Universal Primary Education in Uganda: Rethinking Access vs. Quality
Sarah Kabay

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



New York University

Primary Discipline

In 2011, in Uganda, 21% of children in third grade could not identify a single letter of the alphabet and 58% could not read a single word. Similarly, 40% could not add and 64% could not subtract. In this respect, Uganda is unfortunately not unique. Education systems around the world are struggling to impart basic literacy and numeracy. The fact that millions of children are attending school, but are still unable to read, write, or perform basic calculations has been christened the “Global Learning Crisis.”The prevailing explanation for this crisis is that development organizations and governments have over-emphasized access to education, thus ignoring or overlooking the quality of education. This rationale represents a defining paradigm of international education: access vs. quality.In my dissertation, I explore the relationship between access and quality in Ugandan primary education. I conduct empirical analysis of three different but interrelated phenomena: grade repetition, low-fee private primary schools, and the costs associated with attending school. Each of these issues serves as an illustration of the complicated relationship between education access and education quality. In my analysis of these issues, I find that there are dynamics where access and quality can be seen to be mutually reinforcing, where improving the quality of education can increase access to education, and vice versa. I argue that efforts to achieve Universal Primary Education should not simply pivot from a focus on access to a focus on quality, but should instead work towards dynamics in which they are mutually reinforcing.
About Sarah Kabay
Sarah Kabay is a PhD candidate in International Education at NYU Steinhardt’s School of Education, Culture, and Human Development. Her research focuses on primary school, early childhood education, and how education fits into greater development and social change frameworks. Her goal is to provide policy makers, practitioners, and families with relevant information to help inform their educational choices. Current research projects include the cost analysis of Boston Public Schools’ public preK program, the impact assessment and process evaluation of a school management intervention in Ugandan primary schools, and psychometric analysis of Save the Children’s early childhood assessment instrument. Before beginning her doctoral program, Sarah lived in Uganda for five years, working with the organization Innovations for Poverty Action to conduct randomized controlled trials of development interventions. Much of her work continues to focus on Uganda, where she collaborates with schools, NGOs, local government officials, and other education stakeholders to conduct research and disseminate findings. She is a Research Affiliate of the Global TIES for Children Research Center, serves on the board of the organization Yspaniola, and is a technical adviser for Elevate: Partners in Education. She received a B.A. in Poverty and Development from Yale.

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