Kampala – The Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports is yet to address the irregularities and loopholes in the national selection and placement process.
In the past, parents and students used to have high expectations for the selection process, hoping to be admitted to secondary schools based on their performance and choices made on form X before the examination.
However, over time, many public secondary schools have started using underhand methods and putting artificial barriers in place, hindering admission based on merit. As a result, it appears that many parents are now securing admissions for their children to schools before the national selection process even starts.
The problem featured at the national selection exercise for 2023 senior one students with Ministry of Education officials, who are constantly receiving calls from parents about the issue raising it to headteachers. However, as in previous years, the officials have offered no solution beyond pleading with the schools to stop the irregularities.
“The situation is deteriorating, as parents are losing faith in the selection process. Although guidelines for placement exist, the enforcement is unclear,” a member of the national selection committee who never wanted to be named told our reporter.
Dr. Jane Egau, the new chairperson of the national selection and placement committee, also acknowledged the existence of irregularities in the now-discredited process but did not provide a direct solution to address the issue. “We all know what is happening. It’s a public secrete that this is happening. We need to find a solution and we will come up with one this time. This cannot continue,” said Dr. Egau.
Before the side interview, Dr. Egau, who is also the Director for Higher Technical Vocational and Educational Training at the Ministry, revealed the loopholes in the selection process created by schools.
First, she pointed out that some schools are under declaring the available slots in their schools to the committee. For instance, as Dr. Egau noted, a school may state that their senior one capacity is 200 students, but when classes start, they have 600 or more students, indicating that over 400 slots were kept hidden and used to admit students outside of the official selection process, thereby denying opportunities to deserving students who end up on the selling list.
She adds that other schools also resort to overcrowd classrooms as the increase on the number of learners processed through school based admission.
Dr. Egau also pointed out that some schools set high cut-off points that limit admissions to the school, but then use their own school-based process to enroll students with lower scores. She added that other schools also sell off placement for those allocated on merit to others.
Several headteachers who were interviewed denied the allegations. Most of them claimed that they provide opportunities to all students enrolled in their schools, but some students do not attend.
To bridge the gap, Paul Musoke, the Deputy Headteacher of Mengo SS, stated that they have to replace these students with those who are interested and available.
None of the headteachers interviewed by our reporter was willing to address the issue of under-declaring the number of available slots to the committee. But the practice also raises questions about the government’s role in inspecting these schools annually, constructing buildings, and providing desks and equipment, yet failing to accurately determine the actual capacity of these schools.
During the first day of the selection exercise, it was noted that many schools maintained the same cut-off points as the previous year, with a few exceptions that raised the cut-off points.
Schools that changed the cut-off points, such as Mpanga SS, attribute the change to the improved performance of students who placed the school as their first choice, compared to the available slots. Mpanga SS raised the cut-off points to 7 aggregates for boys and 12 for girls, up from 14 and 18, respectively.
But, it also turned out that many students with better results have been sold from their first-choice schools. For example, Paul Musoke, the Deputy Headteacher of Mengo SS, stated that the school sold 4311 students, but many of them had surpassed the cut-off point of 6 aggregates for boys and 7 for girls. The school was allocated 600 learners.
Similarly, the Headteacher of Kyebambe Girls SS, Ester Gidudu, pointed out that out of the 863 candidates on the selling list, 16 had attained the cut-off point of 9 aggregates, but they were limited by the available slots of 200 students.
In the same development, Moses Musingo, Assistant Commissioner in charge of Secondary Schools also raised a concern that the majority of the schools fail to account for learners admitted in senior one when time reaches for this cohort of learners to sit for senior four examinations. For instance, Musingo pointed to the fact a school can admit 400 students but by the time they reach S.4 there are only 200.
The assistant commissioner stated that schools sometimes artificially place barriers on students, such as making them repeat classes, which the ministry deems unacceptable. He added that as a way forward, ministry plans to monitor schools and hold headteachers accountable for the missing students.
The selection and placement exercise which commenced Thursday at Lugogo UMA showground in Kampala ended Friday.
The two-day exercise gathered over 3000 secondary school Headteachers with a total of 714,702 students expected to be placed in Secondary Schools.