BY IRENE NABUSOBA
IN the olden days, a child had to stretch his hand over the head and touch the opposite ear to prove that he was fit for Primary One. Today, the youngsters have to prove their worth through entry interviews.
However, the Ministry of Education and Sports cautions against the widespread practice of schools subjecting young children to interviews, saying the only entry requirement to P.1 is based on age.
â€œA child should be six years or be able to reach that age within the first term of school because some of them are born mid-year,â€ says Dr. Daniel Nkaada, the commissioner basic education in the ministry.
â€œThe reason kids were asked to put their hands over their head and touch the opposite ear was a crude way of estimating age. It was found that children younger than six could not do it but with todayâ€™s birth registration process, you just present a birth certificate,â€ Nkaada explains.
Resty Muziribi, the assistant commissioner pre-primary in the education ministry, says they insist on age six because that is when a child is physically, socially and mentally ready to start our vigorous education system. Muziribi, also an early childhood development expert, says at that age the child is also psychologically and physically fit to do exercises.
â€œWe assume that they have gone through pre-writing and pre-reading exercises and are now ready to broaden their minds,â€ she argues.
She observes that some parents are too enthusiastic to get their children to school at an early age, saying their child is bright. She says this only affects a childâ€™s development at a later stage.
â€œOur education system is quite vigorous and long. The children easily get bored, the reason we have high drop-out rates. Why hurry the child? The fact that a parrot imitates words does not mean it understands; let the children follow the natural pace.
â€œIn nursery, they are basically supposed to play, socialise and grasp some basic numerical and language concepts. They do not need interviews to join P.1,â€ Muziribi says.
A survey around town shows that most schools, especially private ones, conduct interviews for P.1 entry because they have some set standards below which a child is not eligible. Those with the pre-primary sections, prefer to promote their own to Primary One. Consequently, new pupils should meet the standards of such pre-primary sections lest they are unable to cope with the other children in P.1, even if they are of the same age.
â€œThere are certain skills we expect a child intending to join P.1 to know,â€ Jane Rugadya, the head of nursery section at Kampala Junior School says. â€œWe expect a child to have basic language and numerical skills like blending letters and their sounds, knowing a capital letter from a small one and at least form basic words.
â€œA child should also be able to read and form simple sentences, should know some pronoun and action words, have a grasp of plurals, opposites, shapes, height. They should also count from at least one to 20, know days of the week, differentiate colours, make simple additions, tell time, or otherwise,â€ Rugadya says.
She further explains that children joining P.1 should be able to recite their names, full names of parents, where they live, attempt to recite the parentsâ€™ phone number, state his age or birthday.
â€œPlus personal social development skills like moving up and down stairs, standing on one legâ€¦things actually done during physical education classes. A child should be able to socialise with colleagues and generally be able to survive independent of their parents. That is why we prefer promoting our own children from the nursery section,â€ she reveals.
Nagadya says the school admits children from age three, steering them through the nursery section to be promoted to P.1 when of age and fit for the class.
â€œAccording to the education ministry regulations, the child should be six years or should get there in the first term for those born mid-year. This is the main requirement, but individual schools set their own standards,â€ she says.
â€œOtherwise, in todayâ€™s era, by age six, children have mastered most of these concepts. Of course there are those who grasp them much earlier, but itâ€™s important to let them move with their age,â€ she argues, noting that children who come from home or other schools, have to pass the interviews to be admitted.
But critics argue that the idea of insisting on interviews is denying many children entry to P.1, especially those that are home schooled or basically do not go to nursery or come from inferior nursery schools. Not only that, schools are venturing into nursery education even when they are not qualified, when space does not allow just to have their own children.
â€œThat is why we are having nursery schools piling our children with academic work because itâ€™s an issue of competition. These (nursery) children are studying things that should ideally be covered in P.1, 2, even 3,â€ says one ministry official who prefers anonymity.
â€œAnd when it comes to joining P.1, schools expect kids that have covered what they have taught and unfortunately, the curriculum and teaching style are not even the same. If it were about socialising as the ministry recommends, why do we need interviews?â€ he argues.
Arnold Ntungwa, the deputy head teacher Buganda Road Primary School, a UPE school, says they do not interview children joining P.1.
When well-orientated, even those that failed do well,â€ he reveals. â€œBefore UPE, we would interview the kids and only take the best. We would consider writing skills and fluency in English. It was very competitive. But now itâ€™s a mix given that we attract even children who have not gone through nursery. We have kids from rural areas who cannot even speak English,â€ Ntungwa says. â€œWe just ask for the birth certificate to prove that the child is at least six years.â€
Ntungwa reveals that the parents pick the forms and fill in where they stay, contact address, preferred name of the child and other general background information unless the child has special needs.
On whether interviews have any impact on output given their experience with both scenarios, Ntungwa says: â€œEven the ones that have not gone through nursery do well. They are stunning. They learn the language (English) fast and are enthusiastic because they are excited to be in school.
â€œThe ones who come straight from home to P.1 are often scared and cry when they part with their parents.
â€œThis is the essence of pre-primary â€” to get the child acquainted with the school environment otherwise interviews are not determinants of a childâ€™s ability per se,â€ Ntungwa says.
ARE P.1 INTERVIEWS NECESSARY?