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Are headteachers to blame for poor performance in schools?

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th February 2012 01:15 PM

Excitement about the recently released Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) is over. Now, the time to take stock begins. Stakeholders are making balance sheets, trying to figure out where they did well and where improvements need to be done.

Excitement about the recently released Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) is over. Now, the time to take stock begins. Stakeholders are making balance sheets, trying to figure out where they did well and where improvements need to be done.

By Stephen Ssenkaaba
 
Excitement about the recently released Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) is over. Now, the time to take stock begins. Stakeholders are making balance sheets, trying to figure out where they did well and where improvements need to be done.
 
Hoima district
According to the 2011 Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) results, out of the 121 government-aided schools in Hoima district, only 23 produced a candidate in Division One. Head teachers in the district find themselves in a precarious position, having to explain the poor performance in the national exams this year.
 
Unfortunately for them, there will not be much explaining to do as the district education officials have already made their stand on this issue.
 
Addressing head teachers recently, Deogratius Byabagambi, the Hoima district inspector of schools, said last year’s PLE results were disappointing.
 
He added that head teachers would have to answer for this poor performance.
 
Those head teachers whose schools did not register first grades will receive warning letters and, according to the press, if not improvement is made on, might face more serious consequences.
 
Where is the fairness in this?
Concern is already being raised over what appears like escapist tendencies by the district administration.
 
With many schools operating in difficult conditions and unable to afford scholastic materials, infrastructure and well remunerated teachers, the fairness in such a decision is being questioned.
 
“We try to do our best, says a head teacher of one of the Hoima primary schools, “but some of the problems leading to poor performance are not of our making.”
 
The head teacher who asked not to be named said in his own school, the shortage of teachers, poor infrastructure and difficult government policies have affected performance.
 
“How do you expect a school where a single teacher attends to 150 pupils, where there are no permanent structures for classrooms; to perform very well?” he asked.
 
This head teacher says t some government policies such as automatic promotion have compromised academic standards in school.
 
“Because of automatic promotions, many pupils are pushed on without having fully mastered the concepts. So when it comes to critical stages such as PLE, many of them do not measure up,” he said.
 
This concerned head teacher’s view might suggest that Hoima district is particularly vulnerable. But the same challenges appear across the nation.
 
From Hoima to Kisoro to Kaberamaido,inadequate facilities, poor remuneration of teachers and absenteeism remain huge challenges. This, in some people’s view, weakens the Hoima teacher’s argument.
 
Tony Lusambu, the assistant commissioner for primary education in the education ministry says while these challenges genuinely exist and need to be addressed, quite a number of schools in similar situation are able to perform well.
 
“We are all operating under difficult conditions, so head teachers should not use that as an excuse,” he said.
 
Lusambu explained that as leaders of schools, head teachers carry the full responsibility of their schools and should work within the challenging times to ensure good performance at their schools.
 
Lusambu says the reason some schools are not performing well may be due to lack of commitment on the part of head teachers. Lack of commitment has been a major factor in the decision to take tough measures against the Hoima teachers.
 
Restetuta Timbigamba, the district education officer, says for all the constraints facing the primary education sector in Hoima, many primary school head teachers are not doing a good job.
 
“Oft times head teachers are not present at school to supervise activities. Some operate businesses outside which keeps them away from their responsibilities at work,” she says.
 
She adds that even efforts by the district education office to talk to head teachers about absenteeism have not yielded much success.
 
How does the presence of a head teacher count?
Dr. Pelgrin Kibuuka, a retired head teacher and expert in education management, says blaming head teachers is not fair.
 
He argues that head teachers have been made the proverbial sacrificial lambs. “The district officials are ashamed. They are trying to find a scapegoat for their failure to empower schools.
 
That is why they are blaming headteachers,” Kibuuka reasons.Kibuuka says in an environment where the Government has failed to equip head teachers with the instruments of war-scholastic materials, good salaries and the right teaching conditions, officials should not expect the head teachers to produce wonders.
 
He says poor performance goes far beyond head teachers’ supervisory roles and puts into consideration other key factors such as pupils’ feeding, the school curriculum all of which are not adequately addressed leading to poor performance.
 
He also dismisses the notion that the poor working conditions and facilities cut across all schools and should, therefore, not be used as an excuse for poor pupil performance.
 
“In many schools, especially private schools where the conditions are better, the performance is not as bad as it is in government-aided primary schools,” Kibuuka adds.
 
What is the way forward? Lusambu explains that before taking any actions, the district administrators need to go to the schools to assess the conditions under which the teachers work.
 
“This will then give them a sense of what is on the ground and enable them to find
solutions to the existing challenges.” Schools should also look at the recommendations of several researches conducted to address the issue of primary education.
 
For example, a learning assessment report released by Uwezo last year shows that primary education in Uganda is yielding illiterate pupils.
 
The Uwezo report, an initiative of the Uganda National NGO Forum, says universal primary schools and private ones are equally not doing well in helping the children acquire the necessary basic competences at the appropriate level. Another regional Uwezo report which was released recently, also says “there is a crisis of learning in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,” Lusambu says.
 
“Governments are justifiably proud of their achievements in expanding school enrolment, but they should not hide behind these achievements,” says the 2011 Numeracy and Literacy across Africa Report.
 
But more fundamentally, the implications of what has started as a seemingly isolated measure to improve performance in national examinations in a single district cannot be underestimated.
 
It is likely that by seeking to make head teachers accountable for the failure of their pupils in schools, Hoima is setting a precedence.
 
Issuing of warning letters, demotions and outright dismissal of head teachers whose performance falls short of expectations may possibly become a means to check standards in several schools around the country.
 
Yet if not looked at from a holistic perspective, this move may have a serious backlash. Extra caution needs to be exercised and the education system as a whole needs to be looked into in order to find lasting solutions to poor performance issues in primary schools.
 
May be this is the time for administrators to strengthen talent development in schools so that academic achievements do not become the only yardstick to measure competence.

 

Are headteachers to blame for poor performance in schools?

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