By Hannington Sengendo
Ugandaâ€™s development poverty reduction transformation from a subsistence-based agricultural economy into a modern and industrial economy can only be realised if Ugandaâ€™s education system and delivery of quality and relevant education is focused on education at lower levels to prepare students to make the right and relevant choices for studies at higher institutions of learning.
Providing access to quality education at lower levels depends on efficient distribution of resources as-well-as addressing other socio-economic factors that bring about inequalities among students who would wish to join institutions of higher education.
Following a series of articles from Isaac Wanasolo published in The New Vision in 2008, I would like to add my voice to their concerns from a different angle. It is clear there are many challenges of education delivery at lower levels of education and that plans to accommodate students at post-primary and tertiary levels only benefit a few children from families of high economic status who are mainly urban based.
Basically, there is a poor linkage between lower education and higher education.
The education sector strategic plan 2004-2005 recognises the increased rates of transition between the primary, post-primary and tertiary sectors.
Many of the students within this transition are not well-prepared for university studies which are meant to prepare them to graduate as competent professionals, and job creators who can actively participate in the development process of the country using the acquired skills and knowledge.
In assessment of studentsâ€™ performance at Makerere and other institutions of higher learning, students show alarmingly low levels of mastery of literacy and numeracy skills. Many university students reveal inadequacy in expressing themselves in reading, writing and oral English. Many of university students lack the knowledge and skill of writing job application letters, let alone short letters to the dean or head of department demanding for assistance.
The main questions to be asked are:
lTo what extent is Ugandaâ€™s education curriculum relevant to Ugandaâ€™s needs?
lWhat is the diversity of academic programmes that would give a diversity of combinations not necessarily tied in either sciences or humanities?
l To what extent do academic programmes and delivery systems give students problem solving skills more than memorisation, which has now spread to university levels?
The fact that students in institutions of higher learning have low mastery literacy skills, very poor reading culture, oral and written English and cannot write a simple application letter reveals gaps in the education system.
The main challenges and limitations to the delivery of quality education at lower levels include: The geographical divide of Ugandaâ€™s schools. This makes them very vulnerable to access the required educational facilities. The rural-based schools for example, lack educational facilities, lack access to current information on the countryâ€™s and global scale development. Many students in rural-based schools tend to have a feeling of inferiority complex which also affects the way they learn and perform.
Learning and performance of students, especially in rural-based schools, has been hampered by inequitable distribution of resources, including financial, human and infrastructural resources.
It is the urban-based schools which access information about extra-funding from sponsors or scholarships to improve their school facilities; thus teachers in urban-based schools get more exposure to the outside world, receive fat supplementary earnings from the school such as P.T.A and therefore, are well motivated to offer their best, unlike those in rural-based schools.
The teaching profession, especially at primary and secondary levels, is not considered a lucrative profession because many testimonies from those in the profession show that it does not pay.
At primary level, majority of those who enroll only do so because they have no other choice and the best candidates from Oâ€™Level usually proceed to Aâ€™ Level to work towards joining university. This has left the teaching profession at the lower levels with the second or third best.
The teachers in rural-based schools are not there by choice, but because they come from those areas or are posted there by the ministry. They are so demotivated because of the little pay and teach not because they want to teach, but because they have to teach.
They are always looking for the slightest opportunity to avoid teaching and undertake other income generating activities to supplement their meagre earnings. This attitude towards teaching does not favour students at such a tender learning stage. The result is poor performance and poor ranking as they join higher institutions of learning.
Many of the students who join higher institutions of learning with such a weak foundation find learning difficult, they are emotionally and psychologically weak, they are not eloquent enough in the English language to engage in one-to-one dialogue with other students and lecturers and cannot develop and sustain mature arguments.
The Ministry of Education and Sportsâ€™ response to academic curriculum has also been in piece meal and with limited consultation of stakeholders. The type of curriculum still in place is one which does not give competencies and skills, but one which simply lets students go through the education system at the lower levels as long as they score the required grades using whatever means available to them.
The curriculum lacks the practical element that can impart practical skills. For example, subjects like Technical Drawing, Carpentry and Home Economics are only found in a few urban-based schools such as Mengo S.S.S, Kibuli S.S.S and Kingâ€™s College Budo,while the rural-based schools are denied such subjects because they have no teachers and the resources to offer such subjects.
The content delivery gives students very limited space to think for themselves about what they are learning. It is not open for a student to make an academic argument.
The examination system is also linked to the method of content delivery as it is about easing the marking process and saving on resources.
Teacher training institutions are not attracting the best students either, as these are picked from the medium or lower cohorts of those who may have qualified. The person who opts to become a teacher has not the best credentials so goes for teaching as a last resort. This directly impacts on the type of teachers to be churned out.
Those who later qualify to teach are also not motivated to do their best because of the meagre pay and lack of facilities to ease the teaching process. In other words, they are being forced to produce results without adequate facilitation.
The coaching syndrome has also taken centre stage at the lower levels of Ugandaâ€™s education system. Students are no longer taught to get wholesome education, but taught to pass through cramming facts which they cannot academically reason out. This is even manifested at university level where students sit in small groups to recite the lecturersâ€™ sketchy notes instead of doing more research on what the lecturer taught. Some even demand for notes in case lecturers do not give any.
Many university students today have limited ability to understand, comprehend and conceptualise academic issues and have no ability to do research through extensive reading. This affects their capacity to make credible responses to questions. Some are even caught copying during examinations, which is a carried forward syndrome from lower levels of learning.
Universities and tertiary institutions receive an assortment of students who have gone through different schools under the same education system. They fish out the best and second best mainly from urban-based schools, then take those under the quarter system whose grades may not necessarily be like those of the first two groups.
Higher institutions of learning should be the place to bring together all students in-spite of their varied academic backgrounds, but because of the variety described above, and the inherent inferiority and superiority complex, a Budonian for instance will socialise with fellow Budonians or one from Gayaza, Namagunga and St. Lawrence, but not one from Kaliro or Budadiri Valley secondary.
This creates social classes at the university where the students with weak backgrounds remain in their class hence learn nothing from those with a stronger foundation.
There is need to remodel the entire education delivery system. The curriculum for post-primary education should emphasise practical components in teaching to give students relevant skills and appropriate preparation for higher education, for example, the ability to study on their own in addition to class work.
The examination system at post- primary levels should be open- ended to allow for real life arguments in some subjects, especially in humanities. Thought should be given to adopting a new approach to revamp the quality of higher education starting at lower levels.
The writer is an associate professor and dean of the Faculty of Arts Makerere University