Education in Uganda has not evolved - Commentaries | NTV

Education in Uganda has not evolved

By JOSEPH TUMWESIGYE

Thursday September 19, 2019

Nursery school Children 

I recently passed by a nursery school in Kampala and heard the little ones sing a rhyme I knew only too well. I am 25-years-old and 20-years-ago, I sang that exact rhyme when I was in nursery school. Now, Nursery School which should be the most important level of education in Uganda is not given the same attention as other levels of education and this gives you an idea what Uganda’s education system is like. Stagnant.

Allow me to add my voice to the many that have cried foul of our education system over the years. The cry has been on since my Primary School days and that is over 10 years ago. It is outrightly sad that the system and its syllabus have hardly changed over the years.

The major reason our education system needs to change is the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Uganda’s education system is not at all current. We barely have a foot in the Third Industrial Revolution (Digital Revolution) which focused on the development of digital and information technology. Your computer studies in Secondary school just focused on the basics of using this technology yet at this point in time the entire Education system should be running on this. The Computer Studies subject should have already morphed into something that prepares the young ones for robotics, virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence. This is kind of education should start early in Nursery Schools with the mindsets and experiences of children trained to look at such a future.

Nursery school helps the child’s emotional, social and personal growth and development. One of the major factors in this is a child's ability to communicate with others. This is a skill that will be very important in the educational experience of any child.

The other major role is the issue of nurturing talents within children. In the world that we live in today, talent is a major thing. It is one factor that may determine the financial future of a child. It is not News that countries like the United States and those in the European Union have individuals who have milked talents for financial success. The soccer players in Europe and the A-Listers in the USA have majorly nurtured their talents from a young age. And if those very advanced countries are a little too ahead for the pearl, look no further than South Africa and Nigeria where local artistes have become international sensations overnight.

Over the years, the Ministry of Education and Sports has reported that multiple primary school pupils cannot express themselves in English. An international medium of communication.
Adults in China, Japan and other countries are paying through the nose to learn English. Here in Uganda, it is considered a language of instruction and left at that.

Now, if primary going students cannot communicate in English, then what are they learning. A lot of them do not understand what is being taught to them and are therefore bound to fail.

Remember that communication starts in Nursery school and what this implies is that all that noise Kindergartens are spewing is simply cram work. The children can recite the Alphabet and that is that. In fact, they can only recite it in rhyme. To them, it is something they have to know but do not know how to use it.

That rhyme that I talked about at the beginning, brought me to a new realisation. We love things that work and are interested in creating new things. This starts right from home and Nursery school when we are just bent twigs that are not put upright. If the institution that is supposed to usher you into the experience of acquiring knowledge does not push you to be creative, then you may never be. The world’s most entrepreneurial country is filled with entrepreneurs who just replicate what others are doing.

Primary school sets us up for secondary education and generally introduces us to the various aspects one will encounter in their educational experience. That is why subjects are generalised like Social Studies and Science. However, in Uganda, you may not be sure what you are studying.

Recently and thanks to Social Media, there was a major Mathematics scandal. It was major but nobody seems to have taken it seriously. BODMAS. A simple acronym every student in the country knew off the back of their heads. The problem is that what we were taught about this very popular acronym is not entirely true. The “O” did not actually stand for “Of” which in mathematics implied that a multiplication needed to be carried out. I am not sure what the “O” which stands for “Order of indices” meant but from my research, it seems to stand for a Square root - √x or an x to the power of 2 - x2 (X standing for a given number in both situations).

The question is, what else could have been a lie in our vast primary school experience?

At this point in a child’s life, he or she should be exposed to the reality of the world. As I said earlier, the emergence of the Fourth Industrial revolution would suggest that at this point, a child would not only be knowledgeable about the basics of Primary Education but also familiar with the Digital world of Computers. But that is not what is happening. Most students first encounter a computer at the secondary school level where not much is taught to them. If our Education system is barely preparing our children for the Digital Revolution then, they will barely survive in a world of the Fourth Industrial revolution. This is because it builds on the Digital revolution creating disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.

My major problem with Primary School is the quality of teachers we have. I know this is a harsh thing to say but whereas some of you studied in very nice schools around Kampala, many others studied in schools that hired unskilled teachers that had very little knowledge of what they taught. In fact, in recent years, the government has been testing these teachers with exams of what they teach and many failed.

The only solution to this problem is to make teaching a prestigious occupation. Many veteran teachers will not agree with me that the profession is not at all as prestigious as it was in their days. Teachers need higher salaries which will attract more skilled individuals into the profession. The more skilled individuals usually choose to do something else simply because teaching offers less.

Secondary school has other issues to deal with. The first is the multiple topics in the Arts Classes that are of no importance to a Ugandan. In History, topics like the French Revolution may have shaped the modern world but dwelling on an entire period from 1789 to 1945’s end of the Second World War did not help much in my career and journalism is a career where this kind of history is most relevant. Many insist that there should be more focus on Uganda’s history than that of foreigners.

The other would be Geography with its study of the Rhine lands and Prairie provinces that included British Colombia and Saskatchewan. These are things that had nothing whatsoever to do with Ugandan children the majority of which would never ever go to these destinations. A lot of time was wasted trying to strain young minds to understand such issues.

Change the syllabus from a colonial based one to one that is more of Uganda we are in today. This is why our history and geography are filled with Foreign topics. I bet the NRA/NRM is not studied yet in the History classes of O’Level. Even Idi Amin was not entirely explored in my days in O’Level. This is because we are stuck with a colonial education system that has not been updated since it was created. The people who gave us this system and syllabus update theirs.

The Arts Subjects have the role of honing our essay writing abilities that would later be useful in research situations at higher levels of learning. But students are forced to cram points many of which are the same in the various history topics and just pour them onto an answer booklet. The more points, the more marks one gets. It is just sad.

On top of that, (see what I did there - secondary school essay) everyone was expected to outrightly remember every single thing they studied in the Four years of O’Level. Everything. That was a real mental test. Why not just examine based on the year the student is in and not all the years the student has been in.

At this point, students are figuring out the real depth of the third industrial revolution on their own no thanks to the education system. In secondary school, the basics of computer studies are taught. Things like Word, Spreadsheet and basic Internet studies are what to expect in your examination paper. An education system preparing you for a long-gone Second industrial revolution where coal, railways and electricity wowed the world. Word documents should be used in Primary school at this time. A few individuals in the country like students Of St. Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) have stepped a bit into the realm of the Fourth Industrial revolution through robotics. However, this has been on individual effort and not that of the entire Education system. This kind of Technology is being trained among infants in countries like China, Japan and the United States.

What does that say about us if our adults cannot even comprehend it?