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Sciences compulsory but poorly done: What is the solution?

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th February 2008 03:00 AM

TWO years after the Government policy making sciences compulsory, last year’s O’ level results still indicate that students performed poorly in sciences compared to arts subjects.

TWO years after the Government policy making sciences compulsory, last year’s O’ level results still indicate that students performed poorly in sciences compared to arts subjects.

By Raymond Baguma

TWO years after the Government policy making sciences compulsory, last year’s O’ level results still indicate that students performed poorly in sciences compared to arts subjects.

The results indicate that 58.1% of the students failed Physics, while 66.8% failed Chemistry and 37.6% failed Biology.

“Overall failure rates in the sciences are still very high. The major challenge is lack of functional laboratories in many schools, especially the private ones,” said the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) secretary, Matthew Bukenya.

A survey done by UNEB during the examinations period revealed that 40.8% of the examination centres lacked laboratories, while others were poorly equipped. The other 59.2% had at least one functional laboratory, Bukenya said.

He cited instances where examination centres failed to organise for practical exams, prompting candidates to be relocated to other centres.

While Mathematics and Biology improved in the overall students’ pass rate, Physics and Chemistry showed a significant decline.

For instance, the Physics results of 188,043 candidates indicate that only 0.4% scored distinctions, while in 2006, 2.5% of the 165,094 Physics candidates had distinctions.

The survey also revealed a serious lack of science teachers, especially in the rural and private schools, with many depending on part-timers. This affected the start of the practical examinations at many centres as the same teachers would be required to set the apparatus in more than one centre.

It was also observed that in a few cases where the equipment was available, teachers, especially newly-trained Grade 5 ones, did not know how to use the apparatus.

However, there is an improvement from 51.6% of the centres which, in 2006, were reported as having at least one functional laboratory, to 59.2%.

This is attributed to the education ministry’s efforts to provide schools with science equipment, and UNEB’s insistence on having a functional laboratory before allocating a school a centre.

Weaknesses identified by examiners include lack of practical experience in science subjects and inability of candidates to express themselves clearly, Bukenya said.

Others are lack of teaching which resulted in candidates not displaying the expected competencies, difficulty in dealing with high ability questions, application and analysis, plus low level of competence in computation skills and graph work.

Also, there was a significant decline in performance in English Language, Geography and Agriculture, while performance in Christian Religious Education, History and Biology showed an overall improvement.

The State Minister for Higher Education, Gabriel Opio, said the ministry has made efforts to supply science equipment and materials to government-aided schools.

WHAT DO PEOPLE SAY

Aaron Wanyama (Acting Dean, Faculty of Science, Kyambogo University)
THE problem begins with attitude. There is a belief that sciences are hard. This is wrong. Sciences are like any other subject. The teachers need to bring sciences to the level of the learners. Most teachers are too theoretical in approach. Science is all around us and we can use local materials to make the subject practical. Why should a teacher teach about a leaf in a textbook when there are leaves around? Some science teachers are so chained to the classroom that they don’t want to go out and help students experience the subject. Some also fear certain topics and they pass this fear down to the students.’

Dr. Grace Nambatya Kyeyune
(Director of Research, Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Laboratory)
Make the subject more practical right from primary school. This will take it out of the abstract. The theoretical approach makes the subject very unfriendly. Children should have a real hands-on experience both at home and at school. There is science in everything at home. The science of cooking food and washing clothes are good examples. The secret lies in making children relate with the subject and helping them embrace it in their daily lives.

Gordon Tindyebwa (S6 Science Student, Trust High School)

Schools need to have equipment. They should also have science clubs to enable students share experiences

Robinson Nsumba – Lyazi - (Assistant Commissioner for Comprehensive Secondary School Education)

Science is a practical subject and every effort should be made to teach it practically. Many schools don’t carry out experiments, which makes the subject appear like a mystery. Teachers should help students relate with the subject practically. This is only possible if there is equipment for practical experiments. These will excite the students and help dispel the phobia of handling them. Teachers too should be qualified to handle the subject. We need to sensitise the students to change their attitude. They should understand right from primary school that science is not difficult.’

Maurice Komakech (S6 Science student, Layibi College, Gulu)

Some teachers don’t know certain topics very well. They just gamble and students cannot understand. Practical lessons should begin early, so we get used to using the equipment. Schools shouldn’t wait till Senior Four.

Fagil Mandy (Education Consultant and former commissioner of education)

We are at a pathetic level where even university students cannot define what science is and yet science moves the world. This means the subject is theoretically handled and children cannot relate with it. There is a serious need for general sensitisation to change people’s attitude. A human being is scientific by nature and teachers shouldn’t limit themselves to textbooks in science teaching. They should teach science from what children can touch, smell, feel and see. Lecturing the subject makes it theoretical and abstract. We need to buy basic instructional visual aids that will help children learn through seeing. We need models in our schools and children’s science work, even at secondary school, should be displayed to motivate them. In most secondary schools, classroom walls are empty.

Sister Mary Tinkamanyire (National trainer in Science and Mathematics under the education ministry’s Secondary Science and Mathematics Teachers’ Programme (SESEMA)

We need to change the attitude towards Sciences and Mathematics. Science is a practical subject and it shouldn’t be handled theoretically. There are a lot of materials in our environment that can be used to make science real. Practical lessons create interest and ignite the learners’ imagination. If this practicality begins right from nursery school the learners would view science differently.’

Compiled by Jamesa Wagwau

Sciences compulsory but poorly done: What is the solution?

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