Following vigorous steps the process of introducing a new O’ Level curriculum whose revision started in 2008 is yet to materialize.
The Director of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) Dr Grace Birungi recently revealed that the curriculum was endorsed by the President in April 2019. According to the NCDC’s road map for the curriculum, it should be implemented in 2020.
Dr. Birungyi explains that the major reasons for revisiting the curriculum is to eliminate the overlapping and repeated content in the subjects that are currently being taught. The number of subjects has been reduced from 32 to 20 subjects.
Tracing the footsteps of the O level curriculum
The current curriculum was first designed in 1918 by the British colonialists for a minority of students in order to prepare them for higher education and public service.
NCDC was established in 1973 by decree by the President-Idi Amin, and since then there has not been any significant change in the curriculum. Content has been added but major areas remain excluded, including the important ‘issue’ topics such as democratic education, HIV/AIDS, health education, environmental education, financial literacy and interactive skills.
With the content additions by NCDC, subjects became too many, were overlapping, and had become obviously outdated.The institution decided in 2006 to reduce the O’ Level subjects from 43 to 31 and make sciences compulsory.
In 2009, another education ministry policy statement recommended that schools teach only 14 subjects; eight compulsory subjects and six electives. These are now being trimmed down further into the so-called seven “learning areas”.
The National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) has now overhauled the old O-Level curriculum and are planning to roll outthe new one come2020.
The main feature of the reforms is a reducing of the number of areas students need to study from the current over 40 subjects to 07 learning areas, namely; Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Creative Arts, languages, technology and enterprise and life education.
The proposed curriculum focuses on learners acquiring a balanced set of understanding, skills, and values to enable them to participate in a technology-driven global economy, solve problems in their communities, and operate effectively at national and global level. The target is to ensure that all O-Level graduating students can think critically and study effectively by acquiring pre-vocational skills that render them employable.
This is a clear indication that O’ Level is critical in the Uganda education system because it is the starting point for building a student’s career.
Where is the gap?
Uganda’s O-Level leavers lack basic skills, such as communicating effectively orally and in written English, cannot follow written and diagrammatic instruction, cannot understand abstract concepts, use mathematics, and are computer illiterate.
Such skill gaps necessitate a sweeping revision away from a strictly academic list of subjects, each with clearly defined knowledge content to a ‘framework of competencies’ that are woven across and delivered through subject areas.
The overhaul of the O-Level curriculum is good because the current one has been too theoretical and devoid of skills. However, it is not clear as to what criteria the curriculum developers used to condense the 43 subjects into seven learning areas.There is also need for NCDC to explain how the higher school certificate (HSC) schools shall tailor combinations for A-level students from these new proposed learning areas.
Clearing the puzzle in the new developments
The reforms in the education system are long overdue,however, there are concerns from a section of the Ugandan population mainly teachers who are the implementers of the program as regards to the design of the new curriculum.
These teachers are concerned about the process which seems to have been done in haste with inadequate consultation with key education stakeholders.
The above concern is clearly explained with the recent government introduction of the teaching of Information Communication Technology and Swahili in Ugandan secondary schools only to be met with a glaring lack of expert teachers.
The education ministry then plunged itself in crisis management by enrolling a few teachers for its retooling program.
It can be further reflected in the way the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) hurriedly launched the thematic curriculum in 2007 in a bid to improve reading and basic arithmetic.
The thematic curriculum emphasizes using the mother tongue as the language of instruction in lower primary; P1-P3.Because of its hasty implementation, many parents rejected it as they perceived that studying in the local language weakens the child’s ability to read and write English, which in turn weakens the child’s general learning abilities.
The New Vision investigation carried out recently, found that about 50% of primary schools are not using the new curriculum because the NCDC has failed to train teachers and provide related textbooks and teachers’ guides.
As a result, implementation of the new curriculum across the nation has been haphazard, with pupils being subjected to both the old and new curriculum.
UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education asserts that curriculum change must involve a diverse range of stakeholders and ensure relevance of the education by focusing on context, global, national and local perspectives.
What needs to be done?
Curriculum reform means a total change in the education system, and should involve everyone including; parents, teachers, MPs, political parties, religious leaders, students and donors so that they own the process from the onset.
The new O-level curriculum design in its entirety is good but the concerns about the retooling, sensitization and material development for the teachers needs to be addressed as a matter of priority before rolling out.
If the curriculum is ready for implementation, then there is need to first have it tested for a number of years before it can be fully adopted.
This is in view of the fact that the education system we are reforming is almost 100 years old and to effectively reform it, requires a more elaborate review.
The NCDC should explain the fate of the teachers who may be affected by the scrapping of some subjects which is likely to create job uncertainties and insecurity.