Education in Uganda

Education in Uganda - The basics plus statistics from the Acholi Region

To truly understand the ways in which your support is improving lives, you need to understand how the system for education in Uganda is organized.  Read on to learn about this system. Also learn the specifics of the impact of your support.

As always, I’ll end with a way you can explain everything you learned to a child – since helping children learn about Uganda and improving the world is an essential part of our mission at Social Promise.


Education in Uganda: The Basics

There are three tiers of school that are most relevant in terms of the financial support for education that you have provided to children in Uganda over the years: (1) pre-primary school, (2) primary school, and (3) post-primary school.  At the post-primary level there are various paths students can follow.  It is critical for you to know how your funds have been, and will be, deployed to support students in Uganda.

As I tell you about the educational system in Uganda, I’ll place a statistical focus on The Acholi region in located in Northern UgandaNorthern Uganda and the Acholi region, where our partners are located.  The people in this region are mostly part of the same Acholi ethnic group and often share similar health, education, and vital statistics.  Both St. Jude Children’s Home and Lacor Hospital – the two Ugandan nonprofits that Social Promise partners with – are in the Acholi region.  A lot of the numbers that I’ll tell you about come from the 2016/17 Uganda National Household Survey.


Pre-Primary School

As you know, access to early childhood educational opportunities can be pivotal in determining later success in school.

Overall in Uganda, 43% of 3 to 5-year-old children attend Nursery School.  To compare this number to the United States, the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics reports that 64% of 3 to 5 year-old children attend pre-K (roughly 38% of 3-year-olds, 67% of 4-year-olds, and 87% of 5-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary programs in 2015).

In Uganda, 43% of 3 to 5 year-old children attend pre-primary school. In the same age group in the United States, 64% of children attend pre-primary school.


St. Jude Nursery School

St. Jude Children’s Home has had a Nursery School on its grounds for as long as I can remember.  All pre-primary children at the orphanage attend this school.  I have always been especially happy to see evidence that all the schools at St. Jude are inclusion schools – welcoming children with disabilities and special needs – an extreme rarity in northern Uganda.  I wish you could see it some day – the children there are absolutely adorable.  One of my favorite things is watching them practice their English (the official language of Uganda) in call-and-response songs with their teachers each morning.

If you started to support St. Jude Children’s Home immediately after I first went to Uganda in 2000, your donations supported the orphanage in general, and thus helped cover the costs for this Nursery School.  More recently, your donations for education support post-primary education in Uganda, which I’ll explain below.


Primary School

In 1997, Uganda instituted its Universal Primary Education policy, ensuring free primary school tuition for all students.  This policy dramatically increased the number of students attending primary school, but a significant number of students – particularly in rural areas – still do not complete primary school.

Primary school includes grades P1-P7

In the Acholi region of northern Uganda – where St. Jude is located – 92% of children attended primary school.  However, and this is a big however, only 12% of people who are age 15 and above have completed primary school.


Why don’t children complete primary school?

There are a number of reasons for dropping out of school, but in Uganda 65% of dropouts can be explained by a lack of money for school.  How can this be possible if primary school is free?  Well, there are still significant costs to families, including the requirement for uniforms, and the cost of books, pencils, shoes, and other things we take for granted about school attendance.

The environment for education in Uganda is also not always conducive to optimal learning.  On average there are about 47 students per teacher in primary school in Uganda.  (Compare that to an average of about 14 students per teacher in the United States.)

Another issue that is seen in Uganda primary schools that is unfamiliar to us is that children will often temporarily dropout of primary school.  So even though children older than 12 should not be in primary school, they often are.  In fact, in the Acholi region, 39 out of every 100 children in primary school are actually older than 12-years-old (the expected age of primary graduation).


Ready for some good news?  Gender Equality

In this same Acholi region, more girls attend primary school than do boys!  (The exact number is 108 girls Girls make up 52% of the primary school student population in the Acholi region of Uganda for every 100 boys).  You probably already know that this is an important statistic in terms of what it tells us about gender equity in the region.  It has also been suggested that girls who are educated are more likely to remain in their local community and add to the local economy, so the presence of girls in school is good for the future of Northern Uganda.


St. Jude Primary School

As with pre-primary school, every child who lives at St. Jude Children’s Home attends primary school.  Most often that means they go to St. Jude Primary School which opened in 2008 with your generosity.

A photo in a classroom at St. Jude Primary school, an inclusion school

This school wasn’t a part of St. Jude Children’s Home when I first went there in 2000, but the presence of up to 200 children in a single classroom in the local schools made its creation a priority for the education of the children at St. Jude.  Can you imagine 200 children in one primary school classroom?
Donations you made before Social Promise was formally incorporated supported primary school education in Uganda.  (Back then, we raised money as Friends of the Children of St. Jude and channeled donations to our partner through other nonprofits.)  More recently, your donations for education support post-primary education in Uganda, which I’ll explain next.


Post-Primary School

Children who complete primary school have two main options for continuing their education in Uganda: attend a technical (vocational) institution or attend secondary school. Despite some government efforts, only a small percentage of Ugandan students have the chance to attend school at the secondary level.  Secondary school is split into two levels: the first four years are called the lower or ordinary level (O-level); the final two years are called the upper or advanced level (A-level).

Students who complete primary school can (1) get a job, (2) go to technical school, or (3) go to secondary school - which is the path to University


Unfortunately, students lacking the financial resources to advance to this post-primary educational stage, are largely unprepared for jobs that require technical skills and are certainly unable to continue to University.


Gender Disparity

In the Acholi region, only 24% of students who are of age to attend secondary school are actually enrolled.  And at this level the gender disparity is severe, with only 57 girls in secondary school for every 100 boys.  Only 6.3% of the population of people ages 15 and over completed secondary school.

Only 6% of people ages 15 and above in the Acholi region have completed secondary school. Girls represent only 36% of the secondary school population.


Your Impact

That’s why your donations in support of secondary education in Uganda are so meaningful.  In 2017, you are sending 22 students to technical institute and 31 more to secondary school, with girls making up about 58% of the students in each of those groups.  Thank you.


Prior to 2013 your support sponsored orphans at St. Jude Children's Home including their nursery and primary education. Starting in 2013, your donations to St. Jude Children's Home support secondary and technical school education.

Curious about how to do more?

Check out our website to learn more about Social Promise and our partners in Uganda.

A full year of secondary school including all fees such as uniforms, housing, food, books, and personal hygiene items costs only $800 on average. A full year of technical school costs only $250 a year on average.

How can you teach a child about education in Uganda?

An important part of our mission at Social Promise is to teach children about life in Uganda – with a focus on the Acholi region.  We believe children deserve to learn about their entire world – even the parts that we find difficult or troubling.  But we shouldn’t just teach them about problems, we should teach them how to be creative and to search for solutions to improve the world.  They won’t be able to contribute to improving things they don’t know about.

At Social Promise we focus on teaching children the facts about Uganda – both bad and good – with a focus on how many new good facts there are.  So children internalize a sense of optimism about the future and want to join in the challenge of creating a better world.

Here are some graphics you can use to teach a child about education in Uganda.

When do children start school in Uganda? Do all children go to school? How can you help?

The Acholi region is in northern Uganda - shown on a map here

In Uganda less than half of children attend pre-K. In the United States more than half of children do.

Almost all children in the Acholi region of Uganda attend some primary school but almost none complete it.

More than half the primary school students in the Acholi region are girls

After primary school there are three choices: high school - which leads to college, technical school - which can help get a good career, or getting a job right away, which isn't as likely to be a good career


Only about 1 out of 4 children go to secondary school in the Acholi region and very few of them graduate. More boys than girls attend secondary school


All children living at St. Jude's go to school. Social Promise helps them. Images of the nursery and primary schools with children in classrooms.


By learning about school in Uganda, you know what children in Uganda need. You need to know before you can help. You can help by telling a friend about what you learned.

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