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The smartest kind of investment

Young Ugandans fear being taken out of school because they’re poor. Sponsored scholarships can transform their lives

Katherine Manchester

guardian.co.uk, Sunday 13 December 2009 10.00 GMT

It’s a little-known fact that governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend proportionally more for every secondary student than any other region in the world: an average of 31.2% of national output per capita. That sounds like a phenomenal amount until you consider how low actual GDP is, and, in a country like Uganda, that the population is growing by a million new individuals every year.

Still, the Ugandan government is nothing if not committed to educating its young people. In 1997 the state took over the payment of school fees under its universal primary education policy, and 10 years later it began doing the same for the lower levels of secondary education. Over the 2009-10 fiscal year, education will consume 16% of Uganda’s national budget. But with school fees still needed to boost the government’s contributions, there remains a massive unmet demand for education: only 19% of Uganda’s secondary age population is enrolled in school at present.

In February 2009 Mvule Trust, a local scholarship program I have worked with for two years, called for A-level science students from rural areas to apply: hundreds of letters flooded in. One girl from the northern town of Gulu wrote: “When I lost the person who was paying my fees, I left school and stayed at home and I got my first child.” A boy in the eastern town of Mbale reported that his father sold “the only young bull of ours for this term’s fees”, while another wrote: “I used to lay bricks for fees, but it has turned to feed me and my two younger brothers.”

There are many ways to encourage education, but tackling the central obstacle of funding is addressed by a simple strategy that is used worldwide. Large-scale scholarship programs in sub-Saharan African and Asia, funded by development heavyweights like USAID and the World Bank, have had demonstrated success. In Bangladesh, the female stipend programme increased secondary girls’ enrolment to twice that of the national average. And undoubtedly British or American universities don’t see themselves as practicing “development” when they offer need-based scholarships to promising candidates, but that’s essentially what they’re doing.

Just the presence of a scholarship scheme can stimulate student achievement. A 2004 study in Kenya found that both boys and girls in schools with girls’ stipend programs actually scored higher than students in other schools. At Mvule Trust, we found that our beneficiaries – who do not fear being sent away from school because of fees and do not have to grow crops just to earn their tuition – are also more likely to perform better in class. Despite being from underprivileged, subsistence farming backgrounds, not one of the 168 trust students who sat their O-level exams in 2008 failed, compared to 5.5% who failed nationally.

Supporting education is an investment in people. Unlike roads that slowly deteriorate or water pipes that rust, the results of education last a lifetime. Without undermining the value of infrastructure or simplifying the complexity that is sustainable development, giving access to further education to young people who genuinely want to learn – and genuinely cannot afford it – is a sound and high-return investment.

In a country like Uganda, where just 4% of girls and 6% of boys who start primary school make it all the way through secondary, educating even one person can have huge ramifications for the rest of the family and community. This is especially true if that person is female. Besides earning a greater income, an educated woman is more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, to seek family planning and healthcare, to provide better nutrition for her family, and to send her own children to school: no small achievements, when you think about it.

In a world of Ponzi schemes and internet scams, staking your money in scholarships is one of the smartest investments you can make.

Comments in chronological order:

[1] MoveAnyMountain 13 Dec 2009, 10:21AM

Supporting education is an investment in people. Unlike roads that slowly deteriorate or water pipes that rust, the results of education last a lifetime.

I don’t want to object to the premise of this article, supporting education is a good thing and we ought to do more of it. But these are not reasons for preferring water pipes or roads over educating children (there may be other reasons, I accept).

After all, London is still using part of Bazalegette’s system. Paris is still using some of Baron Hausmann’s. Roads are even better. Britain still uses some Roman roads. Fosse Way, Ermine Street and Akeman Street are still used in part. The Italians also still use some Roman roads. There are probably very few roads in the UK that are not over 100 years old.

Because in the end while pipes rust and roads deteriorate, people also die.

·     [2] BrigateGrosse

13 Dec 2009, 10:37AM

@MoveAnyMountain I agree in principle. But education is not that kind of object. It does transmit through generations. My worry is what kind of education.. And who are the educators? Funding scholarships is all very well but it doesn’t change the underlying structural inequalities, Nor the relationship between Africa and the west. (I’m not saying don’t support education). And like many other articles this suggests that everyone lives in a remote village. No-one lives in Kampala. And another thing, we can do without the new labour language privileged by NGOs. “Need based” – we need to be more specific than that .

·     [3] fabiusmaximus

13 Dec 2009, 10:39AM

Perhaps you could ask for money from the climate tax? We are unfortunately unable to heat our homes or buy food as a result of overtaxation and paying bakers wages. Perhaps you could send us some of your oil in exchange for teachers.

·     [4] MoveAnyMountain

13 Dec 2009, 11:43AM

BrigateGrosse

But education is not that kind of object. It does transmit through generations.

It can transmit through the generations but there is no guarantee it will.

My worry is what kind of education.And who are the educators? Funding scholarships is all very well but it doesn’t change the underlying structural inequalities, Nor the relationship between Africa and the west.

Yes, so much better that Africans get no education at all than they have to learn English and study Shakespeare, Milton and Byron. Damn you Cultural Imperialists! There is no such thing as a structural inequality. They are as fictional as unicorns, oh I am sorry, have I engaged in Eurocentrism? I mean Qilin of course. Why would anyone want to change the relationship between Africa and the West except by Africa joining the modern world and embracing the global marketplace?

The only game in town is the real world. In the real world English is an excellent language to teach children. Western culture is strong because people like it. The way out of poverty is not some re-hashed Third World liberation theology or even the cookie cutter pop-Maoism it relies on.

·     [5] BrigateGrosse

13 Dec 2009, 11:50AM

Cookie cutter? You must be from the US. I really can’t agree then.This is Peace Corp stuff.

·     [6] boristhescorpion

13 Dec 2009, 1:33PM

My God BrigateGrosse (sorry for the expletive) but smell the coffee man/woman! Education is one of the basics needed to raise a populations aspirations and prospects, surely. And any education is better than nothing. Once teh foundations are there, then the philosophical mumbo-jumbo can start about the merits of different cultures etc. You only have to look at Zimbabwe to see the effect of the ‘Africa for Africans’ type narrow engagement.

·     [7] Bochi

13 Dec 2009, 2:18PM

Katherine – You’ll have to weed out the gay students though, if the proposed legislation passes. You’re supposed to report those to the authorities so they can be locked up. If you don’t, you could be locked up instead. And the ones who come to US and UK universities had better not get involved in the gay rights activities so prominent at your own alma mater, Wesleyan University. Or they’ll be liable back home for that too.

I quite understand why you wouldn’t want to mention all that in your article. NGO workers in Uganda are also threatened with imprisonment if they take up advocacy positions on behalf of gay rights. But I’d like to know just how your scholarships are supposed to work if you are supposed to denounce any recipients who turn out to be gay.

·     [8] Batleymuslim

13 Dec 2009, 4:06PM

Help me here; Brown has pledged £8 billion over the next 10 years in which to pay for African children to receive an education. Last week he pledged £1.5 billion to help the third world fight Climate change, the other month the UK pledged £1 billion to help the third world research drought resistant crops meanwhile Uganda has been found to hold the largest stocks of Oil in Africa.
Sudan which is the largest recipient of UN food Aid spends vast of tis Oil wealth on weapons. WHO is been criticized for allowing warlords in Somalia to hand out Food Aid by letting them sell it. Ethopia which suffered a famine 20 years ago has seen it population jump by 20 million and its now demanding more food Aid for a larger population.

Even the help the Guardian is offering has been stolen.

And you would like us to hand over more by thinking of the children.

Sorry call me an old cynic but I now ensure I give only to British only charities, Blue cross/ PDSA etc..

13 Dec 2009, 7:33PM

until you consider how low actual GDP is, and, in a country like Uganda, that the population is growing by a million new individuals every year.

There you go, there’s your problem!

·     [9] stevehill

13 Dec 2009, 8:27PM

Katherine: read my lips.

I am not investing in, sponsoring, giving money to or otherwise supporting the homophobic state known as Uganda unless and until they abandon unreservedly their current proposals to execute gays. In favour of legislating to give them wholly equal rights before the law.

Anything else would just encourage the bastards.

And that’s what Rowan Williams should be saying too.

·     [10] RichardChickenHeart

13 Dec 2009, 8:49PM

Projects of this kind do have a big and positive impact.

The problem is that involvement in this kind of thing tends to make one progressively more cynical and fatalistic. If you get involved you will start reading about or visiting Uganda. And what will you learn? That the persons who have the primary responsibility for educating these children have other priorities.

You may learn, for instance

-that the payrolls of schools and govt departments are loaded with “ghost employees” whose pay is pocketed by whoever is in charge.

-that the % allocated to education in the budget is a fable. The finance Ministry routinely sends money “where it is needed”, buying luxury cars for a Commonwealth conference being an example.

-that the country has the world’s biggest cabinet and , per capita, the world’s bigges parliament. MPs regularly vote themselves ever larger salaries and allowances.

-That the top leadership live in luxury. The President has two personal jets. On a visit to the Carribean for a recent Commonwealth conference his conscience probably smote him. He and his entourage, to show their solidarity with their suffering countrymen, flew back home in British Airways, economy class. The presidential jet was flown home empty.

If you can live with this kind of stuff good luck in your enterprise.

·     [11] RavingDave

13 Dec 2009, 11:54PM

Er, hang on just a minute! I had to do a double take. Is this really the same Uganda that is now threatening to execute homosexuals if they’re caught having sex??

And you seriously want us to give money to Uganda???

Girl, get real.

·     [12] MoveAnyMountain

14 Dec 2009, 3:04AM

It’s a little-known fact that governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend proportionally more for every secondary student than any other region in the world: an average of 31.2% of national output per capita.

I have just had another glance at this article and this leapt out at me again. A third of their GDP is spent on secondary education? WTF?

I bet it isn’t. I wonder if the author has any references.

·     [13] MoveAnyMountain

14 Dec 2009, 3:05AM

stevehill

I am not investing in, sponsoring, giving money to or otherwise supporting the homophobic state known as Uganda unless and until they abandon unreservedly their current proposals to execute gays. In favour of legislating to give them wholly equal rights before the law.

There is a time and a place for sanctions. Some countries need them. Some problems cannot be solved any other way. They are better than war.

But as stupid as this policy is, you really want to blight the lives of hundreds of school children because their Government is so asinine?


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