Is discontinuing students due to poor performance right? 

Learners pictured at a school recently. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

John Mary Noowe pours cold water on the already bad situation saying the beneficiaries of the bribes and fresh registration fees paid by desperate parents are the very people responsible for policy making.

As a student in my secondary school, I saw several students from a particular school join us. However, they usually joined in Senior Three. Then, it seemed normal in my untrained mind often thinking that these had just desired to change schools. Honestly, I somewhat envied them because I needed a change in environment. Nonetheless, without an honest and worthwhile reason warranting school change, my wish was never granted. My dreamy hat was, however, blown off when I read this tweet from Julius Mucunguzi.

“The move by some secondary schools to push out S3 students to look for places elsewhere under the guise of having failed to score 'pass marks', when the real reason is not wanting low grade performance at S4 to affect their national rankings is most absurd.”

He went on to say, “The craze of our school system for first grades at all and any cost, including casting away students who join the schools in the hope that they too will excel but find themselves not doing so, is unfair. When you push out a senior three student at this time to find a place elsewhere to join senior four, you subject the student to so much trauma and self-hate. As a society, we should always remember that the speed of our enlightenment is determined by our slowest member. Rather than cast out our slow members, we should support them to catch up with the rest.”
This provoked several people in various ways and we share what many had to say, even as far as sharing their own experiences.

Steven Eriya shared that when joining S1, they were slightly above 400. In S3, they were 320 while in S4, the numbers had further dropped to 240. One wonders where those that dropped off the list disappeared to. Were they asked to try elsewhere? 

Mugambe Akandwanaho says he was once a victim of being in the ‘poor performer’ cluster and the norm at his school was that during the holidays, a day was set for those who failed to get a certain average to come to school well dressed in uniforms with their parents. “I remember reading that comment on my report card, "The performance is still wanting. Come with a parent on 21st December to see the way forward”.  It was embarrassing,” he says.  

Helpful practice
Such practices, according to Jade Nantaba Gitta make life, right from school days seem like a struggle for the fittest. “Life is not fair. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary and the advantage of this particular one is that it is actually a motivation to the students to work harder. Isn't that a better than being beaten?” she wonders.

Diana Rholyne, however, believes that it is the rest of the school that deems this as embarrassing. “The school, while involving the parent, want to forge a way forward for the learner and you call it embarrassing! These are the bullies we talking about,” she says.

Rholyne adds that people ought to look back and see how many ‘not-so-well-performing’ learners' parents were in regular contact with the teachers. “You all drop your children at school, leaving them for the teachers to deal with then you come and rant here. Be better parents please,” she says.
Derrick Rutebemberwa agrees with Rholyne saying the need for parents alongside their children to come to school helps to change the parent or child’s attitude.

“Some of my parents never come to check on me and the learners because they know their weaknesses. However, if a parent is ever called for such, it shows that they have no vested interest in their child,” he says. 

Reasonable cut off points
While many are complaining about the cut off mark, Edwin Kambere says that in most schools the required average is 50 percent and believes that if one cannot get that yet joined with nine aggregates or less, the school is not to blame.

“Many of these come from schools said to produce the crème de la crème. If by S3 they are not meeting the bare minimum, it is the unserious student to blame. Additionally, why would a school retain such a student?” he asks.

Kambere adds that the question should be where a school discontinues students after setting the bar as high as 80 percent. “It is also important to remember that every institution has its own standards. A student who cannot be accommodated in one institution might be highly welcomed in another and this has always worked,” he says.

Quaky yet real solution
Then one wonders if there is a particular school earmarked for ‘poor performers’?
Paul Mukama says there are schools who register particular students (termed as weak) at another exam centre and these are usually run by the same proprietor. “It is all in a bid to maintain the 100 percent first grade status,” he says.

Kambere quickly adds that for example, at St Mary’s Kitende is annex that accommodates those performing below average. “Ultimately, the schools have to maintain their names and reputations,” he says.
For many, this rubbed off as setting classes even in the education system but Godfrey Ssekumba says you need to accept that class exists in schools. Once your child joins a classy school they must work hard to match the school standard. “Otherwise, they will be pushed out. Unless your child is not at Gayaza High School, St Mary’s College Kisubi or King's college Budo,” he says. 

Mental torture
For those that get an alternative school to take them on, another horror awaits them where whispers and labels become a companion. Patrick Mugyenyi says this is prevalent in the so-called top schools.

“Imagine the horrors of whispers around one new S4 student and everyone in the new school labelling them a failure. It is one of the nastiest forms of societal rejection for such a young mind,” he says.

On the other hand, this grouping and the eventual decisions affect students in so many ways. Desire Muhumuza says it could destroy one’s love for academics and the student-teacher relationship. “The student will also find it hard to get used to the new school environment coupled with mental stresses such as trauma, self-hate, and loss of self-esteem,” she says.

This failure and the earnest desire for the child to leave the school in S3 could also mean that the school / teacher(s) are using teaching methods that do not favour the student.

“Teachers have mastered the art of going on with the fast learners yet their teaching capability is measured by turning the slow learners into average or fast learners,” Newton Niiwe says.
It would also interest you to know that the practice is not only in secondary schools but also in primary. Cathy Wabomba shares that some primary schools ‘refuse’ to register certain candidates that are likely to affect the school grading. Very absurd!
Is it schools or the system to blame?
Could it be the schools or learning systems that breed the discontinuation of these students? 

Grace Rwihandagaza says that rather than solely blame schools, the public should also look at policies that focus on grades as the only measure of achievement. “Students and schools are all victims of bogus policies,” she says.

John Mary Noowe pours cold water on the already bad situation saying the beneficiaries of the bribes and fresh registration fees paid by desperate parents are the very people responsible for policy making.

“They are making huge sums out the whole system. I do not expect them to change it soon unless otherwise,” he says.

Niiwe thinks that that could be why the West is ahead in education; their education system is inclusive, caring and not exam oriented. “How I wish our country adapts a student centred system,” he says. Niiwe says that Albert Einstein’s quote of “Everybody is genius but if you try to judge the knowledge of the fish by its capability to climb a tree, it will spend the rest of its life knowing that it's foolish” comes into play with the Ugandan system.

Indiscipline breeds poor grades
However, these discontinuations are not always about poor grades but also indiscipline and Rutebemberwa says the two are twins. “By and large, at my school, academically weak learners with good discipline are not discontinued. However, it becomes a different case when an academically challenged person is also undisciplined,” he says. 

Rholyne recalls a time during her teaching practice where a good number of students opened up to her on how they wanted to be ‘chopped’. “They were willing to do anything in their reach to be put under the red line so the school does away with them. They further shared about their school choices stating that they preferred those that do not put them on so much pressure,” she says.

Her advice is that parents need to stop forcing their school choices on the children lest they bear the brunt.  “Therefore, some schools are willing to retain even the not-so-good performers as long as they maintain good discipline as per the school standards. The issue is that parents are forcing their children in top schools that work so much under pressure yet the children do not want. What is left for some is to put themselves out there with indiscipline so as to be eliminated,” she says. 

Rholyne adds that parents should become very active in the education system rather than waiting for promotion terms to complain. “Attend those Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings and give teachers your thoughts,” she advises.

In all this banter, Bernard Owiny sums it up beautifully, at least for now, that clearly, some parents have grown to think schools are the start and finish of their children's excellence. Additionally, if the coin were flipped, parents are also known to take their children away from poor performing schools. 

Dennis Mugimba public relations officer, Ministry of Education and Sports

Rather than shame these students, Mr Dennis Mugimba, the public relations officer at the Ministry of Education and Sports says teachers should be should also be mentors, and coaches to unearth the causes for unsatisfactory performance. These could emanate from home, within the school environment, in the classroom, the teacher or the student.

He adds that they should be professional and hence appreciate the need for individual attention to learners. “A well-trained teacher will easily understand the learners’ strengths and weaknesses and address the challenges. Part of the individual interventions is remedial attention, even in school. The National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) has always advocated for remedial attention in the classroom as opposed to thinking all learners are at the same level. That is why we have the continuous or formative assessments as these help to monitor where each learner is along the process,” he says. While remedial classes can also be done during holidays, Mr Mugimba says it does not warrant holiday classes lest they drag the whole class yet remedial classes are targeted to address a learner’s challenge. “If the whole class needs remedial classes, then it shows that there is something the teacher is not doing right,” he says.

Teachers should also appreciate that each student has a different learning ability. Some need a bit of time, others need demonstration, while others learn by themselves. “Therefore, you need to tailor your content delivery to accommodate the different learning styles hence the importance of mixed delivery methods. Some may need short breaks, some need group work, and some need demonstration outside class, besides writing notes on the board,” he says.

Mr Mugimba says the ministry discourages schools from asking students to try elsewhere because no school will only accommodate low-performing students. “It is morally and ethically wrong. However, they have been incidences where the ‘low performing’ students have excelled in the schools they have gone to. That shows that they were not bad after all,” he says.

Some teachers may question the need to put in a lot of effort while teaching, citing low pay. However, Mr Mugimba says it is unfair if teachers do not guide the learners on the topic they will learn because they are not well paid. “If you are on a passive industrial action, step aside for others to get the job done. Otherwise, you are denying the learners the opportunity to learn,” he says.