The National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) has started a process to overhaul lower secondary school curriculum to weed out irrelevant subjects make it leaner and more concise.
Once the redesign of the curriculum is complete, some subjects will have been merged while others will have either been completely dropped or deferred to later in the course of study.
Mr Joseph Kintu, the NCDC head of secondary department said every year, close to 600, 000 pupils sit Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) but of these, 70 per cent continue to S1. Worse still, only 250, 000 make it to S4. Of these who sit O-Level examinations only 15 per cent progress in life. “The current curriculum is looking for a pass or fail. It emphasizes content not skills. That is what we want to run away from. Some information on the syllabus is irrelevant. We still talk of the prairies of Canada. This is outdated. We need to localise,” Mr Kintu told Education. He added that the curriculum is partly responsible for the high dropout and failure rates.
When the world is moving more towards electronic appliances, our school system still uses vacuum tubes while teaching Physics. This, Kintu argues, makes learning out of touch with the global realities.
Major overlaps in content over related subjects are another cause of concern that experts are looking at. “Why don’t we concentrate it in one place so that we provide necessary attention? The curriculum is static. Learners are attempting to amass knowledge that is largely abstract, fact centred, decontextualised and irrelevant,” observed one expert working on the redesign.
According to 2008 UNEB statistics, failure rates were as high as 70.7 per cent for chemistry, 58.8 per cent for Physics and 40.7 per cent for Biology. Ms Connie Kateeba, the NCDC director told Education that the reforms will bring together subjects with related content by re-packaging and renaming them into new learning areas.
“The learning areas promote cross curricular learning and teaching approaches, enables learners to recognize and apply the relationships to solve problems in their communities, families and work, participate in political, social, economic scientific and technological development,” Ms Kateeba said in an interview.
The reforms once they take off in 2015 will see students’ subject load reduced from 43 to seven learning areas.
At the moment, some of their reform proposals in the curriculum have received criticism.
For instance, the government body had earlier proposed to teach local languages in primary, halt it in lower secondary and a student who wants to continue with the language, would then pick it on again in A-Level and at University.
However, foreign languages would continue to be taught in lower secondary. But Ms Margret Rwabushaija, chairperson Uganda National Teacher’s Union says the government must make local languages a priority to promote culture.
“We can’t promote foreign culture at the expense of our culture. Which people did NCDC consult? Our children must be taught their languages because this will encourage a sense of belonging and patriotism,” Ms Rwabushaija said.
The various criticism across the country forced NCDC to go back to the drawing board. The officials explain that their biggest challenge is at implementation stage because there is no time, no teachers and instructional materials to enable them plan for the 65 local languages.
“We are still making consultations on how best we are going to implement the teaching of both local and foreign languages. A number of the languages are at different stages of development which pause challenges,” said Ms Grace Baguma, NCDC deputy director.
In the meantime, the seven learning areas will be compulsory and examinable at all levels from S1 to S4. They include: Creative Arts, Languages, Mathematics, Social Studies, Life Education, Science and Technology and Enterprise. According to Mr Gilbert Siima, NCDC Math specialist, Mathematics subject will now concentrate on the core skills to enable learners develop basic skills to apply in day to day life for effective participation in social and economic life.
“We are going to have one paper instead of two. And the mathematics here will involve daily experiences. How does one spend the available money to solve the immediate needs? But there are also exceptional learners. They will be catered for in the long run if they want to continue with studies after S4. For now, there is no additional mathematics,” Mr Siima said.
Ms Kateeba warned that it is ‘early to say we have reformed or not.” Every language student will be required to study literature in the new plans according to Mr Ismail Magezi, NCDC language specialist.
Also, in addition to the four skills developed in language, the teacher this time round, must be conscious of the literary element. “You are part of a system we are trying to overhaul. This time we are saying lets have the skills but also appreciate the language through its literature,” Mr Magezi said.
However, for this to be possible, the body is still consulting on local and foreign languages in the next six months. “The policy says we teach all languages. As an institution, we are saying we are curtailed. We lack local instructional materials, teachers and time.”
Ms Baguma added: “We have to go slow on the language issue because we have implementation challenges or else the policy will crash. We have to consider political, economic and social issues. We are not going to give special attention to one language against the other.”
Ms Kateeba said for continuity, a pilot study is going to be conducted beginning 2013 to see whether they can track the teaching of local languages from Primary One to Seven through continuous assessment. “The proposal is that the marks of this assessment should be banked and contribute at end of primary cycle,” Ms Kateeba explained.