Sunday March 30 2014

Improve the way we teach sciences

By Editorial

The national examination results released last week cast a dark future for science in this country. Rather than lamenting yearly about poor performance in science subjects in Ordinary and Advanced level secondary school examinations, the ministry of Education should wake up and reverse this disastrous trend.

Last year’s A-Level results present a gloomy picture, with nearly 50 per cent of the candidates who sat for science subjects failing to attain a principal pass. In the previous year – 2012 – 50 per cent of students also failed to get a principal pass.

Often, failure rates are higher in rural schools that are ill-equipped and lack professional teachers who do a poor job in prepping students for science courses at higher institutions of learning.

A big number of students fail science subjects because the education system has let down an enormous chunk of Uganda’s rural students by failing to uplift standards of teaching in their schools.

The biggest career drawback for underprivileged students is limited access to quality education, especially in sciences. Moreover, the students who do well in sciences are more likely to compete favourably with other job seekers in the country and region.

In a competitive job market, the need for high-skilled workforce in areas like IT, engineering, technical fields, among others, cannot be gainsaid.
The government’s policy to promote science subjects had some good initiatives.

In 2003, Chemistry, Biology and Physics were made mandatory for students at lower secondary school and the slots of government-sponsored students offering humanity courses at university were reduced to 30 per cent, compared to 70 per cent of science courses.

These initiatives, though well-intentioned, are frustrated by perennial poor performance in science subjects. The reasons are known and often pointed out by schools administrators, the Education ministry and policy makers; they range from poorly equipped schools, lack of teachers, or teachers who are not well versed with science subjects and use of laboratory equipment.

The solution is straightforward: The government should give public schools, more so those that primarily serve disadvantaged communities, more support to hire qualified science teachers and equip school science labs to give every student the hands-on practical skills to compete fairly in national examinations. The solution ultimately lies in improving the way science subjects are taught.