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Academic stars who can’t think

By Vision Reporter

Added 27th February 2005 03:00 AM

THE 2004 A’Level examination results were released last week. But the results indicate that something is grossly wrong with our education system.

THE 2004 A’Level examination results were released last week. But the results indicate that something is grossly wrong with our education system.

By John Eremu
THE 2004 A’Level examination results were released last week. But the results indicate that something is grossly wrong with our education system. While 35,172 out of 60,524 candidates qualified to join universities, it was a disturbing note that the majority of them could not think on their own.
Matthew Bukenya, the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) secretary, said the candidates demonstrated a high level of inability in handling questions that required higher cognitive skills. “For example, where a question expected candidates to ‘discuss’ or to assess’, they instead gave narrative answers without citing any example,” Bukenya said. He added “Candidates also lacked the ability to transfer knowledge gained from one subject to another.” These are the students who will join our universities tomorrow and in three or five years enter the world of work. People are quick to criticise the education curriculum as being theoretical and examination oriented.
However, Ignatius Tabaro, the director, National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), said there was nothing wrong with our curriculum. “The problem is with our education vision. Our society expects that all their children in schools should study up to university level. They believe someone is not educated unless they reach university,” said Tabaro.
He defended Uganda’s curriculum as being practical and dynamic. He added that the curriculum is in line with the nation’s aspirations and development objectives. He further said the dynamic nature of Uganda’s curriculum is manifested by its frequent changes.
Most educationists agree with Tabaro that the problem might not really be the curriculum, but the way it is delivered to the students as well as societal expectation of schools.
While the curriculum consists of all the learning experiences deliberately organised for learners at a given level and time for the purpose of achieving the desired national goals, schools take the meaning differently. Think of a curriculum from a headteacher who says: “As far as I am concerned, the curriculum includes the subjects that the parents prefer.”
Education minister Namirembe Bitamazire says cut-throat competition brought by the mushrooming private schools forced teachers to resort to all sorts of teaching methods in order to make students pass and earnfame. “People simply look for grades and not the wholesome development of a person. So every school is doing everything possible to ensure their names appear in the newspapers,” Bitamazire told a recent CBS radio talk-show.
Prof ABK Kasozi, the director, National Council for Higher Education and Buganda’s education minister, JC Muyingo, said the quest to send as many students as possible to university is what teachers are obsessed with and not the wholesome development of their students.

Muyingo, also the headteacher Uganda Martyrs Secondary School, Namugongo, said the culture of reading has been sacrificed at the alter of the quest to pass examinations. He added that today, we have students who score distinctions in English, but who cannot speak English; those who score distinctions in agriculture, but who have never engaged in any practical agriculture.
Kant Kanyarusoke, a parent and an education consultant, contends that the education system in Uganda does not encourage thinkers. Students no longer read textbooks to gain in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. Instead, they rely on pamphlets.
Bukenya blames the use of pamphlets with model answers on the academic parrots of today. “There is evidence that many candidates simply cram model answers and reproduce them out of context during examinations,” Bukenya said.
While the curriculum apportions how much time should be spent on a subject’s theories and practicals, teachers opt for the soft spot - theories. So the students are at a loss when it comes to scientific concepts that require interpretation and logical deductions.
Yusuf Nsubuga, the commissioner for secondary education acknowledges the problem and implores teachers to use curriculum-based rather than examination-oriented approach to teaching.
“Because teachers are teaching for examination passing only. They do not go into the depth, which would enable students to master a subject. We want to ensure that the teachers cover the entire teaching syllabus as prescribed in the curriculum,” Nsubuga said.
He urged headteachers to exercise their supervisory roles by ensuring the syllabus is fully covered and that teaching is done according to the NCDC curriculum. He further said through the Japanese Development Cooperation Agency (JICA), a refresher programme has been designed to make teachers more creative and innovative.
It is clear that much of the criticisms are directed against teachers. But what do the teachers say?
While saying the immediate evidence of an effective teacher is on the number of students who pass national examinations, teachers admit that their attempt to develop wholesome students is at times frustrated by lack of resources and big number of students in class.
Science teachers, for instance, say schools must have equipped laboratories and students must be allowed to collect samples and conduct control experiments to enhance their creativity.
Emmanuel Ngerageze of Gayaza High School, said teachers have at their disposal, methods that can promote cognitive skills, but the teachers must have manageable classes. He also added that teachers must also be creative.
“For instance, you can give the students a task, make them discuss, find a solution and then present it. In this way, the teacher only acts as a moderator. They allow students to freely bring out their own opinion, whether wrong or right,” Ngerageze said.
He added that drilling students for the purpose of only passing examinations without encouraging them to discuss the subject besides the use of pamphlets suffocate the creativity of students.
Ends

Academic stars who can’t think

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