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The New Curriculum

Creating generation next Uganda

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | What will Uganda be like 20 years from now when the current Vision 2040 ends? What jobs will they do and what life will they lead, what diseases will they grapple with, and what will they eat?

To get a sense of that, imagine the time when the current government came to power 34 years ago.There were no computers, no mobile phones, bodabodas, or shopping malls, burger shops or chips and chicken takeaways. Few people could imagine all the jobs created by these developments.

But making such forecasting is what partly guided the new O’level curriculum which is causing so much controversy. Even if its designers at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) could not predict what Uganda will be like 20 years from now, they needed to create an education system that molds learners who are 13 years and below today but will be 20 to 33 year in 2040 to fit perfectly in that vision.

One of the experts, Christopher Muganga Kagolo; who is a curriculum specialist, told The Independent that the new curriculum is a result of wide research. He says the experts travelled to Ghana, Botswana, South Africa, Britain, Malaysia, and Singapore to gather information. Many of them were awed by what they found.

“Those people left us,” says Muganga, “They are in the digital age while for us we are here fighting phones in schools.”     The new curriculum attempts to make Uganda catch up, although, because of different levels of economic development, they could not implement everything here.

“This is a competence-based, learner-activity-centred approach which is different from the old teacher-centred approach.

“We have been building only the brain; Ugandans know a lot but we cannot do. So will the much you know bring food on the table? As much as you know a lot, you will now have to do it. Learners will now have to solve a problem,” Muganga says.

He gives an example using agriculture as a subject. Under the old system, an agriculture teacher would walk into a class, write the topic on the board, use some illustrations and give students notes to read and cram.

Under the new curriculum, when the teacher walks into a classroom they do not write a topic on the board; instead they introduce a problem for the class to solve. The teacher does not give notes but seeks for information from the learners. Instead of giving illustrations; the teacher suggests reading material from textbooks, library and laboratories, on the World Wide Web, newspaper cuttings, and more.

“Learners must do everything practically,” he says.

But after over 10 years of preparation, as the NCDC raced to ready schools for the new O’level curriculum before the Senior One class which is supposed to kick off on Feb.17, controversy erupted.

Parliament ordered a postponement of the curriculum implementation but the executive, led by First Lady Janet Museveni, who is in the hot seat as Minister of Education, appeared determined to push on.

Never one to be visibly forceful, when the First Lady appeared before  parliament she offered a fluid road map which involved consulting with her colleagues in cabinet. She offered no postponement and some MPs, mainly from opposition parties, warned of serious consequences. Some even warned her of parliamentary censure for “contempt of parliament.”

The experts at NCDC were keenly aware of the tension it was causing around the country. But in their offices in the sun-flower yellow two-storey main block in Kyambogo, they pushed on in what appeared to be carefully programmed professional fashion. The mood was of calm panic. They were excited.

For the first time, they were rolling out a curriculum with all materials; syllabus, teacher and students guides and textbooks for each level specifically prepared by NCDC. They dashed from quick meeting to quick consultation. Phones rang off the hook, from centres across the country where teachers were training.

The hub of activity was the corner office of the Director, Grace Baguma, on the second floor. She and others have implemented many curriculum changes over 13 years at NCDC. Muganga was one of the people darting in and out of her office.

Curriculum misunderstood

Muganga says the new curriculum should not have generated any controversy if the public and; especially, MPs had understood three basic areas “that we call sensitive areas.” He lists them as the curriculum menu; meaning the various subjects on offer, how they are grouped either as compulsory or elective, and the mode of assessment.

Muganga is a jolly heavy-set middle-aged curriculum specialist with a quick mind, easy laugh, and gives simple explanations for complex topics. He exudes calm.

But when The Independent visited some schools, the anxiety among teachers supposed to implement the new curriculum was clear. At Kyambogo College School which shares a fence with the Curriculum Centre, the administrators were anxious that with just seven days to the Senior One class reporting; they had not received the student’s textbooks and teachers manual to be used. They kept sending staff to check at the centre to “see if they have arrived.”

Alele Balinda; the head of the English and Literature department was even under more pressure. He is one of about 1,700 teachers who the Curriculum Centre had trained so that he could train others in Kampala District. But he was anxious that everything might not be in place.

“The curriculum is very good,” he told The Independent in a quick interview, “My only worry is, has it come at the right time? Are we ready to implement it?”

Alele had just returned from a one week training organized by the Curriculum Centre for teachers’ trainers in Kampala District at Kibuli Secondary School. The training ended on Feb.07.  He was ruing the first training he missed that was organized earlier. Maybe he could have been better prepared. But he was also worried about resources and the future of his job under the new curriculum.

“Tomorrow I must train others but the books are not here. Even at our training, they only photocopied a few chapters from the prototypes, yet the students are coming in seven days,” he said.

Across town; at Bethany High School in neighbouring Wakiso District, the Director of Studies, John Paul Byaruhanga was under similar pressure. Bethany is a private-owned school and was not affected by the government postponement of the reporting date for Senior One. By Feb.10, the new students were arriving, their bright excited faces unable to hide their anticipation.

Many crowded around the reception behind a noticeboard filled with old newspaper cuttings proclaiming the school’s academic glory with headlines like “Top Schools, Students.” It is not clear if they knew that such focus on exam grades was old school under the new curriculum.

But Bethany also looks well prepared for the future. Its mission, also pinned on the noticeboard, is to prepare students to be “lifelong learners and responsible citizens.” Those are two of the four learning outcomes of the new curriculum. The other outcomes are to produce learners who are “self-assured and patriotic.”

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