Educational research has always found a direct relationship between low student achievement and the skills and competence of teachers
By Dr. Mesharch Katusiimeh Rwebiita
Teachers at all levels are key to improving quality education in any educational system. In fact, the centrality of the teacher in the teaching and learning process is widely acknowledged by scholars and practitioners alike.
Educational research has always found a direct relationship between low student achievement and the skills and competence of teachers.
That is why it is often said that “the quality of an educational system cannot be greater than the quality of its teachers” and yet often not much attention is paid to understanding how systems that produce teachers can be made more effective to impact on learning outcomes.
Therefore the present attempts to reform teacher education by the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports should be applauded.
Where is the problem? Whereas in the past, the teaching profession was seen as the process of mentoring the society, today it is thought otherwise. In fact there are more questions than answers concerning teaching profession.
This worry is based on the existing practices in teacher education (administration of the teaching programme, observed behaviour of teachers in the society etc.) and in teaching profession itself (absence of codes of conduct for members, terms and conditions of service for teachers, ethics of teaching, etc.).
These absurd practices and observations have tended to depict this profession as lacking credibility, a dumping ground for failures in academics and life, and in other careers. This perception of the profession has kept away competent individuals who would have made the profession attractive and competitive.
I have not read the official document containing the reforms. However, these reforms have been widely publicized in the media by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education and Sports and his team of technocrats. In this article I will concentrate on discussing the two proposed reforms.
First, teachers have been given up to 10 years within which to upgrade to the degree level starting 2021 and they will specialize in pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary.
This is a good move as it will ensure there are no more salary disparities that have been a de-motivator partly leading to strikes and disharmony at the workplace.
All teachers in pre-primary or primary or secondary will all get the same salary. It also means government is planning to start recruiting teachers for nursery to be posted in public schools and paid as public servants.
Presently, public schools have been hiring pre-primary teachers privately yet this stage is critical as it sets the foundation of a child’s learning. This reform also means that those to qualify as teachers especially for primary and pre-primary will be mature enough probably the age of around 22 to start teaching.
They will have to go through advanced level (A-level) and then take another 3 years in college. Presently, it is common for one to complete senior four at the age of 15 or 16 and then graduate as a primary or nursery teacher at the age of 17 or 18.
Some experts have considered these teachers to be too young to manage children who at times are of age 12, 13 and 14 in primary schools. These teachers have at times been associated with unprofessional tendencies that have hampered the progress of learners for some time.
The specializations in pre-primary, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary will also help the esteem of teachers who teach at lower levels.
There have been issues of under looking those who teach at the pre-primary and primary levels as if they are less qualified.
The policy will boost the professions near lost respect and enhance the self –confidence of those who teach at lower levels and help raise the teaching profession as a first choice profession instead of entering it as a last resort.
Second, students who will be enrolled in the NTCs and TTCS for diplomas and certificates in teaching next year will be the last lot to be admitted. In relation to that, starting 2021, no senior four leavers will be admitted to the teachers colleges. They will admit only those who have completed advanced level or its equivalent. This is also a welcome move.
However, the Ministry of Education must come up with guidelines of equating Grade 111 and Grade V certificates.
The Grade 111 certificate is equivalent to A level and therefore graduates of the programme may directly be enrolled for Bachelor Programme but what about those with Grade V that is superior to Grade 111?
Will they only study for one year and be awarded a Bachelor’s Degree? Previously, teachers have been losing both time and money in upper grading.
Grade 111 teachers were required to register either for 3 years or 2 years to pursue Grade V and later do another 2 years or 3 years for the Bachelor of Education degree. So these reforms will help save both time and other resources spent in pursuing other levels that were not necessarily adding value.
But there is also a question of graduates of other professions but with interest to be teachers at either primary or secondary levels.
Will teaching institutions be allowed to develop curriculum like Post Graduate Diploma in Primary Education or Pre-primary or secondary teaching to absorb those with a passion to teach but already graduates in other professions?
The writer is an Associate Professor Department of Governance Kabale University; Chair Board of Directors Director Rwebiita Preparatory School - Sheema Municipality and Chair Board of Governors Nganwa High School.