A discussion with Mr. Matege Samuel, Head Teacher, Bethany High School Naalya, about the state of education
Education is about empowering one to grow. When children come to school, they are supposed to be given all opportunities to gain academic knowledge and then life skills.
These skills are discovered during co-curricular activities – they are supposed to discover talents like sportsmen, artists including MDD and drawing, among others.
However, the recent trend is measuring a good school based on exam pass rates. Are stakeholders sending the right signals? High pass rates mean more students, hence more money. Schools are now re-allocating more resources to passing exams at the expense of extra-curricular activities. Is this trend sustainable?”
The state of education in Uganda as we speak now has changed with the changing times. It has moved with technology. For instance the teaching methods have changed, there is improved way of teaching since the information is available, most teachers with active Internet are able to research and get information from the Internet, text books are available. We have so many writers even local writers are available besides the international ones so there is enough information to aid the teaching.
Schools that are rich enough are now using computers to aid teaching. They are no longer using the traditional chalk and talk. On YouTube.com for example, you can find a lot of free resources for teaching. It is common to find students who are revising by watching video clips on say physics or mathematics.
Enrolment of students has gone up in schools. Currently the numbers of students that go to schools have increased compared to when we were still students ourselves.
You would find that secondary schools have a small number but now students are many because of the government policies that have come up with Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE).
Some private schools have what we call Public Private Partnership (PPP) where they partner with government, especially some private schools and those in villages, so they send their USE students.
Somehow parents have also appreciated this policy brought in by the Government though some still go ahead and take their children to these expensive private schools and pay a lot of money. We also appreciate and also realize there is an increase in the number of the girl child in school.
New reforms have come in science policy; SESEMAT is an in service thing, teachers are helped to improve in the way of teaching since sciences have been made compulsory. We expect that in the years to come probably we may have more doctors and nurses which will be a good for Uganda.
Students’ response to sciences
Most students have a bias or poor attitude towards science subjects since they have the perception that sciences are hard and difficult to learn. Yes they may be hard but then the challenge could be the way they are being taught, probably the teaching approach is not perfect, may be they have not seen good role models who like the subject.
That’s why those concerned are addressing. SESEMAT teaching sessions are normally held during holidays for all science teachers both public and private teachers in an a bid to help the student like the subject and try to create interest to the subject and also change the teaching- learning approach.
The other thing is that people have made education become a business. It is no longer just a social service hence the many private schools mushrooming as well as some government schools are also now interested in making profits.
Some government schools charge exorbitantly, they charge fees of Ugx 800,000 to Ugx 900,000 and this indicates clearly that our education system is heading towards business. This is wrong. It alienates the less privileged or poor people who are the majority.
Furthermore the cream of education is concentrated in the central. The good teachers as well as the good students who are performing are concentrated in the central unlike in our time, each region had great schools, you could find good schools like St. Peters, Manjasi in Eastern Uganda, in Busoga region there was Busoga College Mwiri, in Western you heard of the like of Ntare School and St Leos Kyegobe in Fort Portal, in the North there were great missionary schools Comboni, Layibi College and Ombachi and when one went to Makerere University, it was a collection of students from all corners of the country, and region at large if not world.
But nowadays, it has really changed. When you hear good schools in performance it is in the central region i.e Kampala and Wakiso. Great schools are no longer as vibrant as they used to be.
The challenge with this is it deprives the country of great brains. Plus people in upcountry schools are denied great opportunities to excel.
Why regional imbalances
This rural urban migration has contributed a lot to regional imbalances in terms of performance, may be all the good things are in central, when a government teacher comes to the central region they normally have various opportunities to jobs in more than one school to supplement on their salary and these schools could even be paying better compared to the government schools.
In a rural areas, it is difficult for a government school teacher to find a private school to supplement on what a teacher is getting because most of them pay not more than one hundred thousand which is too little and does not motivate someone to remain there.
For the government sponsored students, one school may send over 80 students to Universities but you find in a region not even five students coming from a particular school on government.
For example at the School of Medicine, at one time I had my cousin she was a student of Namugongo Uganda Martyrs then, the Medical School had 40 students but she told me 35 were all from Namugongo Uganda Martyrs. So there is a problem somewhere but the fact in that the cream in performance is within Kampala so the government needs to do some affirmative action to encourage even those other regions to come back to what it used to be in performance.
In the long run, the economy will suffer un-even development as other regions will lag behind, terribly behind in terms of development.
For example I was in Busoga University as a government student and in my time the teachers were available and would really teach and give content that I needed and so I competed on merit and qualified for government sponsorship and many in our age bracket, talk of people between 30 to 40 years but when you go below 30years to 20years, the people who studied from the central you find that 90% get government sponsorship so those are some of the things that have affected us.
In education there is a very high competition especially among students.
Basically, when private schools came in, they created competition and this competition is for students because as I told you, the moment it is business automatically competition comes in and people have done so many things that you wouldn’t expect to be done in education. Some school have gone to the extent of cheating exams – as teachers many have lost integrity and honesty.
How do you kill the career of one’s child by making them pass exam they do not deserve? All that is happening is making students to pass and get more customers who are students.
When a parent looks in the newspapers for best performing schools, they immediately rash and take their children to study at the school with many students passing in first grade. At this point I will refer to myself, when I was doing my senior four, I was invigilated by my own teacher, but there was not even a thinking in my mind that my own teacher would help me because they had integrity, my own teacher supervised me and when he says start and when he says stop and you continue writing he could even slap you there and then, those were the type of teachers then.
Right now, it is possible that even the Head teacher can participate in cheating exam. Those days the head teacher was the custodian of exams they would even send exams to centers a week in advance, the head teacher would not even mention to you that exams are in his office.
Quality of teachers
Now take a look at private schools especially when they are starting, they try to minimize costs so they employ unqualified teachers, for the sake of money, and since they are not qualified they decide on their pay “I will give him Ugx. 150,000 he teaches for me”, for instance an s.6 dropout etc but as they stay in the field, probably their finances improve and they are obliged to employ qualified teachers.
So the issue of unqualified teachers is always in these starting schools but schools that have stayed for at least 10years and above have some capacity to employ quality resources.
As I pointed out, the state of education today is monetized. For the school to make money, it needs many students. To get the number, you must ensure all your candidates pass in top grades. For this, no school that can afford to hire an experienced teacher can fail to pay them.
Therefore the issue of competition has created thing of being academic oriented, we focus on passing exams and we have not focus on training a whole person,
Education is about empowering one to grow.
When children come to school, they are supposed to be given all opportunities to gain academic knowledge and then life skills.
These skills are discovered during co-curricular activities – they are supposed to discover talents like sportsmen, artists including MDD and drawing, among others. But now many schools are in the rush of completing the syllabus, revise, bring this and this specialist, the focus is on passing exams and that is because it is what the market wants.
The market wants people who have passed the exams. Since schools are now in business, they ignore those other aspects like leadership, so the person of tomorrow in Uganda I don’t know, I am even worried for my children and the teachers who are going to teach them because they have been taught in that way, the sense of responsibility is not there, leadership is not there, you are not even giving this person to exercise leadership.
In Bethany College School, we have a program. The students wake up at 5am within 30mins, I expect them in class and we go up to 5:40 pm. They start evening preps at 6:40pm, now the hour in between someone has to do so many personal things. And the bell goes at 5am again and I want them in class.
After one week there is an exam so even the student leaders who are supposed to exercise some of these things for the students like a workshop cannot do it since the school already has a program for them.