Classrooms in Amuru District are running empty as the harvesting season sets in.
School attendance records have gone down, with many school going children heading to gardens and not schools.
When Uganda Radio Network visited some of the primary schools and villages in the district, the sight of school-age going children busy in the gardens in the company of their parents and half empty classrooms was common.
At Okungedi primary school, only about 500 pupils out of the over 900 enrolled learners were present, according to the school’s daily attendance register.
Angelo Lajul, the school’s head teacher said that the attendance was inconsistent. He said sometimes, parents come to the school and forcefully remove their children from class to go and help with farming activities.
//Cue in: “The attendance is not constant…”
Cue out: “…we have told him”//
Only 600 out of 1,113 pupils were at Guruguru primary school, on Wednesday, while the rest were reported to have been detained by their parents to work in the gardens.
Meanwhile at Oloyotong primary school, a miserable 95 pupils out of 332 reported to school on Wednesday.
John Ongaba, the chairman of the school management committee said he was disturbed by the trend. Ongaba explained that he had scheduled a meeting for the parents to discuss the increasing level of pupils’ absenteeism, which he said was threatening their efforts to improve academic performance.
//Cue in: “We would like them to…”
Cue out: “…because there is not teaching.”//
However, the pupils are not alone in the absenteeism practice; the teachers too, are on the list of the culprits. At Oberabic primary school, Jimmy Richard Onek, the head teacher has reportedly been absent for the last three weeks with no explanation.
Richard Nyeko, a primary seven candidate in the school told URN that they often go without lessons. By mid day on Wednesday, the candidates were yet to have their first lesson for the day. A visibly worried Nyeko also the class captain says they are worried about their performance in the PLE exams.
At Guruguru primary school, one of the teachers identified as Otuk Langa is reported to have been in the school for only two days since the academic term begun on September 5. Aidah Aceng Otto the head mistress complained that she was having trouble dealing with teachers who are absent without permission.
//Cue out: “Since when the school started…”
Cue out: “…he is not there.”//
The District Education Officer was not available for comment, but Anthony Omach, the LC5 chairman said he was aware about the situation adding that he is due to meet with the district executive members on Thursday to address the situation.
Gilbert Oulanya, the MP for Kilak County and previously the district secretary for education said an education ordinance that the district passed last year is yet awaiting approval of the Attorney General.
He said the ordinance would provide grounds for prosecuting parents who keep their children out of school. In 2010, Oulanya led an operation that saw several children and their parents rounded up for staying away from school.
Cases of parents holding their children in the garden instead of having them in classrooms, learning may perhaps paint a picture of a community struggling to gain self reliance through agricultural production after a war that led to an economic devastation.
A March 2006 report by the Civil Society Organization for Peace in Northern Uganda said a majority of children in the region constitute a lost generation which has been denied education. The report also profiles the devastating economic cost of the war and called for a re-think and development of an expanded vision and strategy that goes beyond mere massive injections of resources.