Parents and education experts have been listening to the debate on the curriculum review with a mixture of interest and despair, especially since they are not involved in the discussion.
However, last week, the education NGO Twaweza invited experts to a discussion on the future of learning. MOSES TALEMWA attended and reports.
In little hamlets across the country, many parents have wondered how their children can access better-quality learning at the most affordable cost. Many have listened to perennial debates by politicians about how access to learning has been increased by government since 1997, but little on how to improve quality.
This, and the annual reports by Uwezo, an arm of Twaweza Africa, have increased despair among parents and teachers about whether learning institutions are able to teach children to meet the challenges of the future.
This led to a one-day conference, organised by Twaweza, and Kyambogo and Makerere universities, last week. Hosted by Kyambogo University, the meeting saw nearly 100 academics from around the world discussing the learning situation in Uganda.
In setting the stage for the debate, Dr Mary Goretti Nakabugo, the manager of Uwezo Uganda and the Twaweza country lead, explained the learning crisis in the country.
“Over six years, Uwezo assessments have consistently shown that children are not learning as they should in school,” Dr Nakabugo said. “Bringing together all these great minds …. [will help us] propose feasible solutions in a critical first step in our journey towards a Uganda in which all children receive their basic right to quality education.”
The dean of the faculty of education at Kyambogo University, Dr Joyce Ayikoru, called for critical review of how children learn.
“This is the first conference that brings together key education actors to deliberate on ways to rethink our education system so that quality is measured by achievement levels in learning outcomes,” she said.
The conference was called to find ways of reviewing the Universal Primary Education to improve learning, following an improvement in accessing learning. The meeting looked at the role of parents, the importance of strong school leadership, learning conditions/environment and teacher motivation.
Consequently, education experts called for increased emphasis on social learning rather than exceling in academics. The experts called for schools to integrate social and emotional competencies in their teaching and assessment to end traditional academic outcomes. They also discussed whether academic and emotional teaching can reinforce each other and create synergies.
Participants at the conference attributed the current failures to a number of educational challenges including poor governance, deep lack of accountability, under-resourced environments, unmotivated teachers, and gender norms.
The participants complained that educationists (including parents) tend to over-prioritise selected learning outcomes, especially exams, rather than a more holistic consideration of the purpose and impact of schooling.
Prof Carmel Cefai, the director of the Centre for Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health at the University of Malta, asked whether teachers were concerned about the development of learning in the country.
“As we strive to improve children’s education in preparation for the global economic challenges, we are becoming more aware that quality education cannot be restricted to just academic performance,” he said. “Children and young people need to develop the requisite social and emotional competences which help them to navigate successfully through the developmental tasks, situational challenges, and transitions they are set to face in their pathway towards adulthood.”
Prof Cefai added that both "the head and heart" were necessary for a balanced education and both aspects complement and support each other, rather than being in conflict with one another.
FUTURE OF LEARNING
Aidan Eyakuze, the executive director of Twaweza East Africa, agreed with Prof Cefai.
“My argument is that learning is a means to the ultimate objective of job acquisition by the learner. I take a forward-looking approach to look at the future of work and how it might be organized and valued, and the work of the future."
Eyakuze argued that curriculum experts need to look at professions of the future.
“Many would argue that the purpose of education is work. But academic qualifications and job skills are often mismatched,” Eyakuze said.
“With all the technological advances, critical-thinking and problem-solving become even more essential. People whose jobs are made up primarily of ‘structured’ tasks are at greater risk of being replaced by automation.”
He argued that it was unclear whether education systems generally, and particularly in Uganda, can keep pace. Dr John Reginald Allen, a curriculum expert from Australia, weighed in on the problem, arguing that there was a need to look at the impact of schooling on learners.
“The outcomes – the impacts of going to school on students’ lives, skills, attitudes and futures – are given at best scant attention,” he said. Many accountability schemes, designed by professionals as a way to drive real change, are affected by a [tendency to check] what is most easily assessed rather than by what it is most important to know.”
Dr Allen called for parents to be involved in professional discussions on learning.
“Parents are too often positioned as mere consumers, best informed by tables of outputs and, maybe, inputs in terms of resources. Citizens – parents and the broader community – have, in my view, a central role in setting and prioritising the outcomes schooling.”
CLARITY ON THE FUTURE
In his concluding remarks, Eyakuze called for a review on what is likely to be achieved in the future learning environment.
“For what future are Uganda’s children being prepared? Which type of learning will be instrumental to their survival or success? And how do we know if we are delivering the appropriate kind of learning if we don’t focus on learning outcomes as the vital measure of the efficacy of the education ecosystem?”
He called for clarity on the distinction between what is and what ought to be; between practice and theory; descriptions of current realities, especially the complex realities that really matter, rather than seeing the whole debate as an unfair criticism or misplaced rebuke of practitioners or leaders.
Prof Cefai also added that, “our children need an adequate, meaningful and relevant education for the realities of the twenty-first century”.
Finally, Dr Nakabugo expressed the hope that the discussions would be taken up by the education sector for further consideration in improving learning outcomes in the country.