Schools uncertain on new O-Level curriculum as final exams near

Senior Two students of  Allied Teachers SS-Nyenga in Buikwe District take part in an agriculture practical lesson under the new curriculum at the school farm on  November  24, 2023. The school direcotr, Mr John Paul Eliot Ochieng, says the new curriculum is very expensive to implement. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • With the first group of the candidates under the new curriculum set to sit their final exams this October, many schools have expressed confusion on how the examinations will be implemented, with the conflicting information from Uneb, Education ministry and NCDC not making matters any better.

A section of teachers across the country have continued to use the old instructional materials instead of the revised new Lower Secondary Curriculum. 

The new curriculum was rolled out in 2020, but was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic that forced educational institutions to close for nearly two years. 

The first group of O-Level candidates will sit their final examinations under the new curriculum in October this year. 

Under the new curriculum, a school is required to teach 12 subjects at Senior One and Two, with 11 of the subjects being compulsory and one picked as optional or an elective. 

But Senior Three and Senior Four students are required to end with a minimum of eight, or a maximum of nine subjects, but with seven of them compulsory. 

The teachers are required to compile the learners’ scores under the continuous assessment in the four-year cycle, compute an average and submit it to the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). This contributes at least 20 percent to the final national examinations grading. 

Lack of materials
But Mr Abraham Akampurira, the head teacher of Kigezi High School in Kabale District, says the lack of teaching materials and delayed retooling of all the teachers are some of the problems frustrating the effective rollout of the new curriculum. 

“The new curriculum is the best for the Ugandan students in this century. But being project-based, the new curriculum requires a lot of funding from the government to facilitate the schools. There is lack of computers that are connected to the Internet. There is need for retooling all the teachers as most of them are products of the old curriculum. Even parents are confused because they cannot interpret the report card of their children,” Mr Akampurira says. 

Mr David Eragu, the head teacher of Dakabela Comprehensive Community School in Soroti District, says the scarcity of instructional materials has forced some teachers to teach using the old curriculum because they are unable to get textbooks for the new curriculum.  

Ms Angela Atim, the Katakwi District Education Officer, says most schools are yet to get the entire literature teaching materials for the new curriculum. She says the problem has affected both private and public schools.

The deputy head teacher in-charge of academics at St Charles Lwanga Secondary School Muko in Rubanda District, Mr Ernest Turyahebwa, says they have limited land at the school to implement some of the required agriculture projects. 

Headache for day scholars
Mr Amos Ahimbisibwe, the head teacher of Bubare SS in Rubanda District, says: “The new curriculum is not easy to implement among the day scholars as they must go back home after the lessons, yet that is the right time for embarking on the projects as required under the new curriculum.” 

In eastern Busoga, some school head teachers are at a loss on what guidelines to follow while registering the first batch of S4 candidates under the new curriculum. 

Mr Moses Kisubi, the head teacher of St Joseph SSS, Nakanyonyi, in Jinja City, says he is “completely green” and doesn’t know the next course of action as the registration of candidates draws nearer. 

Under the old curriculum, most candidates are registered for the Uneb exams in the first term of the school’s academic year. But Mr Kisozi says he has not received any communication from the examination body regarding the guidelines. 

“We don’t know whether there will be additional costs,”Mr Kisubi says. He says there was a model assessment made, but few schools have been reached out to. 

“I heard that a model assessment was done on what the new paper will look like, including the exam format. But some of us were left out and are now incurring more expenses by organising school workshops and inviting those officials to take us through the whole process.” 

Mr Kisubi also says most of the students lack the National Identification Numbers (NINs) and are yet to submit their coursework results. Uneb says candidates with no coursework assessment marks or with incomplete coursework shall not be graded in their respective subjects. 

Mix up over registration
The head teacher of Kiira College Butiki in Jinja City, Mr Moses Ssemwanga, says they have received all the materials needed and their students have been prepared for the first S4 final exams under the new curriculum. 

“I can say we are ready for Uneb because we have been receiving all the necessary material for our learners. Even last week, I picked up about 2,000 textbooks for use,’’ Mr Ssemwanga says. 

He admits that the only challenges they are facing are how to register the S4 candidates for Uneb and submitting their integrated marks of 20 percent. 

Mr Ssemwanga says the Ministry of Education issued the students with learners’ identification numbers, but are not certain whether to use them for Uneb registration or stick to the usual index numbers. 

He says his school has also already prepared the marks from the projects, but Uneb has not asked them to submit them. 

The director of Allied Teachers SS-Nyenga in Buikwe District, Mr John Paul Eliot Ochieng, says some teaching materials are not available, and that the new curriculum is “very expensive” and “requires a lot of investment” in projects, Internet services, and a fully equipped laboratory, among other demands. 

Outsourcing trainers
In the West Nile, Mr Ratib Atiku, the head teacher of Aringa SS in Yumbe District, says only four teachers were retooled and these were supposed to pass on the information to their colleagues who didn’t attend the training. 

“We had to outsource experts to come and train our teachers... So, we are at a better level now,” he says. 

The head teacher of Midigo SS in Yumbe District, Mr Ismail Ekule, says the ministry supplied some books for the new curriculum, but they are not enough. 

“We had few teachers trained by the ministry, but we called someone from the ministry to train the rest of the teachers on the new curriculum. Our teachers have been retooled on how to set, assess learners and issues related to projects,” he says. 

“We faced some resistance from the teachers regarding the new curriculum, but things are now moving. Our problem right now is the nature of questions which Uneb is going to set,” Mr Ekule says. 

In Moyo District, Mr Daniel Nyiracha, the head teacher of Bishop Asili SS, says most schools are just struggling with the new curriculum because of knowledge gaps and demands of the new syllabus. 

“For example, some teachers have little knowledge of ICT. And there is a negative attitude from teachers and learners towards the new curriculum, thus making implementation difficult,” she says. 

The head teacher of Nyakasura School in Fort Portal City, the Rev Richardson Balinda, says they are making efforts to guide learners through the new curriculum. But he says they have encountered many challenges in the past four years. 

“Initially, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) issued a circular along with assessment guidelines stating that S3 students would be assessed by the Directorate of Industrial Training to obtain a certificate. The school diligently prepared the learners and collected fees from them and paid to the NCDC. To their surprise, the Rev Balinda says the assessment was not conducted. 

“… Close to the assessment dates, we were informed that it was canceled, with the promise of a refund to the school. This was demoralising for both teachers and students,” he explains. 

The Rev Balinda also says Uneb had announced its assessment and the school anticipated receiving guidelines by the end of January. As of the third week of February, the school had not received any communication from the national exams body, leaving them in uncertainty. 

“…We are currently using the NCDC form, but there is uncertainty about Uneb’s assessment, as we have not received any information on it to date. Timely communication would have helped us better understand the procedures,” he says. 

Concerning S4 students, the Rev Balinda says during orientation, the students are inquiring about the combination of subjects they will take at A-Level next year. 

But there is also lack of clarity as NCDC suggests one compulsory subject, contemporary studies, and two elective subjects related to the student’s career interests. 

The Rev Balinda says: “NCDC promised us guidelines for A-Level combinations, which we have not received. Surprisingly, recent news suggests that A-Level will continue with the old curriculum next year, creating confusion among learners. We have not received a clear circular from the Ministry of Education and Sports to guide us.” 

In the new curriculum, each student is required to complete 24 projects by the end of S4. However, the Rev Balinda says there is another source of confusion, stating: “Uneb is now indicating they will provide a theme, and all learners nationwide will do a single project. Schools have not received this circular, leaving us unsure of what information to convey to our students.” 

Using old curriculum
In Acholi sub-region, the curriculum implementers, including the District Education Officers, and District Education Inspectors of Schools, have not been trained on the newly revised Lower Secondary Curriculum. 

In some schools, some teachers and head teachers in both public and private sampled schools were not trained to facilitate delivery of the new curriculum. 

But Mr Peter Otim, a teacher at Pajule SS in Pader District, says insufficient instructional materials, and the insufficient capacity of curriculum implementers, resistance from stakeholders (non- sensitised teachers) will result in worse performance among learners at the end. 

“The government developed and distributed syllabus prototypes to different schools in the country to bridge the gap for delayed procurement of textbooks but some of us have not yet received these materials, and we have continued to instruct learners based on the old curriculum using the materials we have,” Mr Otim says. 

At Patongo SS in Agago District, the learning materials delivered were of subjects not offered at the school and the textbooks were lacking, according to Mr Denis Otika, a class teacher at the school. 

“The training we received was not effective and insufficient since the training duration was short with very detailed training modules (high content volume),” Mr Otika says. 

What is very important right now is to plan and train teachers to be able to effectively instruct learners, otherwise we are likely to lose, he adds. 

Mr Robert Tile, a teacher of Mathematics at Aduku SS in Kwania District, says: “There is what we called the project work and activity of integration, which both carry 20 marks but many teachers still don’t know how to assess this.” 

From Kasese District, Mr Laban Ariho, the head teacher of Standard High School (private), expresses concern about the distribution of reading materials for the new curriculum, saying private schools are consistently left out, with priority given to government-aided schools. 

“The government is only focusing on public schools and we remain struggling in the private sector. What we have been doing is coordinating with teachers in government schools to come and train our teachers and also photocopy some of the reading materials to ensure our learners also benefit.” 

Mr Bens Turyasingura, the head teacher of Tropical High School Bwizibwera –Rutooma Town Council, Mbarara District, says: “Some materials are lacking for S4 in Entrepreneurship and Christian Religious Education.” 

“There was also a mistake in supplying books for the new curriculum, some of the supplies are not in line with what we teach, for example, they gave us books in Islamic Religious Education (IRE) and Performing Arts, which we don’t teach here,” Mr Turyasingura says. 

Mr Emmanuel Arinaitwe, the head teacher of Kyamate SS, Ntungamo, says: “The teachers are not trained, and the pioneer students are in S4. But some teachers don’t know what they are supposed to teach and are teaching using the old curriculum. The teaching materials are also not enough for students. Uneb has also kept us in the dark and are quiet on how the assessment will be conducted and how students will be examined. Uneb has to come out and start sensitising us on how it will examine and assess students.” 

The existing challenges on the Lower Secondary Curriculum could be the reason why the government recently announced that they had halted the rollout of the Advanced Level curriculum.

The current S4 students were supposed to study using the new A-Level curriculum when they transition to S5 next year.  But Education Minister Janet Museveni says her ministry will not implement the curriculum next year as planned. 

She says her ministry, despite having started reviewing the A-Level curriculum, was forced to slow down the pace and instead focus on implementing the already active new Lower Secondary Curriculum. 

Under the new O-Level curriculum, Chinese language has been added to the menu of foreign languages, while Kiswahili, Physical Education, and Entrepreneurship will be compulsory for all students in S1 and S2. 

Compiled by Al Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Rajab Mukombozi, Julius Byamukama, Felix Ainebyoona, Robert Elema, Felix Warom Okello, Scovin Iceta, Philip Wafula, Abubaker Kirunda, Denis Edema, Tausi Nakato, Alex Ashaba, Santo Ojok, Moureen Biira, Robert Muhereza, Antonio Kalyango, Emmanuel Arineitwe, & Simon Peter Emwamu.