Schools out: Why northern Uganda’s girls and boys are not getting an education and what to do about it

Teddy Atim, Dyan Mazurana and Anastasia Marshak

Type: Theme 1: Livelihoods instability, Uganda, Working Paper

Organisation: FIC

Date: 14/08/2019

Full summary

In northern Uganda, active armed conflict disrupted children and young people’s access to education from the early 1980s until 2007. Yet the damage done to the infrastructure and human resources that provide education – as well as the long-term harm to people’s assets, livelihoods and physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing – continues to be felt today. The available evidence shows that violent armed conflicts (even those of a lesser magnitude than in Uganda) can have long-lasting negative impacts on individual human capital accumulation, including educational attainment, health outcomes, and labour market opportunities.


This SLRC working paper presents findings from research examining the sharp decrease in girls and boys school attendance that was witnessed between 2013–2018 in northern Uganda. The paper explains why some households withdrew their children from school, while others were able to find ways to send their children to school. The data presented in this study is drawn from a large-scale representative panel survey across Lango and Acholi sub regions, northern Uganda.  It also draws upon in-depth qualitative research with a sample of households drawn from the SLRC panel survey.


The study finds that:


  1. Between 2013 and 2018, primary school attendance declined for girls and boys by approximately 20%.
  2. Girls have the highest rates of school dropout and failure to regularly attend across upper primary, secondary and tertiary education.
  3. Levels of education and post-primary transition remain low overall, particularly for girls because of gender inequality and economic hardships.
  4. Enrolment and attendance decreased for girls after age eight and for boys after age 13.
  5. Individuals who experienced war injuries, abduction, forced recruitment by the rebels or suffered from other ill health were less likely to continue with their education or afford the schooling for their children.


Overall, we find several factors that explain why some boys and girls in northern Uganda do not attend school today: the multiple, lingering effects of the conflict; weak economic systems, changes to the social fabric, gender inequality, and consideration of the real gains a household can make to their livelihoods in the short-term versus education in the long-term.