The government has embarked on a process, to address the challenges that have been stifling Uganda’s educational progress over the years
As part of the process, the Education Policy Review Commission has been put in place to inquire into the effectiveness and relevance of the current education policy to improve outcomes for children in education. The commission, headed by veteran politician Nuwe Amanya Mushega, is the fourth such commission since Uganda’s independence in 1962.
The first was the 1963 Castle Commission, followed by the 1977 Kajubi Commission and the 1987 Kajubi Commission which was the basis of the 1992 white paper. But as the overhaul starts, we look back at a similar exercise that shaped the education landscape 35-years ago.
Navigating Uganda’s Education Reforms
Shortly after the National Resistance Army-NRA captured power in 1986, the new government embarked on an ambitious process to revamp the education system that was falling apart.
The 1987–1989 Education Policy Review Commission, commonly referred to as the Kajubi Commission, was chaired by the late Professor William Ssenteza Kajubi, a renowned educationist at the time. Findings and Recommendations of the Kajubi Commission formed the basis of the 1992 Government White Paper, a guiding document from which future education policies and interventions could be developed.
Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, a former Director of Basic and Secondary Education at the education ministry, recalls that the system in place at that time had been largely influenced by colonialists who focused on producing workers thus the 1963 Castle Commission which was focusing much on numeracy and Literacy.
Chaired by Professor Edgar Bradshaw Castle, the commission proposed, among others, the merging of primary and junior secondary schools, and expanding girls’ education. Incidentally, Ssenteza Kajubi was also a member of the Castle Commission.
In April 1992, the government, which largely accepted recommendations by the Kajubi Commission designed an implementation plan that was to transform the education system with much focus on the quality of learners. For starters, the White Paper talked about changing the education structure to give eight years at primary (P.1 to P.8), reduce the time at O’ Level to three years (S.1 to S.3), two for A ‘level (S.4 and S.5) before a learner moves to an institution of higher learning.
“At the secondary level much of the time in S.1 is wasted in the revision of previous courses, and that courses are light in S.1 and S.2. Hence, the entire O’ Level programme can be covered in three years instead of four without much loss…Government has found these arguments quite convincing, in support of the proposed changes in the structure of education,” the government white paper reads in part.
Primary education was to be divided into two; lower primary (P.1 to P.4) and upper primary (P.5 to P.8). Dr Nsubuga says having more years at the primary level was intended to increase the age at which one is expected to leave this level of education and allow sufficient time for teaching vocational subjects in primary schools.
Although Prof Kajubi’s commission had recommended pre-vocational skills at the primary level, the cabinet stretched this recommendation and declared full vocational studies which would be compulsory and measurable for every learner. The recommendation on vocation studies at the primary level was looking to answer a question which, unfortunately, is yet to be answered to date: What can a P.7 graduate do?
“Many students have no opportunity for further education after P.7, and they are also so young at the age of 13 to engage in productive or socially useful activity and be able to stand on their own within a difficult social-economic situation. Such students joining the world of work after P.7 are not equipped with technical and managerial skills for gainful employment,” the government White Paper reads.
According to the implementation plan, the government had to vocationalise primary education in 1992 starting with a few vocational subjects that were already being taught in schools including handicrafts, among others, also effecting changes in the structure of education by 1994. But Brighton Barugahare, a Principal Policy Analyst at the education ministry, says that legislators at the time opposed the change of the education structure making the issue political and soon the government quietly abandoned it.
Besides the political aspect, Barugahare adds that there were no resources to have the additional infrastructure and fully implement ‘vocationalisation’ in all schools across the country. Issa Matovu, an Educationist, notes that the government expected and planned beyond its potential. Matovu adds that, from day one, the government was bound to fail as they could not implement vocational education in primary schools.
Although the government failed to implement skills in primary school, the curriculum that was designed tried to introduce vocational occupations with Home Economics, Music, Dance and Drama, Art and Design, and Physical Education among others. But these too were abandoned.
Dr Nsubuga says that many Ugandans, including the elite and some teachers, are not aware that the current primary school curriculum has more learning areas than Mathematics, English, Science, and social studies.
“A few who teach the other part of the curriculum, and the practical bit of it offer it up to primary three and drop them to focus on what they call core subjects which focus on theory and in the end, we are still producing primary seven graduates who literally cannot add value to themselves and the community,” he says.
Framers of the government white paper had also anticipated this scenario as the education system had been dominated by examination at all stages without any provision for assessment of other objectives of the curricula such as promotion of moral values, practical skills, and cultural activities.
The white paper had recommended continuous assessment with daily tests contributing at least 20 per cent and staggering of end of cycle examinations with some subjects done earlier in P.6, P.7, and finally P.8. However, this is yet to be achieved.
In secondary, the white paper recommended the establishment of comprehensive secondary schools which would offer a multi-purpose curriculum. Dr Nsubuga says that he was at the helm of achieving this objective but their efforts were pulled down by politics, people’s mindset and lack of financial and human resources.
As the Commissioner in Charge of Secondary Education, Nsubuga notes that with limited resources they had set out to start implementation in 32 traditional schools where they built laboratories, workshops and delivered equipment worth billions of funds. However, most of these were left to waste and, before long, vocationalisation and making secondary school comprehensive suffered a natural death.
28 years later, in 2020, the National Curriculum Development Centre came up with a new multi-purpose lower secondary curriculum looking at academic and vocational occupational subjects. However, its implementation is still a tug-of-war as schools were not prepared for the curriculum before it was rolled out.
Amidst the many policy reforms, Uganda’s education sector still faces many challenges, the biggest being financing. For instance, the National Planning Authority states that education expenditure from the national budget has been on the decline or stagnant in the range of 10-12 per cent compared to 22 per cent in the 2001/2002 financial year.
Monica Abenakyo Monge, a Veteran teacher, says that with all the challenges, the government was able to score on the provision of free primary and post-primary education which has given a wider number of learners a chance to access education.
The Uganda Government introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 and Universal Post-Primary Education and Training (UPPET) 10-years later. Monge says that after achieving universal education, all efforts should be diverted to ensure that the education provided is of high quality.
Matovu says that besides free education, there are many other achievements that came as a result of the Kajubi Commission. These include improving teacher education, teacher-pupil ratio, infrastructure, provision of instructional materials and streamlining higher education. He, however, notes that there is a need to reset the education system through an honest discussion on the critical matters that are hurting the system.
Abbey Ssemuwemba, a concerned Ugandan, says that for the twenty years’ learners spend in the education system, they are subjected to theory, and meaningless certificates without any skill. “Imagine if we have compulsory skills development programmes in high school where our kids are taught. That would also help to identify kids who are gifted in other areas. Not this one size fits all math, literacy and endless theory,” Ssemuwemba posted in one of the social media groups.
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