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Cram work persists in schools as pupils fall short on problem solving

UNEB Executive Secretary Dan Odongo notes that it has been a perennial challenge for many schools. For instance, Odongo says, both English and Mathematics performance was poor in questions where candidates were required to apply knowledge in problem-solving situations or express themselves freely.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT  Most of the pupils in last year’s Primary Leaving Examinations took to cramming their classwork to reproduce in examinations than understanding, UNEB results show. 

This was clear as pupils excelled in questions that asked for direct answers and were therefore easy to cram than questions that required one to think. UNEB Executive Secretary Dan Odongo notes that it has been a perennial challenge for many schools.  

For instance, Odongo says, both English and Mathematics performance was poor in questions where candidates were required to apply knowledge in problem-solving situations or express themselves freely.   

Janet Kataha Museveni, the Minister of Education, put the blame squarely on teachers, noting that they were not doing what they ought to do, forcing learners into cram work.

Problem-solving learning is important as it prepares a learner for life outside school walls and sets the stage for their critical thinking.  

Patrick Kaboyo, Secretary-General of non-state education institutions, says teacher competence is key where teachers actually have what to give. 

Kaboyo says many teachers teach basing on pamphlet and encourage pupils to reproduce the same as the saying goes; garbage in, garbage out. He observes, there shouldn’t be much expected of pupils because they produce what they learned.

The issue of failure to develop problem-solving and competence has been a subject of research with a couple of studies noting the problem cuts through from Primary Three to Primary Seven. 

Uwezo, a not-for-profit organization that publishes an annual report on competencies in Uganda, has noted thus; it found last year that children in the upper primary school seem to learn the basics that they failed to learn in the lower grades.   

In one study, the organization asked pupils to identify geometric shapes, asked to deduct a question from an answer and the third was spatial recognition and logic. Most pupils failed.   

As expected, rural schools which are likely to have teachers that are always absent or unqualified, according to one commentator. Other issues include the interest of learners because of lack basics things like lunch, availability of instruction materials. Rural pupils lack exposure that their urban counterparts have.

Odongo agrees that rural schools face more challenges compared to urban schools. Urban schools, likely to have richer parents, are able to use their money to get their pupil’s skilled teachers.   

Kaboyo says one of the problems is that anyone can come up with a pamphlet and it is read by pupils. He says this should stop.   

UNEB sets questions basing on the expected outcomes set out in the Primary School Curriculum which aims at enabling learners to develop competences and life skills for lifelong learning emphasizing the importance of literacy, numeracy, language development, values, attitudes and cross-cutting issues.   

According to the National Curriculum Development Centre-NCDC, The curriculum advocates for the use of friendly child-centred methods and approaches where learners must participate in their learning activities in order to make reasonable learning achievements and ensure that learners acquire self-confidence and meet the demands of life.

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