By Conan Businge and Innocent Anguyo
The Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) has explained some of the factors that contributed to the general decline in the UCE examinations performance this year, compared to the previous year.
Matthew Bukenya, the executive secretary of UNEB, said last year’s UCE exams tested comprehension, application and analytical skills, manipulation of scientific apparatus and science process skills of making observations.
Other areas tested included recording observations and other data, drawing inferences or conclusions from observations as well as data presentation and interpretation.
Practical skills a problem
According to Bukenya, most candidates registered poor performance in sciences with about 45% failing to attain the minimum competence level.
In mathematics for example, Bukenya said poor performance was evidenced in construction of graphs, solving of simultaneous equations, skills of geometrical construction, vectors, set theory, fraction expressions and computation of compound interest.
Bukenya further noted that despite the tremendous effort made by the education ministry to supply laboratory equipment in schools, students performed poorly in practical subjects.
“Candidates had problems in handling apparatus during practical tests as well as making and recording observations and drawing conclusions from those observations; tabulation of experimental results and interpretation of the results,” said Bukenya.
“The lower achievers found difficulties with questions requiring explanations, description of experimental procedure, use of chemical symbols and formulae, writing of units and dealing with tasks that require practical experience,” he added.
Poor grasp of English
The majority of candidates, especially those who performed a poorly exhibited poor grasp of the Queen’s language, Bukenya said.
He said such candidates found it difficult to comprehend the meaning of essential words used in questions, leading to the misunderstanding of questions.
Bukenya said some teachers encouraged their students to cram passages from English language texts (also called “model compositions”) and to reproduce them irrelevantly when answering English composition questions.
UNEB noted that the structure of English Language Paper 1 was modified to ensure the testing of functional literacy skills.
Pamphlets killing critical thinking
UNEB noted that the continued use of pamphlets by teachers and candidates has negatively affected candidates’ performance.
Bukenya said, “where an explanation or description was required, candidates wrote answers in outline form as in the pamphlets and lost marks as a result.” He said teachers were increasingly shunning prescribed textbooks for pamphlets.
Francis Agula, the commissioner for secondary education, said the preference for pamphlets is a manifestation of poor preparation among teachers who settle for ‘outline answers’.