Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Thematic curriculum: schools still grappling

Pupils of Light Junior Academy, Katwe read an NiE magazine on Uganda’s golden Jubilee recently.John Mutebi, 13, is a primary seven pupil in one of the prominent city primary schools where he has been since baby class. He is among thousands of pupils who joined Primary One at a time the thematic curriculum was rolled out seven years ago.
But even as the curriculum programme promoted the use of local languages in lower primary (P1 to P3), he was never introduced to his mother tongue –Luganda as the government policy suggests.
At his home, his older siblings and parents use English language making it hard for him to learn his mother language.
But why did government review the curriculum and how much has this been achieved?
According to National Curriculum Development Centre, there was an emergency after research findings done by the Ministry of Education, Uganda National Examinations Board and the evaluation department under the NCDC indicated that children were reaching P7 without knowing how to read and write.
“The concern of low literacy and numeracy skills was first raised by parents and education officials. It was also evident in how pupils answered Uneb questions and how they interacted with the community. It doesn’t surprise me if university lecturers complain about their students’ performance,” says Mr Gabriel Obbo Katandi, the coordinator for Upper Primary at Uneb.
Mr Katandi told Education Guide in an earlier interview that the thematic curriculum was introduced to address the literacy and numeracy weaknesses, the overcrowded curriculum and the promotion of life skills among children. However, Mutebi’s experience shows how the thematic concept has failed to take off in many schools especially in urban centres where teachers emphasise English as a medium of communication.
According to Mr Chrysostom Kibeti, Uneb deputy secretary primary exams, he acknowledges that many schools have not followed the concept but is quickly on the defensive saying teaching in local languages can only be possible in rural areas. He added that this year’s national exams will have the concept to see how much of the literacy and numeracy competences have been attained.
For instance, he said that candidates siting PLE will find Mathematics section A has changed from 30 questions to 20 with each taking two marks while English language will emphasise skills. Questions in Social Studies or Religious Education have increased to promote the moral aspect.
“The thematic curriculum was misunderstood. The schools were expected to teach in a language commonly used in the locality. But this is possible in rural areas. In urban centres, the schools can use English as a medium of instruction,” Mr Kibeti explained.
The resistance has come mostly from private schools who claim teaching in local languages wastes their time because it is not examined at the end. The ministry did little to sensitise the public about the curriculum which caused a lot of criticism from both the parents and teachers.
“Many private primary schools forget that their institutions are not a subsection of secondary schools where any teacher can teach. Being a graduate or professor doesn’t mean that you have the competencies to handle a primary two class. They employ less and over qualified people with some lacking pedagogical skills,” says Ms Deborah Magera, NCDC head of the early childhood department.
Ms Geraldine Bukenya, a curriculum specialist on local languages at NCDC blames this on government which allowed schools in urban centres to use English as a medium of instruction right from the beginning.
“There was a loophole right from the start. You cannot say village schools should adopt a local language to use but city schools are free to continue using English. It is like saying pupils should put on uniform but those who cannot afford can dress in any way they feel like,” she noted.
According to Bukenya, teachers in lower primary were also supposed to be posted to schools in localities whose languages they can ably speak and write but this is not followed at all.
“This was a requirement at the start of this programme but unfortunately, along the way district service commissions reverted to the old arrangement of simply posting teachers to areas where they think there is shortage. And some teachers who had been trained in thematic curriculum are transferred without making consultations with school management committees leaving a gap in many schools,” she says.
“We had indeed equipped those teachers with skills to enable them adopt themes related to children’s experiences to increase interest in learning the different subjects they will study in later years but all that seem to have gone to waste ,” she adds.
Government was also supposed to set up a National Language Advisory Board and district language boards but these are yet to be established. “We submitted our proposals several years ago on how we want the advisory board to look like and we hope they (ministry of education) are yet to consider them but on the local language board we are yet to complete the process and we plan to create 27 of them,” she said.

 However, Ms Magera says pupils whose schools followed the thematic curriculum have had their proficiency in reading and writing improved. “We have done three assessments in schools where the curriculum was embraced, results are promising. What is lacking is the element of identifying the gaps and we address them. Teachers need to be retooled and all this requires more funding to the sector,” she said.
In 2008, the commissioner basic education Dr Daniel Nkaada threatened to close schools that don’t follow the curriculum and this simply ended as a mere threat.
“Changes usually take long to be grasped by our people and our work is to continue sensitizing them,” said Dr Nkaada on telephone last week. He admitted that many teachers are still facing huddles in finding learning materials in some languages like Luo which he blamed on limited resources.
“It is true we have not been able to provide all the required materials and the budget has been a big factor in this. As soon as we get the money, all that will be addressed,” he added. According to the 2012 Education Sector Annual Performance report out of the 455 teachers in schools visited ,only half (51 percent) are trained on the thematic curriculum.

accessed on Monday 5, Nov. 2012 from:http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/Education/Thematic+curriculum++schools+still+grappling/-/688336/1611402/-/item/0/-/129k62t/-/index.html