As the Ministry of Education and Sports moves to phase out the old lower secondary curriculum, there is a very big eventuality that might affect hundreds of learners. Unfortunately, the Ministry has no answer for it yet.
According to the timelines, the ministry will phase out the old lower secondary curriculum completely in 2023 when the current senior three students seat their Uganda Certificate of Education- UCE examinations. Jane Musoke, a parent in Kamwokya in Kampala City, has raised a disturbing transition question.
“I think there is something that the government did not explain. If a learner, currently studying in the old curriculum, falls sick or fails to raise school fees or if anything happens and he or she doesn’t complete senior four in 2023, what will happen?” she asked. Musoke’s question cannot be ignored given the fact that it is a public secret that many learners fail to sit examinations even after registering with the Uganda National Examinations Board-UNEB.
For example, 2804 out of 333,396 candidates who registered for UCE in 2020 didnt show-up, according to statistics from UNEB. In 2016, 6,652 candidates did not turn up for examinations after registering, in 2015, 6655, 2014, 4,229, and 2013, 6,756. Although some of these candidates drop out of school entirely, a significant portion of them may have temporarily stopped their studies but eventually returned and sat the exams during the subsequent year.
There is another category of learners who fail exams and are advised to repeat senior four. For instance, 42,334 candidates who sat the UCE exams in 2018, failed. Even in the 2020 examination cycle, 18,415 candidates failed. How will they repeat? This also remains another curriculum transition question.
Besides those captured by UNEB, there are others who fail to even register for the examinations. For example, sometimes learners from many hitherto first-class schools are advised to repeat senior three on account that they are academically weak and unfit for national examinations.One would assume that before implementing the new curriculum, education ministry officials could have anticipated and planned for this. However, when our reporter brought it up with officials from the Education Ministry, UNEB, and National Curriculum Development-NCDC, they were unable to provide any explanation, with nearly all officials describing it as a “minor unforeseen” issue.
When our reporter asked one of the officials at NCDC how this can be handled given the fact that they are the ones that developed and rolled out the curriculum, the official went mute for a minute to think about it before passing it on to those in charge of assessment.
“That is a tough one…..our responsibility was to develop and roll out the curriculum. I think that question is for UNEB, which is in charge of assessment,” the official told our reporter who also bounced the question to the examinations body.
Jennifer Kalule, the UNEB spokesperson, was equally bewildered by this question and at the end, all she had to say was; “I think that is a policy issue. it should be handled by the ministry of education. What I know is that the last UCE examination on the old curriculum will be in 2023. Moving forward, the board will be assessed based on the new curriculum.”
Edward Ssebukyu, the Commissioner in Charge of Private Schools and Institutions at the Ministry of Education, was equally puzzled by the question. Ssebukyu however chose to advise schools to ensure that all learners in S3 currently are automatically promoted as the old lower secondary curriculum reaches what will be its last year of implementation.
To him, making learners repeat S3 is going to create a big problem as the country phases out the old curriculum. “Learners studying under the curriculum will progress to S3 next year. We don’t want to have a situation where a learner who was studying under the old curriculum is in a class being taught in a new curriculum,” Ssebukyu said in a telephone interview.
As Musoke asked, there is a possibility that a learner might even be promoted but fails to seat. All those interviewed including head teachers agreed that this is likely and that however small the number of those affected might be, it must be taken care of.
One might wonder why a learner who fails to seat senior four in 2023 shouldn’t seat examinations in 2024 and move on. This is not that easy since the new lower secondary curriculum has a different teaching and assessment mode from the one being phased out.
In the new curriculum, for instance, a learner is assessed continuously right from S1 nearly at the end of every topic. This assessment contributes 20 percent to the final assessment at the end of the cycle, and per policy, no learner can be permitted to sit UNEB final examinations without marks from the continuous assessment.
Secondly, if allowed to sit the examinations to be graded based on the 80 percent, this would be disadvantageous to a learner, and by the time of filing this story, UNEB could not even confirm that this can be allowed.
There have been voices indicating that if a learner studying under the old curriculum misses out in 2023 they will be required to return to senior one and start afresh. However, Dr. Denis Mugimba, the Ministry of Education Spokesperson says this would be very unfair. “This means that someone will be studying O’Level for 7 or 8 years. That might not be possible,” he said during a discussion with our reporter.
Dr. Mugimba also ruled out the possibility of UNEB holding a special assessment or examinations for such learners or even working out an arrangement for those who will have failed to pass the 2023 UCE examination.
In conclusion, Mugimba said that the issue needed further scrutiny by technical officers at the education ministry to see how it can be handled. However, an official in the ministry of education who asked to remain anonymous said that this could have been planned for if the curriculum had been piloted.
“You bring up a valid point. Many people think it’s little, but for the people who will be impacted, it will be the biggest concern they have. The curriculum was rushed before it was completely piloted, such problems could not have been anticipated,” the official claimed.