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Higher education rebooted

By Tracy Gwambe

But new policy on compulsory computer classes for HSC students tests school resources

Up a dusty road in Kawempe Division of Kampala district lies Kawempe Royal College; a mixed day and boarding school behind a small blue gate. One of the teachers here, Shamira Naluyingi, is feeling the pinch from a new directive on teaching of Information Communication Technology (ICT) sometimes called simply, computer, in schools.

Under new guidelines by the ministry of Education and Sports, each student at the Higher School Certificate (HSC) will be expected to sit only three principle subjects instead of four that has been the norm. Students offering any art combination with economics in it additionally have to do mathematics as a subsidiary subject while those that either do not have economics in their combination or do sciences are to do ICT. General Paper remains compulsory. As a result the maximum points a HSC student can score in the pre-university exams is down to 20 from 25.

According to the plan, Naluyingi should be conducting her ICT lessons in a computer laboratory; one of the class rooms with two long tables and a few high stools around them. Her class of 50 students should be sitting around these tables and bang away on at least 50 computers. So far none of this has happened.

“We are supposed to teach both the theory and the practical lessons as the ministry’s policy states but we are forced to look at the theoretical part only because there are no computers in place,” says Naluyingi.

Kawempe Royal College is a privately-owned school and is the best school in the area. But it has only three computers for its 50 students. Naluyingi remains hopeful because the headmaster of the school has promised the staff that the computers “will arrive any time soon”. Meanwhile, Naluyingi’s ICT lab has been turned into just another classroom until the computers arrive.

Naluyingi’s dilemma is replicated throughout the country where the new policy on teaching ICT has placed most private schools around the country in a tight spot. For years, many of these schools have opted to concentrate on teaching arts combinations because they cannot afford the apparatus, chemicals and other requirements for teaching sciences.

Many of them lack the facilities and equipment for teaching ICT and are doing only the theory part. Since these schools lack computers, the students are at a loss about how they fair in the practical computer examinations.

The government says it is introducing the new guidelines on mathematics and ICT to promote modernisation of the education system, and emphasise science and technology.

“Every student should at least have one of the two subjects so that they can appreciate technology,” says John Chrysestom Muyingo, the minister in charge of Higher Education.

He says to have a place in the competitive world; nobody can escape both of these subjects.

“They are the lifeblood for the future,” he says

Previously many schools were not taking computer as a serious subject before. Most students in rural-based schools have no idea what computers are. Many come from schools where they do not even have electricity. Some schools, especially in towns, have computer laboratories but no computers. The government says it appreciates the challenges and is aiding schools, private and government, to acquire computers by lifting all taxes on their importation. This is designed to make them affordable.

No syllabus

But the government has also not provided a syllabus that the teachers should follow when teaching computer. This has left teachers like Naluyingi fumbling to make their own curriculum to follow. There are also no textbooks to be used as the ministry has not provided any. Instead the teachers have to use the text books that are being used by the higher colleges of learning and universities. In some cases, a teacher has to share a textbook with the students as there is only one that is available, says Naluyingi.  It is unclear how the new compulsory subject will be examined since students are faced with numerous challenges and are being prepared differently.

Schools also are reluctant to offer ICT because computers come with so many expenses, including high electricity bills.

Since electricity is not reliable, when there is an outage, a practical lesson is unceremonious turned into a theory lesson. This leaves the practical part lagging. The alternative is to ensure that each school has a standby generator but most do not. In this confusion, it is unclear how the government plans to ensure that power outages do not switch off computers during the examinations.

Urban vs Rural

Even schools in urban centres that have computers and other facilities say they cannot get internet connections because they say, it is so expensive. As a result most teachers assume that the students have at list some computer knowledge about the subject. This makes students who are ignorant about the subject miss out.

Government aided schools are not any better off. A few have been given computers from the ministry of Education and Sports. One of them, Kololo Senior Secondary School says it received 80 computers from the government.  Most government schools were given between 5 and 10 computers. In all cases the number of the students supposed to use them exceeds the number of computers provided. Some government schools that have no access to electricity were given solar aided computers. There is also the risk of the solar panels being stolen.

Kawempe Royal College is lucky to have Naluyingi because most schools do not have qualified staff to teach ICT. But the government remains undeterred.

Muyingo says his ministry is implementing a policy that allows anyone who has studied information science and technology at a university to be enrolled to teach even if they are not qualified teachers. They are given a contract to teach computer for two years and at the same time studying a post graduate diploma in education to do with computer.

He says in this way, the ministry will have got professional teachers to teach the ICT in the next four years. In place of a syllabus, the minister says the Curriculum Development Center has in place “something that should guide the teachers and the students for starters as a syllabus is being put in place”. Obviously, that is not the best way to start on the desired road to a modern education system.

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