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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2000 Uganda: An Economic Analysis of the COPE Program in Uganda: Current Costs and Recommendations for Meeting the Educational Needs of Disadvantaged Children

Author: Dewees, A.

Executive summary


Since 1995, UNICEF Kampala has managed technical and financial support for a complementary basic education initiative. This initiative, Complementary Opportunities for Primary Education (COPE), was conceived as a cost-effective means for meeting the educational needs of this group of disadvantaged and excluded children. COPE was designed to provide an accelerated primary education (to P5 in three years) through the use of adequate quantities of high quality materials, an abbreviated school day, and paraprofessional teachers supported by ongoing training and supervision.

Purpose / Objective

This document analyzes the investments and outcomes of the COPE initiative within a framework of providing guidance to future comprehensive efforts to provide opportunities for disadvantaged and excluded children. A key element in the analysis is the concept of complementary approaches. To be effective, any effort to reach disadvantaged and excluded children must build on (be complementary to) the existing opportunities in the formal system. The primary questions to be addressed are:

What are the costs and outcomes of the COPE initiative?
What is the contribution of COPE as a complementary approach to the goal of UPE in Uganda?
What are the potential contributions of complementary approaches to the effort to reach UPE in Uganda?


There was an extensive review of available documentation including budgets, enrolment data and project reports. Ten formal primary schools located close to COPE Centers were also visited.

Key Findings and Conclusions

The COPE program has demonstrated that a significant demand for flexible, basic education alternatives exists. The high initial enrolment and demand from areas not served by the program indicate that this demand is significantly greater than what an externally-funded and sponsored program can provide.

COPE has also validated the effectiveness of its methods and materials. Informal testing and anecdotal accounts indicate that children attending the program for the entire three years do reach a P5 equivalent. Interviews in the communities also indicated that the methods and materials were attractive to both participants and parents.

COPE suffers from unacceptably high rates of program failure and desertion on the part of participants. Program failure and desertion of participants increase the cost of producing a P5 equivalent program completer by a factor of three ($1,619 vs. $562).

A significant factor in program failure and participant desertion is the underinvestment in building local capacity. It was estimated that only about $200 per year was invested in building local capacity. Given the crucial role of local actors and the potential improvements to the internal efficiency (lowering the cost per completer), greater investments in developing local capacity should be a priority.

Despite efforts on the part of UNICEF and MoES, COPE has remained, to some degree, a parallel primary education initiative. The more COPE and the formal system remain parallel systems, the less the benefits of complementarity can be realized. Strengthening the complementary focus of COPE requires that community capacity to plan and manage both systems in concert be strengthened.

This strengthening of local capacity should be accompanied by changes in public policy that promote complementarity over parallelism. These policy changes include a modification to educational funding formulas that incorporate complementary approaches for disadvantaged students into the normal funding mechanisms. Failure to unify funding will result in continued competition between two parallel systems.

The current COPE model also contributes to the tendency toward parallel systems. Expansion of complementary opportunities requires that the COPE model be made more flexible. If complementary approaches are to promote UPE, they must allow movement between complementary programs and the formal primary school. Complementary programs must also evolve to meet the needs of learners at different stages of their education through multi-level methods and self-paced materials. Complementary approaches must also be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of particular groups of excluded children in given communities.

While the primary dynamic of exclusion is the economic needs of households, formal school practices and policies also make a significant contribution to this exclusion. A school day that is too long, a curriculum perceived as not relevant to immediate needs, and methods and materials that lack dynamism are also factors that must be addressed in a comprehensive effort to bring children into the educational system. An analysis of the experiences in COPE can provide helpful guidance for improving the formal primary school.


Maximizing the impact of the knowledge generated by COPE requires a re-emphasis and reorientation of the complementary focus. In order to address the issue of access for disadvantaged and excluded children, this reorientation must also extend to policies and practices currently implemented in the formal primary system and schools. The focus of this reorientation should consider the following issues:

Flexibility in delivery of basic education:
Many children experience acute difficulties that temporarily make attendance in the formal school impossible. These children require a program that can meet their needs to continue their education until conditions allow them to return to the formal school. "Open door" mechanisms that allowed children to attend a complementary program during these times would permit children who would have otherwise become deserters, to finish their formal education.

This "open door" complementary approach requires more explicit mechanisms of cooperation and management between the complementary opportunities and the formal primary schools. Allowing children to shift back into the formal system will require the establishment of simple, basic placement tests for primary grades (mathematics, English and mother tongue). Strengthening linkages at the local level by linking entities that provide complementary opportunities directly to nearby formal schools under the direction of the formal school head teacher would facilitate the movement of students across the two programs as needed.

A meaningful curriculum and child-centered methods:
While economic necessities are the principal force excluding children from formal schooling, a curriculum that is perceived as removed from the immediate needs of poor children, and methods and materials consistent with patterns of socialization that do not apply to many of Uganda's new school population (i.e. children whose parents did not attend school and/or who do not have need for literacy and numeracy in their economic activities), are also forces pushing children away from formal schooling. Rather than an obstacle, the incorporation of previously-excluded children presents an opportunity to revitalize a curriculum to meet the needs of Uganda (and Africa) and to develop methods and materials that promote a new generation of active critical thinking men and women.

In addition to accepting children much more frequently than the current three-year cohort model, the curriculum and methods must also meet the needs of children at various levels in their education in the same classroom environment. This requires that the next evolution of curriculum and materials for complementary approaches be more oriented towards self-paced materials and multi-aged/ multi-level teaching methods.

An emphasis on the wider community:
Perhaps, the most important factor in successfully providing basic education to all children in Uganda is how effectively the wider community can be engaged in decision making regarding all aspects of education in the community. The more a complementary program is consistent with the needs of excluded and disadvantaged children in the community, the more likely children are to enrol and persevere in that program. Deciding what kind of complementary program is needed and where, as well as the support and encouragement necessary to keep children in that program, requires the participation of a much wider group than district education and complementary program management officials. This wider participation can only happen in an effective and genuine manner if resources are allocated to developing local capacity.

While this is an expensive and time-consuming task, the COPE experience suggests that the value of strengthening and supporting local decision-making capacity can be a wise investment. The three-fold difference in cost per program completer between COPE as it was planned and the estimated cost per completer as currently implemented suggests the potential magnitude of returns to greater investments in strengthening local decision-making and support capacity. An underinvestment in this component will seriously threaten the viability of any evolution of initiatives to reach and retain more children.

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