05 Feb Pupils at risk of getting lost in thematic learning system

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When nine-year-old Joshua Olal enrolled at Mother Ludia nursery school in Gulu six years ago, his parents were full of hope.

He had joined an up-market school and was destined for great things. Although he performed well in nursery school, the parents who live in Laroo division, Gulu town, could not keep their son at Mother Ludia, which also runs a primary section. So, Olal was relocated to a less well-endowed Pageya primary school which operates under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) system.

Today, Olal is not the same child who started school at Mother Ludia. He is frustrated and unhappy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the P3 pupil failed the ongoing Uwezo literacy and numeracy assessment exercise in primary schools.

“His reading and writing abilities are below standard,” says Francis Okidi, a local assessor with Uwezo, an education NGO.

Okidi, a former teacher, explains that Olal’s potential was ignited in nursery school when he was learning in English. However, under the thematic curriculum used by most UPE schools, he was required to switch to studying in Acholi until he leaves the P4 class.

“Under such circumstances, children get confused [when they get to P1] and if they don’t get enough guidance, they can get lost like Olal,” Okidi says.

In 2007, the ministry of Education and Sports introduced the thematic curriculum and insisted that children would learn in their local languages before they graduate to English by P5.

The plight of more pupils was observed last week as Uwezo assessors toured 30 schools in Gulu district. They interacted with pupils in all classes, asked them to answer various literacy and numeracy questions, and sought information on attendance. According to Okidi, the exercise brought out the stark reality that parents, who look out for their children’s best interests, are more likely to see them succeed.

“Right now pupils are relying entirely on their schools, especially their class teacher. There is rarely any follow-up by parents, since they are also struggling to appreciate the value of education,” Okidi explains.

This, to some extent, explains Olal’s dilemma. His mother dropped out of school after she became pregnant in primary four. On the other hand, Olal’s father is rarely home to check on his son’s learning; only retiring exhausted.

UWEZO highlights

Education authorities in Gulu fear that unless something is done urgently, Olal and others like him will follow in the footsteps of many who become frustrated with learning, drop out of school and end up in all sorts of odd jobs.

“There is a need for the government to find a link between nursery school education and thematic curriculum; as things stand, we can only hope that the damage will not be excessive,” Okidi said.

Although the final Uwezo report is due early next year, already skeptics have started to see where Uganda’s performance will rest. According to Okidi, who has been supervising several volunteers assessing pupils across the district, there are already concerns about absenteeism among pupils.

“Many [children] are at home doing domestic chores such as babysitting, cooking and gardening; so, it is hard for them to pay any attention to learning,” he says.
Emmanuel Ocaya, who was leading another team of volunteer assessors, adds that there is a concern about the high school dropout rates, due to frustration with the learning process.

“Because children are neglected by the parents and guardians, it is hard for them to stay in school. The schools, which are the only ones caring about them, only get serious in P6 just to ensure that these students get through primary school,” Ocaya says.

Indeed, Olal’s head teacher, Evelyn Laloch, confirms that only P7 pupils get lunch at school which demotivates other learners. At Pageya P7 school, other pupils engage in co-curricular activities during lunch time until they get tired and head home.

However, Allan Humphrey Nyero, a supervisor of the assessment teams in Gulu, is optimistic about the outcome this year. He believes previous Uwezo reports affected teachers so much that they are willing to do better this time round.

“At each of the schools we visited, we noted that the head teachers were communicating to each other and were anxious to know how their schools were performing,” he says.

However, Ocaya feels that unless parents become more involved in their pupils’ learning process, it will be difficult to realise much change.

“In most places, parents were unhappy that their children were occasionally unable to read and write, and scolded them. But it was clear that parents were not able to help them much – their role seems restricted to simply sending the children to school,” Ocaya said.

Okidi agreed, noting that the exercise also assessed the pupils’ eyesight, and in many cases the parents were unaware that the children had sight problems. Asked for a comment on the matter, the Uwezo Uganda manager, Dr Mary Goretti Nakabugo, noted that it was too early to make a concrete conclusion out of what is happening.

“The feedback from our volunteer assessors is that the parents and teachers express a need to improve and that is a cause for optimism,” Dr Nakubugo said.
“Over time, our work should go beyond assessing learning out come every year to intervening in the district through our various partners across the country.”

Nakabugo added that Uwezo assessors are compiling data collected from other districts in Uganda as they await results from Kenya and Tanzania where a similar exercise is ongoing.

Reading materials

The assessors heard from a number of parents who expressed the need for more reading materials to be availed to children and schools. District officials in Gulu confirmed that despite assurances to the contrary, the state had not delivered any books to schools for the last three years.

There was also a request to recruit more teachers as many schools were deemed underserved.

“We found classes of up to 80 pupils or more, yet the ideal is 40 to 45 pupils per teacher,” said Ocaya.

Asked about the challenges of early childhood learning, and how this was affecting the thematic curriculum, Dr Daniel Nkaada, the education ministry’s commissioner in charge of basic education, said he was aware of the problem and it was being addressed.

Meanwhile, Uwezo officials hope that the problem is resolved before pupils like Olal are lost in the system and end up dropping out of school altogether. 

Via: The weekly Observer

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 14:43