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Rethinking our education curriculum

By The Independent Team

The existing curriculum in Uganda is highly theoretical, exam oriented, limited in scope and relevance

Acursory look at the existing public education curriculum in Uganda at all levels provides glaring inadequacies and loopholes that need to be addressed if we are to rely on it to provide tangible solutions for our current needs and the kind of informed manpower to spearhead transformation and tackle issues.

It is imperative that education planners, policy makers, teachers, opinion leaders, the government and the community at large embrace the urgent need for education to provide tangible and plausible solutions to Uganda’s most pressing needs.

This is critical as the world’s population reaches alarming levels of approximately 7billion people and the globe faces a recession with far reaching effects amidst a very volatile political atmosphere. The most recent merger of the East African Common Market, robust advancements in technology, globalisation, and the increased use and access of the internet present opportunities and challenges for curriculum reform.

A Curriculum is essentially a design, or road map for learning, and as such it should focus on knowledge and skills that are judged important to learn for a better life.

A fully functional educational system should provide society with an informed labour force capable of independent thought, self-reliance and the ability to make their communities a better place. How can this be achieved?
By planning, conducting extensive and thorough research in various fields of the Arts and Sciences, exploring new paradigms that have emerged as a result of technology and examining new schools of thought.

It involves learning and unlearning, especially for the teachers, and ensuring that a relevant and practical curriculum is implemented to empower the 21st Century graduate with practical skills that he/she can transfer into a variety of areas of the diverse labour market.

We are all familiar with the old-fashioned curriculum of the 3R’s-reading, writing, and arithmetic but Robert Sternberg of Tufts University has called for a curriculum that centres on developing student competence in what he calls “the other 3R’s.” In this case, the R’s stand for Reasoning which include analytical, critical thinking and problem solving skills, Resilience which encompasses life skills such as flexibility, adaptability and self-reliance ,and Responsibility which Sternberg links to wisdom, which he defines as “the application of intelligence, creativity and knowledge for a common good.”
The existing curriculum in Uganda is highly theoretical, exam oriented, limited in scope and relevance to address pertinent societal, national, and international issues. Owing to its theoretical nature, it doesn’t provide the urgently needed transferable skills to graduates that can be of value to them in the present job market.

This has created a massive unemployment problem. Statistics from the labour ministry in Uganda show that 390,000 students who finish tertiary education each year have only 8,000 jobs to compete for. This means that for every one job that is available they are about 50 people to fill it.

Now with the recent merger of the East African Common Market, there will no doubt be an increase in the number of jobs but so will be the number of people vying for them.  Sadly, our undergraduate programs are not developing the capacity for writing, complex reasoning, critical thinking and problem solving. This will imply that parents will be forced to search for better and more comprehensive education programs for their children to be able to compete favourably.  There is a general consensus that the exam-centric education system has created a citizenry more adept at imitation and mindless execution than creative thinking and innovation.

How well will the graduate who is a product of a half-baked, fossilised, theoretical curriculum system compete in the global labour market?
The Ideal curriculum should be able to equip students with a set of skills that will enable them survive today and tomorrow and be relevant in any society, community or country that they choose to live in. It should lay emphasis on empowering students with a set of skills that can help them face global challenges with resilience and conviction. What skills are these you may ask?

A curriculum that focuses on the acquisition of skills like critical thinking, administration and communication skills both oral and written, technical skills, entrepreneurship, will provide a solid background for the 21st century graduate to rise above mediocrity and trivialities and take charge of the world they live in.
The Center for Public Education, a national resource for accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to a nation in the USA reports that in the face of increasing global challenges, employers are keener to look out for the following skills in recent graduates.

The ability to act independently and solve problems on their own, strong interpersonal written, oral, and social skills to collaborate with colleagues, strong global literacy to understand people around the world, the ability to acquire the information they need to do the job and the ability to learn new skills as corporations will inevitably change strategies to stay competitive.
My question then would be, does the curriculum offered by universities and secondary schools across the region consist of components that can lead to the acquisition and practical application of the above mentioned qualities?

If not then what or who are we waiting for to address this problem?  A well-researched curriculum program will produce graduates that are cognisant of global hurdles like unemployment, increased competition, climate adversities and their impact on food production and how best to tackle these issues. They will be able to think critically and provide novel solutions to the numerous challenges that the world is grappling with today.  Make no mistake about it, the times have changed and our education system needs to change to.

Davis Tashobya is a post-graduate student at the University of London and can be reached on or on twitter @dtashobya.

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