By Conan Businge
AFTER spending hundreds of millions of shillings re-directing lower primary’s curriculum change, it is regrettable that it is being shunned.
My quick understanding would be that the country would embrace the new way of teaching which is developed locally and switch from the white man’s education legacy as President Yoweri Museveni calls it.
A recent study shows that close to half of all schools in the country do not use the new thematic curriculum which was rolled out by the education and sports ministry recently, a new survey by ‘Mwalimu’ shows.
The same stud also shows that a number of schools still do not have adequate teachers’ guide textbooks, trained teachers to implement thematic curriculum, and that that it covers a limited scope.
There are also indications that the thematic curriculum was hit by so many hitches at its level of implementation; a reason why it is turning out to be double edged; improving numeracy, as it crashes literacy.
This implies that the country’s lower primary wing is being subjected to both the old and new curriculum. What a shame? By the way, where will it leave these pupils after seven years of studying when they have to be examined using the same people and papers?
Starting with the year 2007, mother tongues became the medium of instruction from Primary One (P1) to Primary Three (P3) as Uganda’s Government implemented the thematic curriculum. The move was based on several researches that have proved mother tongue improves performance.
The old curriculum was based on subjects and English was the mode of instruction.
Teaching under the thematic curriculum is based on the themes of numeracy, literacy and life skills. Other themes are news, physical education, free activity, religious education and the art of writing.
All the class interaction should go on in a local language agreed upon as the most commonly used in a given locality. Unlike subjects in the old curriculum, strands apply in the thematic system. More so, depending on the theme for study, all that is taught in a strand has to refer to the theme.
Almost six years from its start, a number of schools have up to today failed to fully implement the new curriculum claiming that it instead weakens the pupils’ learning capacity.
But most importantly, it is also clear that in some areas where it has fully been implemented, the new curriculum has improved performance of pupils.
Some of the teachers interviewed in lower primary schools also argue that they were not adequately trained to enroll the new curriculum, much as they received the teaching materials. Teachers also believe that there is need to sensitise parents on what is being instilled into their children, so that they can support the new curriculum.
About 62% of the teachers interviewed argue that the current staff ceiling is a limitation to the new curriculum. Under the current staff ceiling, there must be a teacher for every classroom; meaning on average, each primary must have a minimum of seven teachers.
Since some classes are overcrowded, yet thematic curriculum requires committed and full-time teachers for every average class for proper assessment, the new curriculum is gradually being chocked.
There also seems to be no seriously created District Language Boards; to help in the translation of reading materials, of which have delayed to get created. Teachers at Muhorro Town School like several other schools, says there is a massive inadequacy of instructional materials like reference books and teaching aids.
Teachers also say that the some topics in the curriculum are so wide and others are shallow, “complicating the teaching process.” Some teachers also note that there is a repetition of topics in the curriculum, since some content seems to resemble.
Most of the private schools have ignored the usage of the thematic curriculum, leaving it to the Government-aided schools. Almost 70% of rural private primary schools just teach local languages as a subject, and not a medium of communication.
Under the new policy the most commonly used local language is used to teach a module. More so, learners are examined in the language of instruction which is still vernacular. But urban schools use English as the mode of instruction. This means urban schools will be examined in English while their rural counterparts will be examined in the local languages up to P3.
The recent National assessment of progress in education report shows that learners, especially in lower primary, are good at numeracy but seriously struggling in literacy. The trends of lower primary eat through the system till pupils finish primary education; with obviously doubtable performances since they cannot even at times speak of write good English.
The same report quickly suggests that it could be because of the new thematic curriculum at lower primary that performance in literacy is going down. This would mean that the thematic curriculum needs to be revised.
The new findings come at a time, a new report by Uwezo also reveals that Ugandan children tend to perform worst in the region (with the exception of the English test), and there are subtle differences between Tanzania and Uganda when one considers performance on the tests at each specific Primary level.
“Ugandan pupils perform comparatively worse at lower grades, but demonstrate faster ‘catch-up’ at higher grades,” reads the new report which was launched in Kenya a few days ago.
The proportion of Ugandan children that pass both the literacy and numeracy test (combined), the report says, are lower than in Kenya and Tanzania at Standards (Primary) 1 through 5.
Numeracy is the ability to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts, while literacy is the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about the written word.
This quickly reminds us that under thematic curriculum, local languages are used as the mode of instruction in classes. Using of English is introduced at Primary Four. This implies that thematic curriculum could gradually be eroding away the once held good quality of education in lower primary.
Research findings, however, show that mother tongue instruction in lower classes contributes to improved learning, builds a child’s confidence and does not affect development of the second language.
This means that all is not wrong with the thematic curriculum. But all of us have got to wake up. You cannot reject sleeping in the bush, but at the same time you reject taking shelter in the house.
A decision has to be made! We either go back to the old curriculum, which will obviously be disastrous– or accept the new one!!