These reforms are undoubtedly one of the most complex and controversial subjects, because of the effects they generate in the societies and countries where they take place.
By Dr Mesharch Katusiimeh Rwebiita
Educational reforms are aimed at raising the quality of education in a given country.
However, these reforms are undoubtedly one of the most complex and controversial subjects, because of the effects they generate in the societies and countries where they take place.
There are two proposed reforms in the teacher education policy I will address in this article.
First, it is suggested that the national teacher's council will be established to implement the new teacher's policy. While this is a welcome move, government must make sure that the teacher's council doesn't duplicate the roles of other institutions like the Educational Service Commission already in place.
In addition, the relationship between the national teacher's council and the proposed Uganda National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE) must be made very clear.
In any case, it was a mistake by government of the Republic of Uganda to allow the merging of 3 autonomous institutions at Kyambogo to form Kyambogo University.
If an Institute of Teacher Education is established, it will mean that all colleges/schools of education including those at universities training pre-primary, primary and secondary teachers will have to be affiliated to that Institute for quality control and easy administration.
Second, National Teachers Colleges (NTCs and PTCs) will be upgraded into degree awarding institutions. This is also a welcome move. However, it will make sense if universities are completely left out in training of teachers at bachelor's level.
Universities should be left to focus on post graduate programs like Masters in Education and PhD but not bachelors level programmes that should be a monopoly of the degree awarding institutions formerly NTCs and PTCs.
Involving universities in the undergraduate training of especially pre-primary and primary school teachers may distort the whole intention of teacher education reforms.
There is evidence that most teachers who have run to universities to attain higher qualifications have not led to better teacher competencies.
Some of the universities are ill-prepared and not focused on teacher education. Their main interest has been mainly increase in enrollment. In any case universities are regulated by National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
If universities are left to train teachers, the Ministry of Education and Sports must ensure that the Uganda National Institute of Teacher Education (UNITE) directly supervises the teacher education programs at universities which will not be an easy task.
Whilst, there is a proposed policy move to have all universities that train pre-primary, primary and secondary school teachers to have demonstration schools by 2022, government must make sure that all universities invest heavily in building quality primary and secondary schools to demonstrate seriousness in teacher education. Short of that, they should have no business in teacher education.
There are other implications regarding the policy move to have NTCs and PTCs upgraded into degree awarding institutions. For instance, how many tutors at PTCs and NTCs have master's degree to be able to teach undergraduate students?
According to National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) a lecturer should be a PhD holder or at a minimum be having a master's degree on track to attain a PhD. For this to work, the Government must invest heavily in upgrading tutors and principals who are presently working in NTCs and PTCs.
They are very experienced with practical knowledge of workings of the education needs of the learners at that stage. It is important that there are given study leave with pay, awarded full scholarships to upgrade their studies up to masters and PhD levels.
I am happy to note that the government has already invested heavily in infrastructural development at most of the core PTCs. But the general environment and the infrastructure in some of the NTCs do not engender pride and positive images about becoming a teacher and teaching.
The institutions have old and not so well maintained buildings. The colleges are underfunded with students' fees, which are minimal. Teaching-learning materials are scarce in the colleges and students have to depend entirely on trainers' notes. Government must increase their financial grants and ensure students from humble and poorer backgrounds access these teacher training colleges.
Conclusively, teacher education reforms are a step forward in the right direction but to sustain progress the country needs a comprehensive and coherent policy on teacher education.
It needs to be noted that past policy initiatives to improve the quality of teachers through teacher education have been piecemeal and not comprehensive. These past reforms have focused on raising the teacher grades through raising the academic requirements for entrants into PTCs. Initially, PTCs trained primary school completers as grade 11 teachers but this was phased out for those who successfully completed senior four.
Even then, the Ministry of Education kept on introducing other requirements for example the minimum number of credits one would possess before admission. A few years ago, there was a directive from the Ministry of Education that all school head teachers must possess a degree.
While it is debatable whether, raising teacher grades and academic requirements for entry into PTCs has resulted in better teachers, what is clear is that the past policy reforms have ensured tremendous progress in terms of wiping out untrained teachers from the public education sector.
Lastly, there is need for the integration of the many scattered and in some cases contradictory policy guidelines of the Ministry of Education and Sports. It is also necessary to be cautious and sensitize all stakeholders and address their concerns before full implementation of educational reforms and if need be, they should be subjected to parliamentary debate for scrutiny and legitimacy.
The writer is an Associate Professor Department of Governance Kabale University; Chair Board of Directors Rwebiita Preparatory School - Sheema Municipality and Chair Board of Governors Nganwa High School.