"New Curriculum Aims At Better Primary Seven Products" (Uganda)

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Thu Apr 19 14:05:09 UTC 2007

The following item from the Kampala paper, New Vision, was seen on
AllAfrica.com at http://allafrica.com/stories/200703260444.html . Uganda is
implementing a new policy with regard to first language & bilingual primary
education.  Don

Uganda: New Curriculum Aims At Better Primary Seven Products
New Vision (Kampala)
March 25, 2007
Posted to the web March 26, 2007

Nassar Nigel

WITH the new primary school thematic curriculum already in operation, the
National Curriculum Development Centre hopes to get a better breed of
Primary Seven graduates after seven years.

Designed for classes from Primary One to Three, the curriculum emphasises
the use of a child's first language as a medium of instruction before a
second language is introduced.
Africa 2007

The programme started with Primary One, after being tested on 90 pilot
schools last year with nine local languages as the media of instruction plus
a tenth, English.

The pilot project was done in at least 10 schools per district, all of which
are now in their second year running on the thematic curriculum.

How it works

TEACHING under the thematic curriculum is based on the themes of numeracy,
literacy and life skills. Other themes are news, physical education, free
activity, religious education and the art of writing.

All the class interaction should go on in a local language agreed upon as
the most commonly used in a given locality. Unlike subjects in the old
curriculum, strands apply in the thematic system. And, depending on the
theme for study, all that is taught in a strand has to refer to the theme.

For instance if the theme is "Our Home", everything that is learnt has to be
about a home. For example, when teaching literacy, pupils are supposed to
listen to the teacher talk to them about a home.

Then they can speak, read and write in the local language about things in a
home. This way, they are developing the four skills of communication -
listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Life skills as a strand teaches pupils how to go about interpersonal
relationships like appreciation, love forgiveness, conflict resolution,
respect and patience. Much as teachers use local languages, English is also
taught, but with compliance to themes.

This system is deemed to improve the teacher-student relationship, since one
teacher handles all the strands in the class.

A recent research by the Ministry of Education and the Uganda National
Examinations Board indicates that pupils' performance at Primary Seven is
poor because of poor comprehension of the English language, in which
examinations are set.

It goes on to say that the poor comprehension is caused by the pupils'
having received their initial educational instructions in a foreign language
(English), hence making it hard for them to translate what they read into
their local languages in order to comprehend it well.

Ground work

ACCORDING to Remigious Baale, the coordinator of the Primary School
Curriculum Review, a child who gets an initial academic instruction in their
first language finds it easier to take on a second language, since they can
refer to things they already learnt in the first language.

"We have done research about the thematic curriculum and are convinced it
will give us a positive outcome," he said, adding: "By the time pupils who
have taken it on finish Primary Seven, there should be a great improvement
from the current performance." Sarah Nakkazi, the deputy headteacher in
charge of the infant section at Bat Valley Primary School, shares Baale's

An expert on early childhood education, Nakkazi says a child's brain adjusts
swiftly, especially if it is accustomed to a routine like listening,
speaking, reading and writing in a common language. "Adjusting to English,
which will be given much emphasis in Primary Four, becomes easy for such a
child," Nakkazi says.

Bat Valley is one of the eight schools in Kampala that piloted the project.
Nakkazi also says that feedback from other pilot schools is encouraging.

Betty Isingoma, a Primary One teacher at Bat Valley, taught under the
thematic curriculum last year and says teaching under the system calls for a
lot of dedication and interest, lest one finds it complicated.

"Can you imagine you even have to turn yourself into a musician of some
sort? That way, you arouse the pupils into a learning mood and when you
start teaching, they have fun all the way," she adds.

Just a few adjustments

BAALE says a few changes have been made in the curriculum for simplicity
from the previous cumbersome one, which was launched in 1999 in two volumes
- Volume One offering English, maths, science and social studies.

Volume Two offered agriculture, Swahili, a local language and Religious
Studies, among others. A curriculum is supposed to serve between five to
seven years.

"The old one was complicated with such subjects as Integrated Production
Skills, Swahili and others that didn't pick because of lack of teachers and
other bottle necks that made it difficult to have it fully implemented,"
Baale said.
Africa 2007


BUT confusion abounds in this system, as there are a multiplicity of
languages in schools. So whose becomes the one to use? Baale doesn't agree
with such a scenario, especially in the case with upcountry schools.

He says there is always a common language that pupils use regardless of
other existing ones. "Just pick on about 50 pupils randomly and get them
playing on a pitch. You will be surprised to find them communicating in a
common language that everyone feels comfortable with," he reasons.

However, some schools, especially in the city, have been allowed to use
English as a medium of instruction.

The question that remains though is whether such schools have forgone the
benefits that come with the thematic curriculum.

The other dilemma is that instructional materials in only nine subjects have
been procured according to the National Curriculum Development Centre.

With 25 languages selected as the media of instruction, this means schools
that will be teaching in the remaining 16 languages will lag behind the
curriculum for some years before materials are put in place.

Parents hate it

TEACHERS are facing resistance from parents. Since the thematic curriculum
encourages a daily assessment of the pupils' strengths, it does not consider
end-of-term examinations for pupils. And to a parent who is perennially
accustomed to receiving an end-of-term report, the thematic curriculum is

Nakkazi says parents at Bat Valley have not embraced the idea of receiving a
report full of comments about the pupil's progress and no scores in terms of

The same case to other pilot schools like East Kololo and Naguru Kitale. "I
am seeing the same problem about to crop up in the schools that have taken
on the curriculum this year.

We might have to continue examining the pupils apart from the continuous
assessment," Nakkazi said.

Although teachers who have taken it on this term say the workload has
increased, they maintain that the system is promising a good outcome. But a
good outcome ought to take place if all schools have been catered for in
terms of training manpower to implement the curriculum.

The Government last year trained 30,000 teachers, but most of them came from
government-aided schools.

And although the private schools are also being compelled to take on the
reviewed curriculum, very few teachers in such schools are equipped with the

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