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Curriculum reform must follow research

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th October 2008 03:00 AM

Once again, the Ministry of Education and Sports has rescinded the decision to implement an armchair education policy reform, following pressure from stakeholders.

Once again, the Ministry of Education and Sports has rescinded the decision to implement an armchair education policy reform, following pressure from stakeholders.

By Fred Mwesigwa

Once again, the Ministry of Education and Sports has rescinded the decision to implement an armchair education policy reform, following pressure from stakeholders.

It is not clear why the ministry that ought to be in the vanguard of promoting research in solving educational problems is resorting to pronouncements.

When the Educational Policy Review Commission of 1987 carried out the task of probing policies governing education, including the reviewing of curriculum, they erronously introduced Moral Education in primary and secondary schools. According to the 1992 Uganda Government White Paper (p.52-53), Moral Education was to be introduced at primary school alongside Religious Education.

It was argued that Moral Education would lay the foundation for Development Studies, a new course that was meant to be introduced at secondary school.

It has never been explained how Moral Education found its way into that important educational policy document. Research I conducted as part of my doctoral studies in 2003 revealed that key stakeholders like religious and civic leaders, teachers and academics were not consulted. The public resistance to Moral Education in 1999 and the subsequent shelving of the pronouncement confirms this.

Resistance to Moral Education was ignited by a senior official in the ministry who said Uganda was a secular country and had no business consulting with religious leaders and that a neutral team of experts would be assembled to design a neutral syllabus of teaching about values instead of religious education.

Similarly, the circumstances surrounding the recently-shelved curriculum reforms raise the question why the ministry is bent on making educational pronouncements that impact greatly on cherished national values and language policy without recourse to research.

The last time the ministry tried to acknowledge the importance of research in curriculum development was in 2006 when research field trips were conducted by officials of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Education Standards Agency (ESA) and the ministry. This followed a Cabinet directive to review the curriculum in order to realize efficiency and deliver quality education.

Informal interviews I held with some of the staff in different schools, who were supposedly the key respondents of the government research team, indicated that the ‘researchers’ just dropped the instruments at the schools and did not interact with the respondents to brief them about the procedure of organising focus group discussions to discuss the nine scenarios of alternative subject combinations from which one group would be recommended by a particular school.

Probably the researchers wanted to save their allowances by returning to base and the teachers reciprocated by filling questionnaires and returning them to the sender without forming focus group discussions.

Furthermore, only teachers and headteachers were consulted, leaving out civic, religious and business leaders, among others.

In addition to the flawed methodology, the findings from teaching staff were ignored while making recommendations. The NCDC O’ level secondary school curriculum review draft report of September 2006 (p. 28) states that “In departure from the current curriculum, teachers wish to see the values (CRE, IRE) and skill-based subjects (Agriculture and Business) represented on the core subject list.” In sharp contrast, the recommendation on religious education (p.37) reads: “Religious Education can be removed from the core/compulsory subjects so that it remains optional.” The reason given, with no data to back it, was that there is a minority but significant group of students who do not subscribe to Christian or Islamic religions.

Yet non-Christian and non-Muslim religious groups, traditional and atheistic groups account for only 2.7% of Uganda’s population. This means that failure to meet religious educational needs of almost 97% of Uganda’s population.

The circular which was withdrawn recently may not have been designed by an overzealous officer because the Commissioner for secondary education, John Agaba, and the Director of NCDC, Connie Kateeba, were quoted in the New Vision of August 26, 2008, announcing a new educational policy whereby schools would teach seven compulsory and choose three optional subjects during. This implies that some schools will not choose Christian religious education or Islamic religious education from the list of optional subjects and this to me is more worrying than the banning of the teaching of Arabic.

If the ministry is to live to educational principles, it should espouse research, the engine of curriculum change in democratic societies. My research on religious education in 2003 revealed that teachers, religious leaders, academics and majority Ugandans would love to have religious education as a core subject. There is no harm in carrying out a similar research to establish the facts.

Heightened international interest in religious education has seen it become a core or compulsory subject even in ‘secular’ countries like Britain, Finland and Norway. This is because teh subject has potential of enabling societies to appreciate religion as a key phenomenon of human experience and a vehicle of promoting tolerance and respect in a bigoted world. How much more do Ugandan policy makers need to see to appreciate the importance of keeping religious education on the curriculum?

The writer is a member of the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values (ISREV) and a senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University

Curriculum reform must follow research

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