Expert pushes for automatic promotions policy in schools

Prof Hannele Niemi  (left), the UNESCO chair on Education Ecosystems for equity and quality of learning, speaks as Ms Evelyn Karkkulainen, the  education advisor at Finn Church Aid, looks on during an engagement with the  Education Policy Review Commission in Kampala on October 26, 2023. PHOTO/SYLIVIA KATUSHABE

What you need to know:

  • Uganda applied the measure during Covid-19 pandemic.

A professor from the Faculty of Education Sciences at the University of Helsinki in Finland has recommended that the education system in Uganda should effect automatic promotions of learners.

Appearing before the Education Policy review Commission in Kampala yesterday, Prof Hannele Niemi, who doubles as the UNESCO Chair on Education Eco-systems for Equity and Quality and Learning, said the move would deter parents and schools from mounting pressure on learners for the sake of securing better grades as opposed to acquiring skills and knowledge expected of them.

She said both school and national-level assessments should be a basis for identifying weaknesses of individual learners and coming up with ways of helping them to perform better.

“When there are national standards, then parents, teachers and everybody else will want to get high scores.  Assessment should be used to advise on where students need to improve, not dropping them or telling them to repeat classes. Making assessment as a threshold makes students lose opportunities to go forward,” Prof Niemi said.

She added: “Dropping out and repeating a class is ineffective and not a student’s failure, but a failure of the education and assessment system. Identify their weaknesses early and give them the support that they need in time. Try to see weaknesses. Is it coming from the learners’ abilities? But very often, their poor performance could be because they don’t have enough help or support from home.”

Mr Hasadu Kirabira, the chairperson of the National Private Education Institutions Association in Uganda (MPEIA), acknowledged that there was too much pressure exerted on learners to scoop better grades but urged that effecting automatic promotion should be done after consulting several players.

“It is true schools and parents have always pressured students to score Aggregate 4 at primary level, for example, but this policy recommendation can be affected after wider consultations with stakeholders,” Mr Kirabira said.

Mr Dan Odongo, the executive director of the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb), said automatic promotion is not a problem if there is adequate learning for learners at a particular level.
“You must ensure that adequate learning has taken place at all levels before the learners move to the next level. If that is done, then there is no problem with automatic promotion,” Mr Odongo said.

“But if there is inadequate learning, then promoting a child from one level to the other when they have not acquired the competencies that they need to acquire at a particular level, will be counterproductive. You will only be postponing the problem,” he observed.
On the issue of homework, Prof Niemi said it is good for parents to give some support to children.

“If parents do homework for children, they (children) don’t learn and acquire the competencies that they need. They should only guide them,” she said.
Ms Bernadette Nambi, the deputy director of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), said homework is a design of the schools but urged schools to follow the curriculum.
“Homework has nothing to do with the design of the curriculum. It is about enforcement of the curriculum, ensuring that it is taught as described,” Ms Nambi said.

Mr Daudi Kabasa, a member of the Education Policy Review Commission, who moderated the session, said: “There is a complete overthrow of what homes are. Parents are forcefully turned into teachers without training. Those who don’t know are crying. They are helpless. There is no more homework for the child, school work continues at home and it is called homework.”

The experts also recommended daily communication between parents and schools, the inclusion of career guidance into the curriculum and  engaging parents in designing curriculum, among others.