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PLE failures show that Kenya system is better

BY Wanyama Wangah

The weakness in our education system was exposed during last year’s international university quiz competition now sponsored by Zain, which covers pre-university questions. All Ugandan universities were eliminated early with the exception of Nkumba University which had fielded Kenyan students.

The performance in this year’s Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) has been terrible to say the least.

Of the 460,000 pupils, only 17,000 passed in the first grade.

That’s nearly half 31,000 first grade pupils last year, when the registered pupils were only 401,000.

To put it into perspective, in 2007, 7.7% of the pupils passed in first grade. For 2008 that percentage was down to 3.8%.

There will be a lot questions requiring answers for such a dismal performance.

It has already been alleged that to even get the 17,000 first grades, the examining authority had to lower the passing grades significantly. Some people have suggested the pass mark was as low as 15% in at least one of the papers!

What this means is that pupils who would not have passed will make it to secondary school.

At secondary level they will struggle, and because their numbers are big, many of them will filter through until they reach the universities.

In the end you get university students who should not have passed P.7 in the first place, and should therefore have not gone to S.1.

That is why many students, even those in third year, can hardly write a correct sentence.

I talked to a few of the pupils who sat last year’s PLE. All of them agreed (as some teachers had alleged) that some questions were set outside the primary syllabus. Some pointed out a few like questions on Marcus Garvey in Social Studies and a question on amoeba in Science.

If this is the case, it is unacceptable that the Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) should set questions outside the syllabus.

This is compounded by the fact that the reading culture in Uganda is very poor. Very few students (at all levels primary to secondary) read outside what is required. Very few schools, especially at primary level, have functioning libraries.

But the poor performance at primary level has other causes.

One of them is the administration of Universal Primary Education (UPE). Since it was introduced, head teachers are prohibited from collecting any coin for running the school and yet the grants sent are insufficient. The head teachers have no mechanism whatsoever for providing extra incentives to teachers especially those in rural areas.

The other problem with UPE is feeding. Since its inception, schools have been prohibited from collecting money for lunch. In most of our rural schools children go to school without even breakfast. Therefore after 1.00pm, it is not just the teacher who is hungry, the entire classroom is. And you sure do not expect a first grade from such a classroom!

The weakness in our education system was exposed during last year’s international university quiz competition now sponsored by Zain, which covers pre-university questions. All Ugandan universities were eliminated early with the exception of Nkumba University which had fielded Kenyan students.

The same competition has twice been lifted by the same Kenyan university — Egerton.

It is a clear demonstration that our education system is faltering. The only question is; is anyone noticing?

The author is a journalist.

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