Education should be more responsive to the needs of the society in terms of inclusive growth, prevailing economic challenges and future growth needs. A lot of focus by the decision makes should be put in developing a study curriculum that error on identifying and nurturing talent of the learners, increasing employability as self or employed by others. There has been a lot of debate over the quality of education in Uganda. Is new curriculum ideal? Does it adequately address the gaps in the old curriculum?
SchoolsEdge writer, Hasifa Nalubwama, met with Mustapha Bernabas Mugisa, the magazine’s director, about education in Uganda. Below are the excerpts.
Question: The Ministry of Education And Sports is revising the curriculum to only have practical subjects. Were these changes timely? Were they received at the right time? Or you expected something else?
Answer: The Ministry Of Education did the right thing to change the curriculum to respond to the realities on ground today. With the high population increase coupled with the low absorption rate for the graduates, and the need to shift from just training theory to students who end up in the streets is very timely. However, globally any education institution, there are two types of policies which must be recognized and implemented. One is to recognize that not everyone who goes to school will end up becoming a Professor, do research and development or create new knowledge for others to learn and adopt.
These are very few exceptionally talented people who should go through that system because the country still needs engineers, we need lawyers, doctors, and accountants.
There are some other people in the population who do not have the skills and the intelligence to grasp things beyond maybe senior six. So, in that case, there should be mechanisms where they get absorbed and that is where the technical education comes in. Technical institutions globally especially if we look at countries that are significant like Germany, China, USA are intended to empower the people who do not excel academically to use their hands and legs to earn a living. So meaning that the Ministry Of Education changes should not just suddenly discourage people from pursuing and attaining education at the expense of future growth of the economy because we need these innovators. So, I would therefore expect government to have a clear mechanism where people who maybe do not pass the examination to a given level are encouraged to pursue technical training and those who pass successfully should continue with their education and career until they reach a level where they feel they can do better in entrepreneurship.
Back to your question, changing the curriculum was timely. With the increasing youth unemployment problem, clearly the current curriculum and teaching methods and focus needs improvement. The question is to what curriculum and approach? Did the Ministry work with the private sector or potential employers to understand the skills in demand and the gaps? Are all students who complete O and A level supposed to go to University? What is the criteria for those who proceed? Those who fail to get the minimum score, where do they go? Is it a great idea for people to repeat the level or go into technical? Talent development for showcase at global competitions like the Olympics. How is the Ministry developing facilities and setting minimum education levels to nurture skills?
Q: Do you think we should have both technical and vocational education?
A: What the government has to do is provide a great environment for people to excel. The national examinations should have a meaning justifying clear the minimum marks one needs to proceed to higher education to University or technical education.
Meaning that there is nobody in the perspective of the ideal education system that somebody has failed. You see, one of the reasons for going to school is to identify a person’s talent. We as educators can’t say that there are people who are dull. No, there are people who have different skill levels, talents and opportunities. A school environment should help to identify a person’s talents because everybody has one, and then encourage its nurturing so that somebody has to succeed because you will find that in Uganda, a population of 40 million people, we cannot say that we do not have many global quality footballers who would be so exceptional and phenomenal.
Why they talented young Ugandans are not being identified is because the education system does not deliberately promote and nurture these talents. The inter-school competition and opportunities are no longer as competitive as they used to be. Take the case of athletes. Despite opportunities to get the best talents across the country, there is generally lack of facilities to nurture them. You have seen our top swimmers failing even to cut the qualifications time at major competitions. Some people are included on the team for their ability to pay for the travel ticket and not necessarily because of their competitiveness and talent.
So, you find that only those students who are well positioned in Kampala because they go to international schools or other big schools which maybe has a swimming pool and the coach is very good in identifying and nurturing, only get the opportunities. Then these people end up going to our national team but still perform miserably. Why? Because that is not representative of the entire country to create a competitive environment and get the best of the best. So, most of the majority remain in the villages and then the country’s overall production in terms of talent and contribution to the Olympics and global competitiveness is wasted.
So, the curriculum has to avoid that kind of bias to make sure that each and every child, wherever they are in the country is given the opportunity to discover and nurture their talent.
Q: We had those schools that we talked about in the 80s, traditional schools. Now the private schools that have come up seem to be performing better than them. How can a school remain competitive?
A: There are many reasons why schools remain competitive – experienced school administrators, quality facilities including laboratory, library and classrooms; qualified teachers and great learning environment, among others.
One of the biggest challenges is poor supervision. You have schools that should not be teaching doing it. The government has set up very well for example the education act and supervisory mechanisms by the ministry of education. There is an education act which provides the minimum requirements of a given school.
The problem comes when it comes to monitoring of implementation because traditionally, each and every school which should be there had to have a school council or board of the school and this board therefore provides oversight for the school to ensure that the minimum requirements of what we call an ideal environment for the school is in place.
Most of the formerly great traditional schools, were are so because they had a founding background of either a Catholic or an Anglican or Islam – a religious background. In that case, there was a team that came with experience to run the school. The founding Head teachers of such schools were trained and qualified school mangers.
Now, these people, with time, despite the advantage of nurturing, they began growing old, some of them returning back. Up to now, you would find some traces of a European or an Indian as a leader of a once great traditional school.
And then later, these schools were reverted to government. When this happened, there were many things that came on board. One of them was financing for the school. Can the school raised a minimum income? The government introduced certain schemes like UPE. It means that they had to get support from the consolidation fund and only that parents would bring their children to study for free or pay a small amount. This kind of contribution is not sufficient to even set up the minimum requirements for the school. So, for example if a school which had a swimming pool that was functional, the swimming pool now became a disaster. A school which had convenient rooms, good toilet facilities, these became an eye sore and in some cases death traps at schools. A school which had good teachers, good library, most of the books became outdated.
Now, we are looking at the era of automation where by schools have not embraced technology in their delivery. Taken together, the main challenge has been governance of schools. So, the reason as to why private schools seem to be performing well is because they are driven by money and the average parent of Uganda is looking at the kid’s success at the national examinations, or if it is an international school, then they would look at the international curriculum, at the expense of others.
The national newspapers have been misleading to a certain extent because if you look at the national ranking of schools, it is all about how many students have performed and also the newspapers have been running some series looking at people who performed and got first classes at each of their lower levels or first division, how do they fair after ten years of their after school life? There is less linkage between success on job and career visa-ve the success in class because success on job and career requires more other things like talent, nurturing, patience, emotional intelligence beyond just academics which they try to measure. So, the private schools are focusing more on passing at the expense of creating an environment to identify and nurture people’s career. But the reason as to why private schools are succeeding slightly more than the traditional schools is because they now have money. So they can do anything to create the higher pass grades they need, which today is the key criteria most parents use to identify a good school.
Q: So, should money be the key to make them perform again?
A: To make them perform again, first they have to look at governance, we have to look at supervision and, for a school to open, what are those minimum requirements? If the school is under government, what investment must the government make to meet the minimum requirements of an ideal school? Because the facilities contribute to student’s performance. The moment you have any school opening even when it does not meet the ideal requirements, you have killed education. We are seeing lots of inequality and this is not good for the country.
Q: You talked about UPE and when we look at this, it’s like the government is pushing to also have universal education in the secondary. Do you think we’ll have quality students or quantity? Because if UPE is performing badly, and we have USE, I cannot imagine what will happen in the near future.
A: Some of these depend on national planning and which kind of development does government want to cause. Because education is a public good. It is an essential good which is very important. So, the question has been the people who have come out of UPE, where do they go? Can they be on their own? When you get your child used to free things, the tendency is that they will always expect these kinds of things. Because traditionally, when a parent had a responsibility of paying graduated tax, and also a responsibility of taking their children to school because they knew there’s no free lunch out there. So, the parent would therefore be held accountable and deliver on that or even the child themselves would go and work in school in which case they contributed to the value of the school but in the process that skill was essential in terms of molding the children.
I think the introduction of UPE itself was not something good unless it is anchored on clear education standards and minimum criteria for universal education schools.
I think government must carefully reconsider some of these proposals to make sure that there are minimum standards for a given secondary school to deliver free training. And that happens to be government’s work to finance and set up such schools before they open for business to train as USEs.
Q: As Mustapha B. Mugisa, many people, especially the young ones are looking at you as a role model. What is your advice to the students who are still in secondary school and they are looking up to you and what can they do to be successful like you?
A: Well, success is relative depending on where you come from, what you have achieved, I would say that its journey which you should keep on appreciating but when people go to school, they are mainly looking at two or three things. One is intellectual firepower. When many people go to school, they think it is a shortcut. When it comes to revising, they want to cram, they want to only read things that are on syllabus so that they can pass exams yet when you go to the library, you find novels, many literature books and other things beyond the syllabus. So, people like us, because we knew there was no shortcut, we invested in reading each and every word in every book we came across. By then we had books like the Abbot, in which case you read each and every word and then had to revise on your own because even the teachers didn’t know how to do these kinds of things.
So you find that, in that kind of aggressiveness, we went deeper than the others because for them they wanted to read on the surface, we were really saying “this is the only chance we have”. If you just fail the exam, then you’ll not study. You’ll lose all the years. You also have to make sure that you listen in class, you read as much as possible and of course know that there is no second chance. So, you don’t cut shortcuts. You find that some people go to school, even when it comes to examinations, they want to copy. So, they are trying to do exams copying from their friends to remain ignorant and foolish. So, that is one of the biggest mistakes many children do in school. When a child is out there in school, he/she should know there is no shortcut when it comes to investing in your brains. You must dig that garden. You must read each and every word in the book so that you understand. The second thing for children is that, when you go to school, have a strong supporting social network. Having the right peer and company because each and everything has got their own generation. Our generation was not fortunate enough because if you can look at our years, these should be the people driving the economy, businesses, driving everything everywhere you go. But we have not had such leadership development as in the 1980’s! Ideally, as students of late 1990’s we should be having a President from that period. Many ministers and MPs. But that is not the case. Even in corporate entities like Banks, telecoms, etc, the top honchos should be coming from our generation. Ours has been a unique case of emerging from a tough political history, where our leaders have tended to over stay in the driving seat, to make sure we first stabilize. That is understandable.
If you are in school now, you must therefore create that perspective to make sure that when you go to knock on people’s doors, they know you. Children of these days are not creating inter-student marketing. For us, when we were still in school, I made sure I was part of the debating club, going to each and every class organizing these debates. So, even at the district level, I would make sure anybody who went to that school, would say, “That is Mustapha”, and you would not stop there. You would go to the district level and they would know that that is Mustapha because they know that when your school is coming to compete at the district level, Mustapha has to be part of the team. But children of these days think things will work by magic. They don’t take that opportunity to stand in front of people and champion certain causes. So, that is one of the biggest mistakes they are making. If you want to succeed, you must begin to take very fast initiatives when you are there. What else I can say is to work on your self-esteem. The biggest challenge of most people is lack of self-esteem. They are in class but they are scared. Sometimes teachers are very bad. When you fail a small number, someone over-talks on you as if you are nobody and you cannot become somebody. That kind of shouting by a teacher or head teacher to a child can cause a lot of feeling less of self-worth.
Even in class, there must be initiatives whereby the teachers themselves create confidence among children by having their own moments to come and lead the class, teach it, facilitate certain sessions and also give those opportunities where they try leadership. Maybe if it is leading a class for a day to see how things go because that is an opportunity to build self-esteem. If you get right those three skills when you are in school, there is no way you are not going to be better than Mustapha.