A bad system fails good students...

Friday February 12 2010

By Benon Herbert Oluka


Since Ms Joan Nakayaga Kalyango started teaching at the Makerere University Medical School in 2004, its curriculum has been reviewed once. Every five years, according to Ms Nakiyaga, it is reviewed and modified to match changes worldwide.

“The latest change was moving from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning. We now use a problem based approach. You present problems to students and they use them as a gateway to learning. They have to find solutions to the problem instead of us saying, ‘today we are learning this topic’,” she said.

Unrevised curriculum
The major challenge, she adds, is their students find problems making the transition from A-Level to University.

“Making that link between the university needs and what the students come with is sometimes difficult,” she said.

Many good students will of course remain good students but some of them come with good grades and still fail to make it.”

According to a recent World Bank report, the secondary school curriculum has not undergone any major revision since the early 1970s. “The current O’ Level and A’ Level curricula follow the subject guidelines issued by the Inspectorate in 1982,” says the report, titled, Uganda Post-Primary Education Sector Report.

“That is true,” said Angela Kyagaba, the head of the Secondary Education Department at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC).

“If you are going to review the curriculum, you need a lot of resources. It is a very long process but the sector has been handicapped in terms of funding.”

Ms Kyagaba said NCDC is supposed to review the curriculum annually and modify it every five years. She said they have now received funding and hope to start a review of the syllabus this year.

Planned reforms
“We plan to do the reforms in phases so that every year we shall be rolling out a class. We shall begin with senior one. Otherwise, if we waited for everything to be done, it would take us a longer time,” she said, adding that the modified curriculum for senior one is expected to be ready by 2013.

Ms Kyagaba said the reforms, which will also later be done for A-Level, will be carried out “in all areas of education”, including methods of instructions, assessment, pedagogy, writing of instruction materials and methods of inspection.

One of the areas that will be up for modification, according to Ms Kyagaba, is the number of subjects taught in secondary schools. Responding to criticism in the World Bank report that the Ugandan school day is so long that it does not allow time for extra-curricular activities, she said there are too many subjects in the curriculum.

“The content in each of those subjects is also very long. Right now we have a menu of 31 subjects for secondary schools, which we reduced from 42, and each school is expected to choose between 10-12 subjects. But our view is that as we go into the reform, we should reduce this further so that a student is subjected to and examined in between seven and nine subjects,” she explained.

But, according to the World Bank report, the review of the curriculum is not the only area where Ugandan secondary school learners are getting a raw deal. The report adds that even the supervision of the implementation of the available curriculum is not being carried out; leading to a situation where what is taught at schools is strongly driven by Uneb examinations guidelines.

“What happened,” said Ms Kyagaba, “is that for more than 10 years, we did not have teaching syllabuses for O-Level. We did not have money to make re-prints. Meanwhile, Uneb has a syllabus and regulations document. It gives the objectives of the subject and how many papers are there for how long.

“Because there was no syllabus, teachers only used this document from Uneb. It meant that right from senior one, teachers were preparing students for senior four exams and not teaching the learners the competences that they are supposed to get at the different levels,” she explained.

“Teachers were only resorting to this because we had not been able to provide them with the teaching syllabus.”

Ms Kyagaba added that last year, they received funding and have now printed the syllabus. She said, “We have now passed the information to the schools that the teaching syllabus is available and they can buy it. They should only refer to the Uneb document when they are telling their students what to expect at Uneb exams.”

Like in secondary education, the primary school syllabus had suffered neglect until 1990 when the government embarked on a review aimed at making basic education relevant to the learners’ needs.

Thematic curriculum
The curriculum has since been reviewed twice, with the last one resulting in the introduction of a new “thematic curriculum” in 2007. The government says this curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the Ugandan child in primary 1-3, with the content and skill that is taught in local languages arranged around a number of different themes rather than subjects.

A recent report prepared by the planning unit of the ministry of education says the thematic curriculum is already registering impressive results.

“The language of instruction for lower classes (P1-P4) has been changed from English to mother tongue; as a result, pupils are now able to contribute and participate in class more effectively.”
“This change has further increased the pupils’ confidence and enabled them to understand concepts faster than before,” said the report, titled “Impact of Primary Education Reform Programme (PERP) on the Quality of Basic Education in Uganda.”

“Since the implementation of the new curriculum, pupils that completed P. 7 have acquired a wider range of knowledge and skills. This is because the reviewed primary school curriculum contains subjects that involve more practical and productive skill-sets.”
“Before the curriculum was reviewed, the pupils that completed P.7 were not as productive since the knowledge acquired was aimed at passing examinations and not equipping pupils with basic life skills.”

Tomorrow’s hope
Ms Kyagaba hopes that similar results will be registered at secondary level when the revamped secondary school curriculum is eventually becomes a reality.

She said: “The focus has been on primary so we had to first finish primary and then do secondary while looking at what we have already done in primary.”