“Education is not a way to escape poverty – It is a way of fighting it.”

Julius Nyerere, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania

In Uganda, throughout sub-Saharan Africa and much of the developing world, the majority of children and youth do not complete secondary school.

As a result: the majority of the world’s children in developing countries are inadequately prepared for inclusion in the economy. Many become victims of exploitation – child labour, child marriage, human trafficking. Poverty recycles through families and communities whose children remain uneducated.

Completing secondary school in the developing world is a game-changer

The benefits of girls’ and boys’ secondary education are well known:

  • Social and economic empowerment
  • Personal development and transformation of youth
  • Greatly reduced exposure to killer diseases, including HIV/AIDS
  • Increased access to health services
  • Improved family planning and reproductive health
  • Reduced infant mortality
  • Children who complete secondary school are far more likely to send their children to secondary school, breaking cycles and syndromes of poverty
  • Children who complete secondary school are far less likely to be exploited as child labour, in child marriage or human trafficking. These ills occur mostly to children who do not complete secondary school.
  • Completing secondary school is a pathway to higher education, including technical, certificate, diploma and degree levels

Changing the conversation

Despite the strong evidence that “basic education” or primary school alone does not meet the educational and social development needs of children and youth in the 21st century, the conversation to shift mindsets from primary or basic education to completion of secondary school needs to rise from its current whisper to a strong, unified voice.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education is to achieve “universal primary education” for all children everywhere. Universal secondary education is not the goal.

This goal of “primary education” is endorsed by major institutions, foundations and agencies throughout the world. While we admire and respect the demonstrated commitment of the U.N. and international institutions to the world’s children, we believe this MDG should change from “achieve universal primary education” to “complete universal secondary education.”

Quality primary education is of course an important pathway to secondary education and as an educational foundation, powerful in its own right. However, primary school is simply not enough education and socialization for the world’s children in the 21st century, nor does it serve as a barrier to exploitation. In the 21st century, completing secondary school needs to be the bottom line goal.

Why do the majority of children in sub-Saharan Africa not complete secondary school?

For most children and families, the costs are prohibitive. In most sub-Saharan African countries, secondary education is neither free nor affordable. For most families, the costs of secondary school fees combined with the costs of school uniforms and scholastic materials are prohibitive. When there is more than one secondary school age child in the family, the financial pressure becomes exacerbated. Oftentimes, boys are chosen to enroll in or complete secondary school over girls.

Poverty is the chief reasons most children in sub-Saharan Africa do not complete secondary education. Many who start do not complete secondary school as families find it difficult to sustain the costs, which in many countries, rise each year.

Other factors include:

  • Early marriage of girls, which is largely poverty and culturally related
  • Uneducated parents and caregivers are not sufficiently aware of the benefits of secondary education for their children and families
  • Children, especially girls, are needed at home by their parents or caregivers to care for siblings and elders and help provide food and family income
  • Low quality primary education has not prepared all children for the rigours of secondary education

African countries are advancing Universal Secondary Education

Education is among the highest priorities of most African countries, such as Uganda where education is the top budget item (or in some years, the second highest budget item) in the annual national budget. In most sub-Saharan African countries,  education is among the highest line item in annual national budgets.

Uganda is the first African country to establish Universal Secondary Education (U.S.E.), in 2007. The purposes of U.S.E. are to make secondary school more accessible and affordable, create a more literate, educated, gender-equal and prosperous society and help advance development and eradicate poverty. U.S.E. provides grants which reduce the costs of secondary school education and improves the infrastructure of schools.

U.S.E. has increased secondary school enrollment rates. Challenges exist, such as increased enrollments put pressure on teachers, school administration and infrastructure. In addition, U.S.E. grants do not cover the full costs of secondary school for all children.

U.S.E. is a developing programme that creates more opportunities for access to secondary education. U.S.E. should be supported by all stakeholders in society so that the vision and goals of U.S.E. are fulfilled, benefiting children, youth, families and communities throughout Uganda.

What we believe

  • Completing secondary school education is a necessary and realistic goal for all children everywhere
  • Ethical standards must be set to determine the educational standards for children everywhere. The educational needs of children should no longer be left to chance, lack of budget or humanitarian efforts
  • The cost of fully educating children – early childhood, primary, secondary and higher education combined – is less than the costs of prisons, alcoholism, disease, social services, and lack of productivity
  • Secondary school education combined with higher education stems the tide of urban drift and contributes to community development, rural transformation and environmental conservation
  • Emerging Universal Secondary Education programmes such as in Uganda and elsewhere are opportunities that need to be embraced by society, especially by parents, caregivers, youth, schools, local government, international partners, the private sector and other key stakeholders for maximum collaboration and partnership
  • Ultimately, universal secondary education must no longer involve the payment of school fees, such as in a growing number of countries in the developing world and throughout the developed world. This is a process that will take time so alternative innovative strategies must effectively result in secondary school enrollment and completion for all
  • Universal Primary Education needs to be strengthened to ensure children are fully prepared for secondary school
  • The relationship between communities and schools must be strong
  • As societies become increasingly educated, more people will become income earners and contribute into the country’s tax system, increasing national revenues for education and development. This is a pathway from an undeveloped to a developed country which will lead to free, compulsory universal secondary education
  • Creating a greater demand for secondary education is a critical element of universal secondary education
  • Parents and caregivers need to have a better understanding of the benefits of secondary school education for their children and long term security of their families. This will motivate more parents and caregivers to find ways to send their children to secondary school
  • More secondary schools need to be built near primary schools. This provides more motivation and access for primary school students to transition to secondary school
  • Girls must be supported to stay in school through secondary school completion in order to avoid early marriage and exploitation
  • Education reform is critical to achieving universal secondary education goals – including more life skills programmes and curriculum reform that includes entrepreneurship and practical skills taught in general secondary education combined with an academic curriculum
  • Secondary schools must foster jobs creation as well as job seeking
  • Information technology, fully equipped libraries and science labs and professional development for all teachers are essential elements of 21st century secondary school learning environments

What we are doing to broaden educational opportunities for all

  • We are developing The A-Factor Project™ (A for Agriculture) as a model to shift the paradigm of dependence on donors to fund the costs of secondary, technical and vocational education to sustainable self-sufficiency through youth-led agricultural entrepreneurship. Read more about the A-Factor™ Project
  • We are developing The E-Factor Project™ (E for Education) as a means to integrate public health strategies with increased opportunities for girls’ secondary school education. Read more about The E-Factor™ Project
  • UMECS staff and NUEP students are writing a book, The Transformational Power of Education: Personal Journeys and Action Plans of War-Affected Youth for Universal Education, Flourishing Economies and Sustainable Peace designed to sensitize, motivate and mobilise parents, caregivers, youth, schools, local government, partners and key stakeholders to collaborate in common cause to advance education- for-all strategies, with a focus on increasing secondary school completion throughout Uganda
  • We support the broad goals and endeavours of the Ministry of Education and Sports as a supportive partner in the mission to empower all members of society through education

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