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Fadeyi Oluwaseun
Ladoke Akintola University Ogbomosho
B.tech Marketing Management
Graduate, Nigeria.

Some former top-ranking schools that once put Acholi Sub-region in the limelight have continued to register poor academic performance over the last four years, Daily Monitor has established.

The schools include Sir Samuel Baker, Gulu High, Kitgum High, Sacred Heart SS and St Joseph College Layibi, among others.

Sir Samuel Baker School, for instance, with a maximum student enrolment capacity of 1,300, has registered between only 200 and 400 students in the last three years, according to the school management, which has been blamed on the school's declining performance.

For the past four years, the school has not exceeded more than five First Grades in the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams, according to available Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) statistics.

In 2016, three of their students passed in Division One, out of the 41 candidates who sat for O-Level exams.

In 2017, the school only has two First Grades while in 2018, no single student passed in First Grade.

During the good old days; between 1960s and the late 90s, the school had a virtuous academic record of between 20 and 50 students passing in Division One with the rest in Division Two.

At Kitgum High School, the enrolment for the past 10 years has stagnated to less than 300 students despite the 1,500 students enrolment capacity.

Past records for the last three years indicate that 40 per cent of students passed in Division One and Two yet between 1979 to early 2000, the school was among the top academic giants.

St Joseph's College Layibi maintained its high academic record up to 2006 where 104 of their students passed in Division One. However, the performance has since declined.

Sacred Heart and Gulu High have also posted poor grades compared to the previous years.

The government in 1997 and 2007 introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) respectively purposely to improve the education status of its population.

But stakeholders are afraid that the poorly performing regions could as well miss out on employment opportunities both in private and public sectors.

What went wrong?

Mr Paulinus Nyeko, a retired head teacher of Sir Samuel Baker, blames the poor performance on alleged incompetence exhibited by some board of governors in some schools, incapable head teachers and poor monitoring of schools by various districts.

"Most of the governing bodies are not up to the game. They do not do thorough checks and balances in the schools they are governing," he remarked last week during a dialogue organised by Action Aid in partnership with NGO Forum aimed at finding a way forward.

Mr Nyeko says the worrying education standards have also seen a decline in students' enrolment.

"Sir Samuel Baker School that has produced professors, diplomats, ministers, doctors, and accountants, among other professionals, currently has only 430 students and it didn't produce a single student in Division One but rather had Second and Third Grades out of the 75 students who sat UCE 2018," he reveals.

He recommends the establishment of Acholi Education Forum to steer the education revival in the region.

The Gulu District chairperson, Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, says the declining education standards have forced financially able parents to take their children to private schools.

Mr Mapenduzi says as a district, they have resolved to reward best performing head teachers and students in a bid to motivate them to perform better.

However, Mr Peter Okello, a teacher at Sir Samuel Baker, blames the district service commissioners for allegedly recruiting poor breed of teachers with desire for money than building holistic citizens for community transformation.

"There is too much bureaucracy in the recruitment in the region and gaps in administration of schools in the region, for example Sir Samuel Baker School once had a head teacher who abandoned the school that was undergoing a financial crisis," he alleges.

The Gulu Catholic Archdiocesan Education Secretary, Fr Robert Odong, says the founding bodies, such as churches are partly to blame for the declining quality of education in the region.But Dr Constantine Loum, a lecturer at Gulu University, claims the Ministry of Education is deliberately failing the schools.

"I know of schools that are entirely mismanaged by the ministry and money is exchanging hands," Dr Loum claims.

The senior education officer for Nwoya, Mr Francis Oketch, says there is poor inspection of schools and most times the findings are never shared by stakeholders to highlight areas of improvement.

Additionally, Kitgum High School head teacher Christopher Opoka says many schools are financially incapacitated to to operate fully and offer the best education required.

"The school [Kitgum] is struggling to settle debts accumulated from 2009 to 2015 and this has crippled the creativity to get the best results like those from the early 2000 backwards," he reveals.

Mr Fred Ongom, a former student of St Joseph's College Layibi, says imbalances in the education sector and laxity by some parents have continuously led to poor grades in school.

"Most parents are visitors in schools rather than being academic excellence stakeholders to provide checks and balances in learning progress. They are only willing to pay school fees, leaving the rest of the work as far as education is concerned to teachers," he notes.

Maintaining standards

Mr Ben Nobert Oola, a retired head teacher of Kitgum High School, says: "Some schools have consistently emerged among the best performers because their head teachers have established and maintained high standards of management and administration, and such standards have been carried on by their successors something which vanished with historic head teachers of the tradition schools in Acholi sub-region."

Besides understaffing and limited funds for schools, Mr Oola says there is negative mind-set of parents towards education.

"People don't value education now in northern which we can't blame them for because of the compounding poverty and broken family ties," he says.

He, however, suggests that good education standards can be attained if all stakeholders effectively play their roles.

The director of studies at St Joseph's College Layibi, Mr Gilbert Ario Okello, says traditional schools in northern Uganda need to revisit their approaches in delivering better education services. "We are still stuck in our traditional ways of teaching and learning which are not suitable to the current situation putting in mind the indiscipline of the learners. We need to rethink our approaches to education just like the private schools are doing," Mr Okello says.

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