Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Review of Uganda Private Schools Sector

Review of Uganda Private Schools Sector


In most developing countries around the world, privately owned affordable (independent) schools growing as an alternative to government (public) schools. Specifically in Uganda, estimates show that over 3,000 independent schools exist.   Primarily concentrated in the urban areas, these schools cater to over 300,000 students a year.

Students attending these schools receive quality education at all educational levels compared to public schools.   In most cases, independent private schools offer a lower student teacher ratio, better facilities and extra-curricular activities when compared to the public schools.  However, managing and operating these schools does not come without its challenges to the owners and teachers.  In order to address these challenges, in Uganda several independent school directors established the Uganda National Association of Private Schools and Institutions (UNAPSI) in 2008, as a mechanism for schools to work together to address and overcome the challenges they faced.

Uganda National Association of Private Schools and Institutions (UNAPSI) is interested in developing opportunities for independent private schools in Uganda to enhance the access and quality of affordable education to the communities.  Specifically, UNAPSI  is   interested   in   investing   in   Management   Resources,   Educational   Infrastructure   and Transparency. UNAPSI would like to identify potential ways it can partner with stakeholders and development partners in order to enhance the independent private school sector.

This year, UNAPSI contracted a consultant in Uganda to conduct research in order to better understand the value UNAPSI brings to its members.  Therefore, the purpose of this report is to detail the key findings from UNAPSI and the independent private schools sector review.   Key findings detailed in the report are based on data gathered through two primary research methods: interviews / discussions and surveys.  Key findings in the report are summarized into three areas: review of Uganda education policy and environment, observations of selected private school owners/operators and review of UNAPSI.

The education policy and environment in Uganda is dynamic and is changing to be able to provide education to all Ugandan children. The Ugandan Ministry of Education & Sports (MOES) is playing an active role in the development of the sector.  In addition to the development of a Ugandan National Curriculum, the MOES introduced free primary and secondary education policies.  However, the public schools continue to be challenged with curriculum delivery.  Specifically schools charge high fees for textbooks, materials and uniforms; have a large number of students in one classroom (up to 100 students per class); have an insufficient number of schools (1 school in a 5 kilometer radius); have limited facilities and minimal extra-curricular activities.

Based on observations and 12 school visits, many private schools are better placed to offer quality education when compared to public schools.  First, in independent private schools, fees range from UGX 50,000 to UGX 500,000 (USD 20 to USD 200) averagely per term.  Additional costs such as books, uniforms and materials are a onetime cost per year.
·         Independent private school class sizes range from 25 to 45 students per class.  
·         Independent private schools are abundant in urban areas, often with 5 to 6 schools within a 3-kilometer range.

Additionally, individuals with previous teaching backgrounds manage almost half of the independent private schools visited.   Fifty percent of the independent private school teachers were government trained and possessed previous teaching experience.  Together, management and teaching staff focus on quality education and the child needs.   However, independent schools do face challenges such as teacher turnover, limited facilities, limited financing for infrastructure and limited awareness from both the government and parents.

Despite this, independent private schools continue to play a large role in the education sector in Uganda.  By providing flexible and low-cost affordable quality education, middle class and low-income families, particularly in the urban areas, rely on independent private  schools  for  continued  quality  education  of their children.    Although  the  government  is increasingly recognizing  formally the  independent  private schools sector, through the expected work of UNAPSI and other stakeholders, policies will be enacted in the near future to improve the sector and to provide recognition and benefits to the independent private schools. 

Over the past five years, UNAPSI has tried to play an active role in the independent private schools sector promoting education and the rights of students. Advocacy is only one example of services UNAPSI currently offers.   The growth of services has been slow due to limited financial and human resources.  This has resulted in minimal operations, processes and staff within UNAPSI.  However, UNAPSI intends to widen its membership base in both urban and rural districts.

As the needs of UNAPSI members and the independent private schools sector grows, so to does the UNAPSI mandate.  Governed by a Board of Directors, a program coordiantor and three voluntary staff members, UNAPSI anticipates growing quickly in 2014 - 2015. Specifically, UNAPSI hopes to increase its offering of services and training to its members (for school managers and teachers).  To facilitate this growth, selected UNAPSI leaders have developed a five-year strategic plan. UNAPSI intends to dedicate resources to building program areas and staff.  Membership dues and donor funding will be sought to fund this growth.

Given this, key areas have been identified where UNAPSI can partner with stakeholders. The first area is to support a strategic planning review which will result in the discussion and final adoption of the strategic plan by Board members, school members and staff.  Once the strategic plan is adopted by all, key program areas, as prioritized in the plan, will be implemented.  These program areas could include a Quality Assurance component to develop and maintain quality education standards for members, a Capacity Building and Training component to address the training needs of member’s management and teacher teams, and a Financial Transparency component that would work with UNAPSI members to promote accounting practices and standards for the independent private schools sector thereby allowing entrepreneurs to fund expansion and renovations.

An important area for support is organizational development to build UNAPSI’s internal operations, processes and staff.   Resources should be dedicated to help UNAPSI develop key organizational capacities and advise UNAPSI leadership on the best ways to ensure UNAPSI’s sustainable growth.


In Africa, families continue to turn to privately-owned schools as an alternative to the deteriorating public school system.   Specifically, in Uganda, it is estimated that over 3,000 privately-owned affordable “independent” private schools exist.  A majority of these schools are located in urban areas.

These independent private schools seek to provide children in Uganda with a holistic education. In addition to providing basic education at all levels, these schools promote children’s rights to access supplemental education material, food, shelter (for HIV / AIDS orphan children) and healthcare. However, providing these services does not come without challenges to the school, the school owners (educational entrepreneurs) and administration (directors and teachers).

In 2008, Uganda National Association of Private Schools and Institutions (UNAPSI) was established to address the challenges faced by private educational entrepreneurs.   UNAPSI’s mission is “to represent, promote and protect private schools, their owners and operator in Uganda. It also strives to empower communities to engage the Government of Uganda and other stakeholders to pursue policies, guidelines and actions that promote the access of all children in informal settlements to a holistic quality education.   UNAPSI aims to provide its members, their teachers and students with training and advocacy programs to fulfill its mission.
3.0. Program OBJECTIVE

Uganda National Association of Private Schools and Institutions (UNAPSI) is interested in developing opportunities for independent schools to enhance the access and quality of affordable education to Ugandan citizens through support for Management Resources, Policy Guidelines, Educational Infrastructure and Principles of Good Practices.  UNAPSI plans to play an active role in the development of the independent private schools sector in Uganda. UNAPSI is interested in ways it can partner with stakeholders to enhance the independent private school sector.

Therefore,  UNAPSI  contracted  a  consultant  in  Uganda  to  conduct  research an industry review  in  order  to  better understand the issues and challenges the industry. The primary focus of the program was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of UNAPSI in order to make recommendations for technical assistance or other interventions.   The secondary focus of the program was to gain a general understanding of independent private schools sector in Uganda.   Therefore, the purpose of this report is to detail the key findings from the review of UNAPSI, the industry and preliminary information regarding the education sector in Uganda.


In order to collect data in all areas, two primary research methods were employed by the consultant: interviews and surveys.   First, interviews were conducted with various individuals and institutions. The objective of the interviews was to gather first hand information about the education sector in Uganda  (specifically  the  independent private schools  sector),  and UNAPSI .
The  following interviews were conducted:
1.   UNAPSI Current Leadership:
2.   UNAPSI Staff:
3.   Independent private schools
4.   Stakeholders:
5.   Government: Ministry of Education & Sports – no response to meeting request
6.    Banks

In addition to interviews, questionnaires were distributed and collected from the 12 schools in order to capture preliminary data regarding these independent private schools.


Based  on  initial  research  (interviews  and  questionnaires)  the  following  illustrates  preliminary findings regarding the education sector in Uganda, UNAPSI and independent private schools.


Key findings regarding education policies result from interviews and discussions with UNAPSI, independent private schools and stakeholders.

Currently, the government of Uganda promotes free primary school education (UPE) for all Ugandan students in all public schools.  Although primary education is free in most cases there are challenges to accessing this education. UPE does not include the reoccurring cost of mandatory new uniforms, books and materials that low-income families incur multiple times in a year. Additionally, in some cases, the quality of education in government schools can be very poor. For example, the student to teacher ratio can range from 25 to 100 students per teacher.  Also, the numbers of schools are insufficient to serve the student population in an area it is estimated that in urban areas often one public school exists to serve 10,000 students in an immediate 5km radius.  Therefore, many low-income families, particularly in urban areas, are turning to affordable private schools for student’s primary education.

Independent private schools in Uganda are estimated to serve over 300,000 students in urban areas.  Often these schools are located on small plots in the urban areas with limited space for students. Parents pay a fee on a termly basis ranging from UGX 50,000 to UGX 500,000 (USD 20 to USD 200) plus the cost of books and uniforms.   Most schools are able to collect a majority of the fee. Students in these schools follow the government developed Ugandan National Curriculum (KNC).  Class sizes range from 25 to 45 students per teacher.

The current education policy in Uganda recognizes both public and private schools.  When comparing independent private schools to the government public schools, independent private schools do not meet the certain criteria such as land requirements and others. Further complicating matters, the MOES has free secondary school policy (USE) threatening the current enrollment at independent private secondary schools.   Ultimately, UNAPSI and the MOES are working to improve the independent private school sector so that these schools can benefit more from government policies.

5.3 Independent Private Schools
Key findings regarding independent private schools result from observations from field visits, surveys distributed and interviews / discussions with selected independent private schools.
Background Information: A majority of independent private schools are located in the urban areas of Uganda.  As mentioned earlier it is estimated that independent private schools educate over 300,000 students in Uganda.  

Curriculum Offering: All independent private schools offer the Uganda National Curriculum.  However, schools vary in their level of education offering.   A majority of schools offer primary education and some have pre-primary, primary and secondary classes. The average total number of students at each school ranged from 180 to over 700 students.  Therefore, on average it was estimated that the student to teacher ratio in the schools visited varied from 25 to 45 students per teacher.

Directors / Staff Experience: Of 12 members visited, approx 60% of School Owners / Directors possessed an education background and previous educational experience.  Similarly, 60% of teachers were trained in the government teacher’s colleges and had at least three years previous teaching experience.  The remaining teachers were high school graduates.

Facilities: A majority of schools visited used rented land to build their schools.  Generally, schools were built with semi-permanent materials and some with wooden pallets and iron sheet roofs.  All schools had pit latrine toilets.  In most cases, there was one facility for males and one for females (few schools had separate toilets for teachers and students). Additionally, a majority of schools had limited textbooks, infrastructure (benches / chairs), teaching aides, libraries, labs, playgrounds, staff rooms and electricity for students. A few schools had taken loans from financial institutions for expansion; a majority had used profits or donations to renovation and improvements.   Lastly, a majority of schools did not have school transportation.

Independent Private School Challenges: As mentioned earlier, independent private schools voiced several challenges that they are currently facing in running their schools.  First, all school leaders noted funding was a large challenge.   Specifically, leaders noted funding was needed for three key areas: scholarships and funding for subsidized students, funding for infrastructure improvements and funding to procure food for student feeding programs.

Second, members noted teacher turnover was a large challenge.  Specifically, members noted that once government trained teachers gained a few years of experience in the independent private schools, they would leave  for  the  government  schools  that  offer  higher  salaries  and  pension  plans.    Additionally, participants noted that teachers with no experience are more likely to remain at the schools however; these teachers need training that is very costly for the schools.

Third, independent private schools cited procurement of food and materials was very expensive, particularly given the rise in food prices.   Specifically, independent private schools found procuring textbooks, classroom aids and other materials expensive for schools to procure in small quantities.

Lastly,  independent private schools  felt  there  was  a  need  for  increased awareness  amongst  themselves to  government.   Many schools are recently registered as private limited companies. However, local authorities, particularly the tax authorities, often insist schools must pay taxes since they are collecting fees.   Independent private schools felt that they should receive increased recognition from the government in order to receive benefits such as free primary education funds and tax-exempt status.


UNAPSI was established in 2008, as the as an industry sector trade association by a group of interprofessional stakeholders. UNAPSI was then registered with the Registrar of Companies as a nonprofit trade association.

Today, UNAPSI leadership anticipates to widen its membership base countrywide. Governed  by  a  Board  of Directors  ,  UNAPSI  intends to provide  independent private schools with advocacy and capacity building programs.  Programs are run by two voluntary  and one part- time staff member as well as university interns.

5.3.1 UNAPSI Strengths and Weaknesses

The following table summarizes UNAPSI’s organizational strengths and weaknesses.


·               Available membership base
·               Developed Policy Operations Manuals and Guidelines waiting to be implemented
·               Strong ties with the Ministry of Education  will allow  UNAPSI  to  address
·               Dedicated leadership team, specifically Board of Directors (significant experience in running independent schools). Directors are active and committed to UNAPSI
·               comprised of inactive and inexperienced members
·               On-going monitoring, evaluation and assessments are not completed with members  or  of  member needs
·               Strongly-branded as the best & most successful prep-college schools: High Examination scores
·               Best college graduation rates
·               More diversity of every kind than other school systems
·               Safe and achievement-oriented “intentional cultures”
·               Independence in admissions, hiring, programming
·               Better teacher/student ratios are available in private schools.
·               Limited UNAPSI presence in areas such as Central, Eastern and Western of Uganda (barrier to becoming a national association.
·               No official membership records exist including member data base and membership applications
·               Limited financial resources and income
·               Other existing associations serving private schools
·               All UNAPSI activities and growth depend on drive from UNAPSI leadership (barrier to operational sustainability)
·               Limited human resources to execute UNAPSI activities and operations
·               Organizational Development – UNAPSI office and infrastructure is very limited (e.g. office space is small and does not accommodate staff. Also, limited assets are available (e.g. computers, desks, etc.)
·               Organizational Development – Limited operational procedures, systems and activities. Member activities are conducted on an ad-hoc basis.
·               Persistent public perception as elite and inaccessible in every way – especially financially and socially
·               Underinvested in marketing, understaffed in advancement, under-represented in policy-making
·               Boards inexperienced in high level governance, leading to misdirected micromanaging of daily operations
·               Administrators expected to manage more than lead
·               Ineffective or immature processes for recruiting, training, and maximizing value of trustees and for diversifying the board
·               Unsustainable growth in financial stability

·               Better teacher/student ratios are available in private schools.
·               Public – Private Partnerships
·               Financial Aid and Bursaries to private schools
·               Declining percentage of families who can afford ever-increasing tuitions
·               Dilution of “independent” brand
·               Risk Management:  More risks, longer tail, costly  judgments
The following key findings about UNAPSI focus mainly in five areas: membership, financial health, reputation / position, leadership and education quality assurance.

Membership:  Key  findings  regarding  UNAPSI’s  membership  services  result  from  a  review  of membership services documents available and interviews with selected UNAPSI members.  

Interestingly, a strategic plan was developed in 2008 and updated with select member and leadership input.  UNAPSI leadership indicated it hoped to share and debate this plan with all its members to be adopted in future.

When speaking with current independent private school directors, members noted advocacy and networking as benefits of UNAPSI. Specifically, development of independent private schools policy guidelines and other programs as key advocacy initiatives carried out by UNAPSI. Additionally, members noted networking opportunities through meetings will provide them with the opportunity to discuss common challenges faced and possible solutions.

Finally, current members indicated UNAPSI should consider providing the following member services:

  • Lobbying Funding  and  financial  assistance  -  for  student  bursaries,  school  feeding  programs  and expansion, expansion and renovation of school facilities
  • Training - for new teachers and school managers
  • Advocacy  - for increased recognition by government of the private sector and equal participation in sector as well as advocacy with parents to understand value of education
  • Networking / Collaboration – for exchange of ideas, best practices and sector challenges

Financial Health: Currently, UNAPSI has limited financial resources and controls in place to manage its operational expenditures.  

Reputation / Position: Key findings regarding UNAPSI’s reputation and position result from interviews and discussions with members, non-members and stakeholders.

UNAPSI has a strong reputation amongst its members and with certain members of the MoE. However, non-members vary in their perception of UNAPSI.  Some non-members view UNAPSI favorably and believe it is benefiting the industry, while others view it unfavorably because they are not invited to be members.   Based on information received from UNAPSI leadership, UNAPSI has a presence in rural and urban areas of Uganda.  Other competing associations exist in these same areas.  UNAPSI should explore opportunities to collaborate with these other associations.

Leadership: Key findings regarding UNAPSI’s leadership result from interviews and discussions with members and leadership. The Current leadership is working on a voluntary basis.

Education Quality Assurance: Currently, UNAPSI has no formal quality assurance mechanism in place. The organization conducts school quality assurance measures on an ad-hoc basis.


Based on the key findings outlined above, the suggested areas have been identified as possible ways for stakeholders and development partners to partner with UNAPSI.   Specifically, these suggested partnership areas represent what are believed will provide the greatest impact for the growth of UNAPSI and the independent private school sector in Uganda.

Facilitate a Comprehensive Strategic Planning Review. The first key area for UNAPSI is to undergo a comprehensive strategic planning review.  The primary objective of this important exercise is to align UNAPSI leadership, targeted members and staff in its mission and agree upon key objectives for activities and membership and the plan for implementation for the next 3 years.  Since UNAPSI  developed a plan, executives should recommend that the plan be reviewed by UNAPSI Board and Management, activities and membership defined and prioritized, annual implementation plans and budgets developed, and a draft plan be presented to members for feedback and eventual adoption.
Based on the results of the adopted strategic plan, UNAPSI will explore funding key program areas as prioritized in the plan.  Certain examples could include:
1.   Advancing Quality Education in Independent Private Schools To support the creation of a Quality Assurance capacity within UNAPSI to maintain high quality education delivery in UNAPSI member schools.  The purpose would be to ensure all UNAPSI schools are providing quality education. This would include developing benchmarks and a standard of quality education in independent private schools, assessing current schools against these benchmarks, developing action plans for addressing key issues to ensure changes occur.

2.   Developing Capacity Building and Training for the Independent Private School Sector –To support the creation of a Training and Capacity Building capacity within UNAPSI to deliver services, benefits and management training to UNAPSI members.     In addition, UNAPSI can develop other training and capacity building workshops for school managers, financial managers and school administration to address general management, financial management and other social issues (e.g. HIV / AIDS) faced by the schools.

3.   Promoting Financial Resource Mobilization and Membership Development in the Independent Private School Sector

To support the creation of a financial resource mobilization capacity within UNAPSI to address the limited financial resources and membership dues and base within several UNAPSI schools.  The purpose would be to promote financial resource mobilization best practices within the independent private schools industry.   This would include developing awareness amongst independent private school directors for the need to become members, encouraging schools to pay the membership dues, develop membership services, activates and events using  evidence-based practices , lobby and encourage stakeholders , development partners and government to support the organization and the independent private schools industry, build management skills and capacity of key organization administration.

Finally, UNAPSI should consider a key component of  Development and Growth of UNAPSI.  In order to grow sustainably, it is essential that UNAPSI create processes, systems and hire staff that can then deliver services to members through various components. If UNAPSI hopes to scale and maintain effective relationships with members, development and government officials, improving administration and management is essential. It is also important for UNAPSI to improve its financial health by increasing revenue through member services, membership development and activities.   Members should value UNAPSI services and be willing to contribute to the costs incurred.

Potential organizational development support can include developing membership/public relations capacities to manage and coordinate organization operations, activities and looking for ways to outsource  or  manage  the  development  of  the organization.

It is also recommended that UNAPSI seeks in-kind assistance to bolster the development of UNAPSI.  This can be through supporting UNAPSI in collaboration with other development, technical assistance providers or strategic partners.  Access to these additional resources would assist UNAPSI leadership to develop its strategic plan, funding proposals and other key capacities as well as provide advisory services to UNAPSI leadership to ensure sustainable growth of the organization.