Parents and students are unsure of the ministry of Education and Sports' decision to introduce ICT and Subsidiary Mathematics at A-level this year.
Starting this term, all incoming A-level students will be expected to either take ICT or Sub Maths as a second subsidiary subject. They are also expected to take only three principal subjects. Critics believe the move has been "rushed" and fear it may increase the knowledge gap between uptown and rural schools. Upcountry schools are particularly concerned because the teachers say they have not been informed about the new subject, yet its introduction coincides with the start of free A-level education.
"I have no idea about these changes", a head teacher who didnít want to be named said.
"I got to learn of it through the press", he added. The head teacher from Ntungamo fears his students will perform poorly in ICT, a subject he says many have no idea about.
"We do not use computers at our school; we don't have such facilities. Who will teach it? How long will the children take to adapt?" the head teacher asked.
However, Dr Yusuf K. Nsubuga, the director of Basic and Secondary Education at the ministry, says the ministry will not wait for every child to have a computer or the knowledge to operate one before introducing ICT.
"Our policy is building the boat as we sail. We [government] know about all these shortcomings in the beginning but in a poor country like Uganda, you cannot wait for everything to be 100% perfect before starting anything", said Nsubuga.
He acknowledged that some of the schools have not yet received the circulars from the ministry but that shouldn't be a problem. Asked why the schools had not yet received the October 10, 2011 document, Nsubuga jokingly answered:
"You see that is the reason why we are introducing this subject so that everything can move fast; maybe the letters are still in the post office. If I had used internet, the schools would have instantly got the message".
Nsubuga adds that the ministry has rolled out a programme to build digital hubs and distribute computers to schools to ease learning. They are also training experts, who will in turn train ICT teachers. However, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), the ministry organ tasked with drafting syllabi, has not yet drafted the ICT curriculum nor the teachersí guide, learnersí books and other study material.
"We do not have the syllabus yet but it will be ready before first term begins", said Gilbert Gift Siima, NCDC's ICT curriculum specialist.
"We have a ten-day workshop where teachers and specialists will come up with the teaching material", he said.
The subject will focus on the basics such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Power Point and other entry applications.
"We want to equip the children with basic computer knowledge that can enable them adapt to the currently computerized world", explained Siima.
However, experts in the sector dispute the relevance of ICT at secondary school level. Patrick Kaboyo, the executive director of Coalition of Uganda Private Schoolsí Teachers Association (COUPSTA), says the idea sounds wonderful on paper but it is disastrous in reality.
"Most village schools don't even have power; so, how are they going to operate computers?
"We do not want this programme to be another failed policy by the government. Why did they not give schools enough time to prepare?" Kaboyo asked.
But some head teachers and education officials are optimistic about the subject, saying it is important to equip the young generation with computer skills.
"Those schools rejecting this shift are ignorant about what is going on in the world; this is a digital age where everything moves around the computer,î John Agaba, the head teacher of Mbarara High School, said. Likewise, Jose Acire Jola, the Gulu municipality education officer, said schools in the northern region are ready to start the subject.
"We have encouraged other schools to cooperate with government seed schools which have well-equipped computer labs", said Jola.
How ICT will be taught
Starting with the S.5 class of 2012, students will take five papers including three principal subjects, the traditional subsidiary General Paper (GP) and one other sub subject (either ICT or Sub Maths). For example, a student can opt to take History, Economics, Geography/ General Paper and ICT or Sub Maths. All students offering Principal Mathematics will be required to take ICT.
Similarly, students offering combinations that include Economics but without Principal Mathematics, or science combinations that do not include Principal Mathematics, will be required to take Sub Maths. Arts students are free to choose between ICT and Sub Maths.
"All schools need to take this seriously because effective from 2012, this subject combination will form the basis for entry into institutions of higher learning", a circular from the ministry notes.