Friday February 14 2014

Thematic curriculum is not failing so give it a chance

By Morris DC Komakech

A couple of MPs have been fuming that the thematic curriculum is responsible for poor performance of some pupils in Primary Leaving Examination. They argued that the introduction of mother language at formative years in school makes it impossible for the pupils to score good grades in English. The problem of poor performance, in my opinion, lies elsewhere.
While these MPs are genuinely concerned as parents, they exhibited total lack of knowledge on how education success and scores are measured.

The basis for introducing mother language in lower grade school emerged from scientific evidence from many years of studies by scholars and Unesco. Consistent evidence illustrated clearly that the overall quality of comprehension and articulation in scholarship are significantly enhanced when a child has mastery of mother language or the first language spoken at home.

The incoherence that we witness in Uganda is embedded in this assumption that mastery of the English language is a superior indicator of being educated or intelligent. This serves to illustrate how dominated and subjugated we are and how unconsciously we now accept this explanation that our intellect is defined by our ability to communicate in the English language. And yet, one of the most unfortunate things ever to happen in Uganda is that this colonial tool of dominance called English has not inspired any advance in any field relevant to human civilisation.

Take for example in my village of Dure. This year, pupils at Dure Primary School in Latanya Sub-county of Pader District have posted tremendous improvement in their PLE results. Two students passed in first grade and 39 passed in second grade, four pupils passed in division three and three students passed in division four. So far, this has been the biggest school grade achievement of this school in its post-conflict recovery.

Dure Primary School is a rural community school which faces many challenges. However, this dismal and yet celebrated performance at the school provides an evaluation opportunity for those with keen interest in the education of our children beyond English scores. The thematic curriculum has huge promises where the benchmark for our intellect is not judged by one’s scores in English but math and sciences alike.
Here in Dure, we have children who lack in every facility and are heavily disadvantaged in comparison to children in urban schools. These children may be already heads of their families at tender age because their parents are either dead or immobilised by diseases. Most of them live in squalor with relatives who are impoverished.

Pader, like most post-conflict northern Uganda communities, endures alcoholism and HIV prevalence, which have horrendously devastated homes and livelihood. Children study and compete with their counterparts elsewhere without preps or doing homework because they have no source of light to study after school.

So, the Universal Primary Education is an important asset and any incremental performance in these rural schools becomes a source of inspiration and hope for guardians. Children here have little prospects of advancing past primary schools because Universal Secondary Education has become costly. Even the six USE facilities are distantly spaced. Small additional costs, such as transportation, basic secondary school requirements and the roles that these children hold in their families, always become major impediments to advancing to secondary school education.

Therefore, performance of the thematic curriculum is not measured only by scores in English grades in examination. There are many factors involved, for instance, how well has the Education ministry invested in improving the quality of teaching workforce to meet this peculiar UPE challenges? Have they considered revising PLE examination standard to reflect the current English instructional level for candidate classes?
Let’s give the thematic curriculum a chance to gain traction.

Mr Komakech is a visiting research student in Pader/Kitgum on Maternal-Child Health programmes.