THEY started as supplementary readers for students, besides textbooks and teachersâ€™ notes. But with time, they took centre-stage in revising for major exams. Stephen Ssenkaaba examines the place of pamphlets in studentsâ€™ performance.
THREE students, about to sit their Senior Six final exams, are coiled around a desk in a frantic attempt to â€œcatch upâ€. They are consulting each other while referring to a pink book marked: Pass A Level Geography with Flying Colours. Jane, Joseph and Janice believe that at this critical moment, a pamphlet is all they need to pass.
â€œThis is our magicâ€ Janice says. The pamphlet, she adds, has become every studentâ€™s ticket to passing.
Pamphlets are simplified outlines on various topics covered in the secondary school and sometimes primary school syllabus. They are made in form of books and/or handouts authored by teachers. They are commonest in arts subjects such as CRE, History, Geography, Commerce and Economics. They are sold cheaply at schools and in book stores countrywide.
Pamphlets were among the sticking points at the release of the O and A Level examination results by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) this year.
Examiners have complained about the over-reliance by teachers and candidates on pamphlets, Matthew Bukenya, the UNEB Executive Secretary, said. Bukenya attributed the poor performance in many analytical subjects to these reading materials which tend to outline facts in response to past paper questions.
â€œCandidates have problems with questions requiring higher cognitive skills of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation,â€ Bukenya said.
â€œTasks which required skills of discussion, assessment of situations or making evaluation which are expected at these levels were poorly answered,â€ he said, adding that pamphlets encourage rote learning.
Pamphlets have become the major reading materials for students. Such is the faith students have in these books that many of them no longer find it necessary to read textbooks or even attend class. Teachers also use them to extract classroom notes. In some cases, teachers who fail to complete the syllabus on time advise their students to use pamphlets to cover the unfinished parts.
A recent survey reveals that about 80% of students in secondary schools use pamphlets as their major source of information. The survey found that science students read pamphlets less frequently than their arts counterparts. It also revealed that there are over 50 pamphlets in circulation.
Why are more students relying on pamphlets?
â€œThey (Pamphlets) are well summarised and give brief outlines that are easy to grasp and reproduce in an exam,â€ says Violet Naluggwa of Mengo Senior School. She says with a pamphlet, one does not need to go through the pain of reading complicated textbooks.
â€œPamphlets offer more points, which helps me to write more and, therefore, score better marks in exams,â€ says a student of Bright High School in Busega.
â€œPamphlets are affordable and readily available. One pamphlet costs sh10,000 to sh15,000, while a textbook costs three times as much,â€ says Michael Kamusiime of Lakeside College Luzira.
Trapped in an education system that solely relies on exams to determine studentsâ€™ capabilities and where many students lack the scholarly rigour to read and research on their own, pamphlets have become a convenient choice for learners as they aid their efforts to memorise concepts which they reproduce in exams. This has rendered the usually detailed and tedious textbooks somewhat undesirable.
But for all their disadvantages, teachers argue that pamphlets are an important revision tool. â€œThey foster understanding of difficult subjects,â€ says George William Ssemivule, the Mengo SS headteacher. The only problem, he says, is that many pamphlets today carry mistakes. â€œIn the absence of proper guidance, this might mislead students and cause their failure,â€ he says.
But Anthony Gesa, a renowned Economics teacher with over 10 years experience in writing pamphlets, says not all pamphlets contain shoddy work.
â€œSome pamphlets, especially those written by experienced teachers and UNEB examiners, have thorough work,â€ he says. He, however, agrees that the market is flooded with many poorly written pamphlets. â€œSome authors, in a bid to make money, duplicate other peopleâ€™s work while others produce pamphlets in subjects they have no knowledge of,â€ he says.
Davis Ssemanda, a History teacher at Lakeside College Luzira, says some pamphlets combine different ideas from different sources, thereby providing broader perspectives to topics. He, however, adds that many pamphlets leave out core elements of the subjects.
To what extent can pamphlets be blamed for the poor performance in subjects?
An experienced examiner says many studentsâ€™ answers in exams are largely influenced by the shallow approach in pamphlets. Students produce outlines with no explanations, relevant examples and coherence in ideas,â€ he says. This, he says, has cost them good grades. Some critics, however, point an accusing finger at UNEB.
â€œThey recycle questions all the time, making it very easy for authors to focus on popular areas where questions come from,â€ said one teacher. A senior UNEB official denies: â€œUNEB works with experienced teachers. They set questions covering the entire syllabus, which are deposited to a question bank from which questions are randomly picked and set,â€ he says. There is no room for manipulation.â€
Gesa attributes these problems to the entire education system. â€œPamphlets are not the problem. It is our exam-oriented system that puts lots of pressure on students to pass at all costs,â€ he says. â€œUntil efforts are taken to revise the system, such hitches cannot be avoided.â€
How best can pamphlets be utilised?
There should be a vetting process through which teachers thoroughly check pamphlets for accuracy and authenticity. Schools should then recommend only approved pamphlets for use,â€ says Grace Kitego of Nabisunsa Girls SS.
Ssemivule suggests that pamphlets should be used only as complementary materials â€œafter students have fully read their teachersâ€™ notes and consulted textbooks.â€
Sam Matovu, a teacher at Bright High School, says teachers should guide students over the kind of pamphlets to use. â€œThere are very good pamphlets on the market, which apart from discussing questions and answers, also give references for further reading. Teachers should look out for such and encourage students to use them,â€ he says.
Some teachers have called for a national vetting system for reading materials such as pamphlets. But the education ministry says this may not be very possible. â€œThere are so many sources of information that regulation would be difficult,â€ says Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesman. He says teachers should be more vigilant in guiding students on the right reading materials and how to use them.
â€œNo number of government policies will help, if teachers fail to help their students,â€ he said.
Kibenge says that government mandate stops at recommending and vetting books and other instructional materials to government-aided schools.*
Do pamphlets affect critical thinking?