By Wycliff Odong
Kitgum—22, June 2020: Last week, public universities in Uganda have been publishing names of students admitted to study on government sponsorship. However, it is sad to note that over 95 percent of the readers have always in their quick analysis of the lists been more interested in the first names or tribes of the admitted students while literally complaining on social media that .. “Only outsiders are dominating this list” “Our leaders must open their eyes”… “I’m seeing only two names of decedents of our land…” and so on.
The learned ones have been premising their opinions on the National Objectives 3 (ii) in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, which state that; every effort shall be made to integrate all the peoples of Uganda while at the same time recognising the existence of their ethnic, religious, ideological, political and cultural diversity.
In my opinion, these expressions and attitude are unpatriotic, uninformed with facts about what a university is, and it’s tribalistic leading to discrimination.
In light of the above, I wish to advise the students, parents and the general public to inwardly reassess themselves regarding the issue of admissions to public universities on government sponsorships in Uganda and how we can all go about endeavoring to see that every willing brain makes it to the university and on government sponsorships.
I will at some point be providing my personal experience on the same topic. But, I have to forewarn you to notice that the world is simply not fair and with many obstacles. That’s a fact we should accept and live with; even when we talk of university admissions in our county – Uganda. There is always that one or two things you must do to succeed.
For a university national merit admission for direct entry on government sponsorship, you need to meet the cut-off points irrespective of where you sat Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) – commonly referred to as A’level from. Simple!
I’m one who believes that a serious and bright student can at least get a government sponsorship after sitting from anywhere, from any school with committed teachers in Uganda. The student has to know what he or she wants to achieve and has to be well versed with the Public University Joint Admission Board (PUJAB) weighing system where even Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) – commonly called O’level scores contribute a total of three points and one and half points for all females (affirmative action bonus points).
A level is the only academic level where a student must concentrate 100 percent forgetting the home problems, the girl/boy friends, the discos, the fun, to mention but a few while knowing how the weighing is done when aspiring for admission on government sponsorship at the public Universities in Uganda. Short of that, forget-and there is no luck there. The minute you come out of your papers, a well-prepared student knows that he or she has passed or failed. Simple!
Yes, money to afford the ‘good Kampala schools’ is our number one challenge but good schools are not only the ones that pay highest or the expensive ones or the ‘Kampala schools’ for that matter. If you scan well, there are good affordable schools we don’t always hear about them in the media (including our Kitgum Matidi Seed Secondary School for O’ level and the Adwari SS of Otuke district).
Let me tell you my story. I started my O’level education from Kitgum High School, sat for the UAC or O’level examinations from St. Joseph’s College Layibi, Gulu. Got admitted to Gombe SS, a prestigious school in the then Mpigi district. However, my excitement crashed when I reached the school alongside my elder brother Stephen Obina.
I got admitted to pursue the subjects combination of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics (PCBM) in addition to General Paper but the fees alone was Uganda Shillings 700,000 for an Acholi boy coming straight from from the IDP camp struggles in the year 2003 leave alone other costs that was bringing the total to over a million Uganda shillings for the start!
Me and my big brother Stephen Obina were given Uganda shillings 320,000, and that was all our parents had. We were on our own and no one back in Kitgum district expected us back saying we did not find a school!
We looked at each other’s eyes quietly pondering with the admission letter in our hands. All we told the officer in the admission office was .’Ok. Let us see’. We were not going back to the school for we couldn’t make it fees wise.
On our way back from Gombe SS, we decided to have another look at the newspapers of the previous week which Stephen bought. It contained list of schools and the performance of their best students in the UACE or A’level examinations of the previous year.
KIBIBI senior secondary school was in the newspapers with some students performing well in non-science subjects and the school was also in Mpigi district (now Butambala district). To save on some transport money, I told Stephen that let’s first reach this school. We asked the locals, and we were directed to the school thanks to a Bodaboda man who carried both of us on his bike to the school.
It was a very rural Islamic Community School that had just been taken seriously by the government, deep on a thickly forested hill in the jungles of Butambala sub-county. We were directed to the Director of Studies’ office. On reaching the office and presenting out intentions to have myself join the school, the soft-spoken but seemingly rude man asked for my O’ level result slip, analysed it and issued me with an admission letter instantly. The total fees including all the other costs was 180,000. Yes 180k.
I immediately felt a fresh breath of air though still anxiously wondering how I could be in that unheard-of school in that deep location very far away from relations and known friends.
However, again, on pulling out the admission letter, the Director of Studies asked me. “What combination do you want, young man? With no delay, I responded: History, Economics, Geography and Divinity (HEGD) in addition to General Paper. My brother Stephen was perplexed, wondering how I changed my mind from studying PCBM to HEGD- the prestigious Science to Arts to be precise!
Big bro allowed me to pick the admission after all, but after exiting the office he continues asking me. “Are you sure you don’t want to do PCBM any more?. I plainly told him YES. I explained to him how I wanted our parents to rest from the burden of paying fees for I could do Sciences but may not make it on government sponsorship at the University as getting it was my prime target. I wanted something simpler for me to pass as well as I desired.
The ‘Arts’ studies turned out to be very tough but with dedicated hard work, I attained AABB4 score which led to the good news getting me at a ‘marwa’ joint in Kitgum.
On that day I felt an experience I had never felt from him in my lifetime! He rushed to me full of joy and gave me my first ever hug from him telling me. “Look, your name is in the papers today. You’ve got a government sponsorship to study at Makerere University.” I got the course I wanted since I was in Senior Five! Bachelor of Community Psychology.
The key lessons lesson here are:
The student’s agility, dedication and focus matter more than the school. Provide/seek career guidance. I urge all the students to always search for career guidance in shaping their current and future academic endeavors.
We should all note that public universities are universal recipients of qualified students, irrespective of tribe, nationality or even where the university is located. There is no home advantage but rather merit advantage in joining public universities.
If you are a resident of Gulu (where there is Gulu University) or Mbarara (where there is Mbarara University of Science and Technology), Lira (where there is Lira University) for example, expect to see names of people from all over the world getting legally admitted to the university in your village while you might actually be missing on the list of admitted students. Work hard!
For God and My Country
The writer is an Inclusive Education Practitioner