Prof. Freddie Ssengooba of the Makerere University School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) noted that the trajectory towards achieving universal health coverage in Uganda is gaining momentum, notwithstanding the many challenges, the country faces.  "As a nation, we need to begin positioning ourselves on how best to achieve this development agenda. Universal health coverage is central to the question of how health should be represented in the new development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals this year," said Ssengooba.

"The process of developing the new Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan (HSSIP) of 2015-2020 by the Ministry of Health is a welcome development and a step in the right direction. The goal of Universal Health Coverage which is being inserted into Uganda's health policy is still new to many. These deliberations are meant to help us understand the idea of Universal Health Coverage and what its implications are for the different stakeholders like the government, the private sector and academia."

       Whilst everyone acknowledges that the goal of attaining universal health coverage will be no mean feat, the government seems intent on making it feasible and bringing changes to bear especially as regards the provision of cost effective health interventions for the poorest of its citizens, a key prerequisite if the programme is to fall in line with the requirements of the WHO. Mbonye noted that the government was obliged to provide interventions such as antenatal care, family planning, curative and rehabilitative care to all its citizens. "In South Eastern and Eastern Uganda, a Voucher system has been introduced to enable poor pregnant women to access antenatal and delivery health care services at every visit. A woman will only be required to pay 3000 shillings. The Voucher scheme will be rolled out in the next six months countrywide," Mbonye said.

"The pilot project registered many successes. It is on the basis of that, that we were able to get funding from the World Bank for the scheme. We are also working on the National Health Insurance Initiative, which essentially aims at improving our health indicators. It is now with the Parliamentary council and there is green light from the Ministry of Finance regarding funds for it."   Dr. Patrick Kadama, the Executive Director of the Platform on Human Resources for Health at the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation underscored that for Uganda to accelerate towards universal health coverage (UHC), a number of critical reforms need to be put forth to achieve equity.  "There is need for reforms to manage the social determinants of health through stronger inter-sectoral action. We also need reforms to introduce patient centered or family based health care services, and reforms to strengthen health governance and management," Kadama explained.


Low access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation

          Dominic Kavutse, an engineer from the Directorate of Water Development, Ministry of Water and Environment noted that the current access to safe water supply and sanitation in Uganda stands at 65%. 
          "That leaves 35% of the Ugandan population with access but not safe access.  That translates into 10 million Ugandans exposed to water-borne diseases due to consuming unsafe water. There are 110,000 water points in the country.  Out of the budget we have we are able to produce new water sources for about 800,000 people per year but the population increases by at least 1.2 million people per year. At the present rate of investment, the coverage of water supply and sanitation is going down," Kavutse said.

The inaptitude of the health system in Uganda

            Dr. Stephen Lock, the acting head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union noted that whilst there have been notable declines in the infant mortality ratios and HIV related deaths, the health system in Uganda is still lagging behind in terms of providing assurance to Ugandans of adequate social protection.  "Deaths for example related to pregnancy and child birth remain unacceptably high with an estimated 20 women dying daily while giving birth in Uganda. There are still pertinent questions to answer regarding the functionality of public hospitals which are the most visible aspects of health system capabilities," Lock stated.
Out of the pocket payments as a major barrier to health access
       "Direct payments have serious implications for health. Making people pay at health facilities or other points of delivery dissuades them from using services (particularly health promotion and prevention). That in essence means they do not receive treatment early and they steer clear of health checks. The absence of financial protection in Uganda's health system calls for concerted action aimed at reducing the large proportion of out-of-pocket payments currently present in total health financing." Ssengooba observed.

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