When I initially set out to write about the on-going ‘rope-pulling’ over the new lower secondary school curriculum, it was to make a point about planning and communication.
See, the first term of the new academic year for public schools started recently after a short delay to allow teachers time off to be trained in the new curriculum. As you can imagine, this did not go very well.
As late as end-January, days before the school term was scheduled to begin, head teachers from across the country were saying they did not have enough information about the proposed changes, or enough trained personnel to oversee their implementation.
Last-minute trainings were quickly arranged across the country in early February, but not without incident. In Iganga District, the police broke up a protest by 800 teachers unhappy with the proposed changes and the conduct of their training.
“The trainers are rushing yet the content is too much,” one exasperated teacher said in a news story in this newspaper. “When you ask them some questions, they get pissed off.”
The discomfort was, in fact, several months in the making. In September, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union, distanced itself from the curriculum saying its members had not been consulted while it was being drafted.
Changing a country’s curriculum is not like changing the type of paper one uses in a printer. But neither is it quantum physics.
At a minimum, it is useful to get the buy-in of teachers and retrain them. Doing it just days before the school term begins is sub-optimal, to put it politely.
The matter has now spilled over into a fight between Parliament, which wants the roll out of the new curriculum stayed until everything is in order, and an Executive that says the House is overstepping its mandate.
The President has stepped in, telling ruling party MPs not to block the Education minister’s flagship initiative. Whether such support is out of conviction or duty remains unclear.
So, Dear Reader, this column started out as an attempt to make the case for better planning, wider consultations and more robust communication of change. But your columnist then realised that he knew very little about what is changing in the curriculum.
Many, many years have passed since my lower secondary school days in Busoga College Mwiri and there are few happy classroom memories, to be honest. When everyone’s test tube turned a bright red at the end of a successful experiment, mine almost invariably would be brown, colourless or popping and bubbling slime green goo.
And when we came out of a mathematics exam and the show-offs were arguing over whether the correct answer to the mandatory 40-mark question was ‘3.455’ or just rounded off to ‘3.4’, I would quietly wonder how the hell I came up with ‘–(24)’. I never found x.
So, any how, I decided to peek into the new curriculum. There was nothing on the Education ministry website so I went to that of the National Curriculum Development Centre NCDC (or ‘center’, according to some logos) where I tracked down a prototype book on History and Political Education.
That is when I realised that our problems are bigger and deeper. Apart from misspelt names and the use of a photograph from the movie, Wakanda to illustrate an “African warrior,” our history is rendered with old colonial biases.
Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda is described as a “warmonger,” there is only passing reference to Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro; and the colonial project is presented, sans scrutiny, as an uncontested force for good.
“When missionaries came, they introduced religion and education,” the text says. The pre-colony is invisible, mysterious, backward, and not worthy of rigorous study or reference.
Curious, I glanced through to the index. There is a perfunctory nod to one book each from Prof Samwiri Karugire and Walter Rodney, and two books from an author I hadn’t heard of before (but who, Google told me, just happens to work at NCDC…). No reference to Nabudere, Lunyiigo, Mamdani, or Unesco’s multi-volume work on African history. I was shook, Dear Reader.
This is by no means representative of all the changes in the curriculum, and I hope there is plenty to like in the other subject areas. But if we aren’t fundamentally changing the way leaners see themselves, society and the world, what is the point?
We don’t even need to give the correct answers, just to teach learners how to ask the right questions, from an early age. The struggle to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery must form the basis for learning about the world and ourselves.
The little I saw in the new curriculum does not inspire confidence. Neither does its shambolic implementation.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.