Unanswered questions about new lower secondary school curriculum

Wednesday February 12 2020

David R. Walugembe

David R. Walugembe  

By David R. Walugembe

Recently, government, through the Ministry of Education and Sports, and the National Curriculum Development Centre, introduced a new lower secondary school curriculum to be implemented effective this year. Before it could last a week, media outlets broke news about Parliament’s decision to halt the implementation of the curriculum. As we were still discussing this, news of some stakeholders striking over non-payment of their allowances for attending workshops aimed at teaching them how to implement this curriculum, also emerged!
Since then, sections of the public have engaged in debates about the merits and demerits of the new curriculum as well as the approaches to its implementation. Some have raised very critical but unanswered questions. These can be classified into three categories, including those about the origin of the lower secondary school curriculum, its implementation process, and the system and structural readiness to implement and sustain the envisaged gains from the new curriculum.
The first set of questions seek to examine whose idea was or is this new curriculum? What were or are the gaps with the existing curriculum? What evidence is there to justify the need for the new curriculum, and therefore, back up claims against the limitations of the existing one? What good parts of the existing curriculum are being considered in the new curriculum? Or, is the existing curriculum totally flawed that it requires a complete overhaul?
Questions regarding the implementation process include who or which stakeholders were or have been involved in the development and subsequent implementation of this curriculum? For example, were the teachers, parents, students, stakeholders from other ministries, departments and agencies, development partners, media, civil society organisations, religious and traditional leaders, and non-governmental organisations that, together, support the education sector, adequately involved? If they were engaged as claimed by some government officials, what approaches were used to engage them? What input did they give and where is the evidence to that effect? Does developing the curriculum and sending it down to the headteachers constitute stakeholder engagement?
The last set of questions pertains to the system and structural readiness to implement this new curriculum. How prepared is the country to implement this new curriculum? What system and structural level adjustments have been put in place to ensure that the new curriculum delivers the envisaged outcomes and overcomes the challenges faced by the existing curriculum? For example, at ministry level, which departments have been created/merged to deal with the proposed curriculum changes? How are other sectors like the Ministry of Public Service going to deal with teachers that have been rendered jobless? Does the Ministry of Finance have the money to provide materials, supplies, equipment and tools to facilitate teaching of new subjects and salaries for the new teachers? Are tertiary level institutions adjusting to produce teachers with the capacity to deal with the new dyanmics? What mechanisms have been put in place to monitor, evaluate and continuously improve this curriculum, its implementation and sustainability? How will the government and the public know if this curriculum is effective or not?
Unless government wants to retrospectively engage all relevant stakeholders, review evidence on implementing curriculum reforms, fly delegations to other countries for benchmarking missions, undertake the pilots, and then avail the public with answers, these questions still abide and are very pertinent. Without explicit answers, it may seem like the government is undertaking a national experiment (pilot) to test the feasibility of this curriculum!
While it is understandable that policy making and or programme implementation are non-linear but iterative processes, pre-planning, use of evidence, adequate stakeholder engagement, piloting, constant monitoring, evaluation and documentation of lessons learned need to be prioritised. In addition to increasing the buy-in and support from the target audiences, these steps help to reduce wastage of the perennially scarce resources!
A proactive engagement of the public through dissemination of empirical evidence on the background, purpose, justification for and all the processes involved before, during and after the development and implementation of this curriculum, will greatly help minimise the rumours and suspicions doing rounds.
For example, it will help counter the rumour that the hurried curriculum implementation, its subsequent halting by Parliament and agitation by some teachers over allowances, all demonstrate the alleged ongoing dynamics of sharing the Shs766b intended to implement this project!