The just released Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examination results show that there was an improvement from 4.2 in 2010 to 6.5 per cent in the performance rate.
This slight improvement comes with the first batch of Universal Secondary Education (USE) beneficiaries to sit for UCE. USE was introduced in 2007 with the key aim of increasing secondary school enrollment.
For better performance of the enrolled students, the Ministry of Education recruited additional 1,400 teachers. The project also provided for construction of 4,297 new classrooms and rehabilitation of 1,864 classrooms with the aim of easing the pressure on existing facilities, reducing student-to-teacher ratio thereby enabling improved learning.
There were efforts initiated in 2007 such as improved sanitation, improved water supply, multi-purpose science rooms and libraries, as well as increased supplies of science kits.
However, with all this in place, trends since 2008 show that there has been a decline in the performance with only a slight leap in last week’s results. In 2008, 7.9 per cent of the students that sat for UCE passed in first grade, the numbers reduced to 7.6 per cent in 2009, then to 7.2 per cent in 2010 and a slight leap to 8.5 per cent first grades in 2011.
Education experts place the blame squarely on government as the main partner in the education sector. They say that it has failed to deal with the gaps such as inadequate classrooms, lack of science kits and text books.
“There are structural causes which mainly fall upon government that have led to the poor performance and these relate to the high teacher-to-student ratio and the poor teacher pay by the government,” Mr Grace William Maiso, research manager at Uwezo Uganda, said.
Uwezo is an initiative that aims to improve competencies in literacy and numeracy among children aged 5-16 years old in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. He explains that even though another 1,400 teachers were recruited to match the newly enrolled students, this was inadequate resulting to high teacher-to-student ratio (recommended ration is 1:53 but currently its as high as 1:10 in some rural schools).
More so, because teachers are poorly paid, experts say they look for side jobs where they spend most of their time instead of being at school. Teachers went on strike last year over poor pay, demanding a 100 per cent salary increase.
Secondary school teachers are paid between Shs350,000 and Shs500,000 per month. Government has, however, promised a 15 per cent increase next financial year.
Mr Davis Kafumbe, the head teacher of Seeta High School, says schools especially those that are in rural areas do not have access to laboratory equipment. Said Mr Arthur Mpamirwe, a teacher at Mengo SS: “They do not have practical lessons throughout the school terms and it’s only towards exams that their teachers borrow equipment from other schools to give them basic information on how to go about practical exams.”
Mr Besweri Lubinge, the Director of Studies (DOS) at Namagabi SS in Kayunga District, says the lack of facilities like libraries hinder the good performance of students.
In 2009, UNEB blamed the poor performance on weaknesses in language expression which affected scores in both arts and science subjects. The language of instruction and examinations is English. UNEB also pointed to lack of practical skills in science subjects where by a number of students were unable to make scientific observations in questions that required skills beyond recalling or general knowledge questions.
Mr Isa Matovu, an educationist, blames the failure on the evaluation system of students at the end of school terms. “The evaluation system of Uganda is based on how well the student has passed the UNEB exams.
That’s why teachers focus on making students pass exams rather than learning.”
Mr Fagil Mandy, an educational adviser and author, further says because of the education system, teachers spend a third of the school term setting and marking exams leaving almost no time for students to learn.
“Most schools have weekly exams, while others have monthly exams on top of beginning of term exams, mid-term exams and end of term exams. At the end of the day, the student has to cram the whole term’s work in a few weeks so that they can pass the final exams.”
Besides government’s structural weaknesses in the education system, school leaders and parents are also to blame for the poor performance. Mr Aggrey Kibenge the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Education says the poor attitude of school leaders towards students has led to their poor performance.