Poth, Charlotte

Masterarbeit, Fachbereich Gesellschaft und Ökonomie, 188 Seiten, engl.


Ensuring that “all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education” is one target of Goal 4 of the 17 SDGs introduced by the United Nations and to be achieved by 2030. At the same time we observe an ongoing increase in the share young people account for in the overall populations of Sub-Sahara African states.

In 1997, shortly after the election of President Museveni, the Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy was introduced and implemented in Uganda. With an immediate and positive effect on the enrolment rates the policy fulfilled its purpose – at least at first sight. There were, however, also negative implications resulting from the new program. One of them was that the increased budget allocated to education mainly targeted primary schools and the attention was drawn away from secondary education.

This was to be changed through the introduction of the Universal Secondary Education (USE) policy with its Universal Post-Primary Education and Training Program (UPPET) in 2007 and the Universal Post O-Level Education and Training Program (UPOLET) in 2011. The Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda frequently evaluates the programs and also found a number of challenges for the Universal Secondary Education policy. Student drop-out rates are very high in the country, as main reasons the Ministry found early pregnancy, parents’ lack of interest in their children’s education, students’ involvement in business activities, and long distances to schools. But there are many more reasons causing students to drop out of school early, one important one has to do with the trade-off households are facing when it comes to the decision whether to send their children to school or to work in order for them to contribute to the household income. A lack of job opportunities or access to higher education as well as low quality of education, especially in government schools, are also reasons for the high drop-out rates in Uganda.

Looking at these issues the question comes up how the problems in the implementation process of the USE policy can be tackled. To be more specific, I asked which role social capital could play in this process. But instead of asking the adults (the teachers, the principles, the parents, or state officials), I decided to talk to those who should benefit from USE and the educational system: the students. During focus group discussions and semi structured interviews at schools in a rural area in East Uganda, young people shared their perceptions of the education system in Uganda with me. We talked about daily challenges at school as well as at home, about their future perspectives, about goals and about dreams.

The concept of social capital is a comparatively new one. Unlike financial or human capital it does not have one clear definition as different academic disciplines have different approaches to it. It is however, widely agreed that social capital is defined in terms of networks, norms and trust, and how those enable individuals and institutions reach a higher efficiency in their achievement of common goals. For my qualitative analysis I created a set of social capital indicators in order to examine whether they have an impact on the educational outcome of students in my focus area in Uganda. And if they do, which role can social capital play in the implementation of USE in the country?

To answer the first question: I found that social capital indicators do have an impact on educational outcomes. This impact can be both positive and negative for students’ educational outcomes. Family social capital, for example, strongly influences all three dimensions of educational outcomes: Parents’ aspirations for their child’s education can shape and influence the child’s own educational aspirations. Furthermore, it has an impact on a child’s attendance at school. Many young people drop-out of school temporarily in order to help out at home (contributing to the family income, taking care of younger siblings or sick family members). This is has negative effects on students’ educational attainment. Also, some parents do not regard their children’s education as a priority which can have negative effects on students’ educational achievement. A lack of school material, the lack of a place at home where children can learn and do their homework as well as the lack of time to study lead to lower educational achievements. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness among parents that education is important for their children’s future and that it is worth investing in it.

But it is not only the family social capital that affects students’ educational outcomes. The impact of the school environment is also very strong as students spend a lot of their time at school, especially those who are in boarding school. Therefore, the school infrastructure has an effect on students’ educational achievement. Enough classrooms, desks, books, and other educational equipment must be provided in order to make sure students can live up to their full potentials. This is especially challenging in rural areas, where secondary schools are scarce and the student-classroom ratio is very high. It is especially a challenge at government schools which often are poorly equipped, have high teacher absenteeism and low achievement rates. And it is the government schools which are mainly covered by the UPPET and UPOLET programs. That means education is free, but its quality is low. Furthermore, extra-curricular activities should be fostered as they have a high potential of providing students with soft skills as well as with opportunities to increase their own social networks.

Looking at the Universal Secondary Education programs themselves. I found that the regulations which are part of the UPPET and UPOLET programs strongly hamper access to secondary education. The first regulation concerns the prerequisite of a very good grade in the primary leaving examination (PLE) in order to be eligible to the UPPET program. As my study has shown, especially children from poor family backgrounds suffer from insufficient learning environments. Many of those young people are involved in income generating activities or even drop out of school for some time in order to support their families. This has a negative effect on their educational achievement which in turn decreases those children’s chance of accessing the UPPET program and receiving secondary education. The same problem makes the second regulation exclusionary, especially for poor children and youth: the no-repetition-rule. This means, once a student has to repeat a class, he or she ceases to be eligible for either of the programs. Many young people have to repeat classes because of low performance, or temporary drop-out. The impact of those two regulations needs further analysis and they should be revised as they might lead to social exclusion of the very group that was supposed to benefit from the USE policy: young people who do not have the financial means to access secondary education. In order to be eligible for the UPPET program students must have successfully completed their Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). This is already the first obstacle young people have to overcome on their way to secondary education. This means that many young people still do not have access to secondary education.

Regarding the second question which role social capital play in the USE implementation, I have shown that social capital alone, cannot improve the process in Uganda. But it can provide new insights and approaches for policy measures to improve the delivery of and access to quality secondary education in the country.