Recently, Ms Sajitha Bashir, the World Bank education practice manager for Eastern Africa, presented a report entitled “Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa” to the minister of education and sports, Janet Museveni.
The report emanates from extensive research into education systems and practices in sub-Saharan Africa. It highlights policy and implementation actions that countries in sub-Saharan Africa must embrace in order to improve their teaching and learning quality.
The report analyses four areas that can help countries better align their systems to improve learning: (1) Completing the unfinished agenda of reaching universal basic education with quality; (2) ensuring effective management and support of teachers; (3) targeting spending priorities and budget processes on improving quality; and (4) closing the institutional capacity gap.
This report has caused mixed reactions and hullabaloo among Ugandans, with some suggesting that the national Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) should be scrapped.
Whereas it’s true that the challenges highlighted in the study are known to the stakeholders in the education sector in Uganda, many are unaddressed, making it difficult for the country to provide education for all as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number four.
So, scrapping PLE may not be a solution. Here is why: First, the budget allocated to the education sector is too small and currently stands at about Shs 2.5 trillion (14 per cent of the national budget).
These funds are not necessarily meant to improve teaching and learning processes but a huge percentage is meant to pay salaries of staff of the ministry of Education and Sports.
Secondly, many children are not taught to learn, but “coached” to pass examinations. These days, schools’ and teachers’ performance is rated based on how many distinctions the teacher/school fetches in the national final examinations.
Distinctions have become a benchmark for parents to identify schools for their children. Teaching methods known to enhance learning such as demonstrations, discussions, brainstorming, experiments, etc. have long been abandoned by teachers. Students are taught theoretically.
Rote learning and cram-work is the order of the day. Fundamental textbooks have been too simplified to allow the learners to simply and quickly grasp the basic points in there in order to pass the examinations.
Reading, comprehension, imagination and critical thinking that come with reading a textbook have been killed by the so-called pamphlets. The outcome of this is the non-performing graduate workforce we see today in the world of work.
We need to define what PLE and other national final examinations really assess. It appears that the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) is assessing what the learner can recall and reproduce in the exams.
Additionally, the UNEB system is not amenable to examining learners practically as it may be difficult for the learner to “demonstrate” the gained skills (in many subjects) to indicate that certain competencies were attained.
Our children are no longer guided properly and there is no development of skills since pupils’ concentration is merely on passing the final examinations, but not comprehending what is taught.
The recently released Uganda National Household Survey (UBOS 2016/2017) indicates a six per cent reduction trend in the net primary school enrolment ratio between 2002 and 2017.
There is need to investigate why enrolment is declining in primary schools despite the introduction of universal primary education in 1997. In addition, an analysis of the recently released 2018 Uganda Certificate of Education (S4) results indicates that only 335,435 sat for the UCE final exams but the same students were actually 604,971 at the time of sitting their Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) in 2014.
And what is more worrying is that at the time of enrollment into primary one (P1) in 2008, these same pupils were 813,361 (The Observer, February 27, 2017). The rate of retention of leaners in our schools is very low and about 20 per cent will complete higher education.
Therefore, it’s not only enrolment rates that are worrying but retention rates too, and this calls for urgent attention. Teachers are paid low salaries, many lack skills, face poor conditions at schools, insufficient study materials, inadequate teaching aids, insufficient classroom blocks, toilets, teachers’ houses, etc.
It’s time for the stakeholders to rise and improve our education system.
The writer is executive director, Centre for Education, Graduate Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (C4Gee).