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Abolish national exams, create regional curricula

The Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) releases results every first quarter of the year.

The results are from exams sat in the last quarter of the previous year. Uneb is concerned with primary and secondary school exams. These exams are national in nature, which means that kids in Karamoja sit same exams as those in Kampala.

Kids in Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools in Kyanamukaka sit the same exams as their counterparts in private schools in Wakiso.

Education minister Janet Museveni and Uneb chairperson Prof Mary Okwakol

And if I am not mistaken, they are graded the same way though there might be some lenience. National exams of this nature have overtime created a population of crammers that is unable to think and solve problems.

The issues affecting the people of Moyo in West Nile such as poverty could be the same as those in Kabale in Western Uganda but the solutions are different. Education is supposed to help solve problems a society faces.

Yet the benchmark in education standards is performance in national exams, which don’t necessarily reflect the issues that affect those particular communities where students come from.

There might be things that are universal but isn’t learning supposed to be contextual to a mixture of local, national, and global issues? Isn’t learning supposed to help us solve the problems that affect us?

National exams as they are today are creating schools that only teach students how to cram so that they can answer exams and pass with flying colors.

I am told that from around primary five, a child is taught the same things over and over again by some schools so that they can remember them when they are in primary seven two years later. That partly explains the rate of failure of students once they are subjected to aptitude tests.

There aren’t many debates in schools anymore. All efforts are geared towards passing national exams. That is how I ended up with a university student who was perplexed to learn that Ssese Islands exist and very different from Ssese Gateway Beach. True story.

It is the same reason Makerere University, which isn’t short of applicants, wants to have pre-entry exams. Any head of department tells you that. They have realized that results of national exams are, for a lack of a better word, deceptive.

This means that Uneb can actually adopt a model used by universities. No national exams. Uneb and the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) should be merged into one and then mandated with coming up with curriculum that is specific to particular regions.

Regions must be involved in this and, therefore, develop courses that address their needs. If the people of Karamoja are cattle keepers, course content should reflect that.

Basically, the regional curriculum should combine both general and vocational studies putting in mind the economic activities of the region or what that region needs. (The public universities being built in all regions should then concentrate mainly on courses that are related to the specific needs of the region).

However, schools should be free to make changes to this curriculum by applying their creativity on how to teach and impart this knowledge and then submit this to Uneb for accreditation.

This will call for stringent supervision measures, something a freed Uneb from managing national exams can easily do using the same resources. This model isn’t new actually.

Universities in Uganda use a similar one. Of course universities have their own issues but they also admit what somebody once called half-baked students. This affects the entire education model in Uganda. The model where each university teaches what they consider relevant is the right one that should be adopted by the country albeit with changes such as regional guiding curricula.

Because universities aren’t bogged down with a national curriculum, there is less competition in whose students get most As and Bs. That is why some of them come up with innovative ideas all the time. The employers are starting to prefer students from certain universities.

That is putting pressure on universities to think through their courses and their teaching methods. It is still a long way to go but in a few years time, the job market will determine which universities people go to. Those that teach students how to use a typewriter will inevitably close.

Students will then be required to sit pre-entry exams to join secondary schools and universities as opposed to basing their admission entirely on deceptive national exams. This model is actually relevant today because advancements in technology mean that national exams can easily leak to anybody throughout the country like it happened with O-level in 2017.

Uneb will no longer be able to guarantee the credibility of their exams. A paper stolen in Fort Portal can within minutes be available to every school within seconds through Whatsapp. Uneb won’t be able to immediately issue a new paper countrywide.

I predict more exam leakages that are country spread in the future and Uneb will be hapless to stop them. Also Uneb is facing petitions from an educationist who claims they set wrong exams.

This model will ensure that schools don’t focus on Uneb results anymore rather concentrate on ensuring that their students have the capacity to think, have the skills necessary to solve the problems of our time and ultimately be able to answer any questions thrown their way during pre-entry tests when joining another level.

Pre-entry assessments are the norm in many schools and universities the world over. Schools will now know that they will have to teach kids to think as opposed to cramming because they won’t have an idea what kind of test is expected.

That is why students in Uganda who wish to join the Law Development Centre (LDC) have to learn to think and be conversant with world affairs. The last time I checked, nobody could cram and pass LDC pre-entry tests. That explains the high failure rate at LDC.

The writer is a media consultant and businessman.

djjuuko@gmail.com

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