Uganda: Curriculum reform must follow research

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Oct 30 00:18:45 UTC 2008

Curriculum reform must follow research
Wednesday, 29th October, 2008

By Fred Mwesigwa

Once again, the Ministry of Education and Sports has rescinded the
decision to implement an armchair education policy reform, following
pressure from stakeholders. It is not clear why the ministry that
ought to be in the vanguard of promoting research in solving
educational problems is resorting to pronouncements. When the
Educational Policy Review Commission of 1987 carried out the task of
probing policies governing education, including the reviewing of
curriculum, they erronously introduced Moral Education in primary and
secondary schools. According to the 1992 Uganda Government White Paper
(p.52-53), Moral Education was to be introduced at primary school
alongside Religious Education.

It was argued that Moral Education would lay the foundation for
Development Studies, a new course that was meant to be introduced at
secondary school. It has never been explained how Moral Education
found its way into that important educational policy document.
Research I conducted as part of my doctoral studies in 2003 revealed
that key stakeholders like religious and civic leaders, teachers and
academics were not consulted. The public resistance to Moral Education
in 1999 and the subsequent shelving of the pronouncement confirms

Resistance to Moral Education was ignited by a senior official in the
ministry who said Uganda was a secular country and had no business
consulting with religious leaders and that a neutral team of experts
would be assembled to design a neutral syllabus of teaching about
values instead of religious education. Similarly, the circumstances
surrounding the recently-shelved curriculum reforms raise the question
why the ministry is bent on making educational pronouncements that
impact greatly on cherished national values and language policy
without recourse to research.

The last time the ministry tried to acknowledge the importance of
research in curriculum development was in 2006 when research field
trips were conducted by officials of the National Curriculum
Development Centre (NCDC), Education Standards Agency (ESA) and the
ministry. This followed a Cabinet directive to review the curriculum
in order to realize efficiency and deliver quality education.

Informal interviews I held with some of the staff in different
schools, who were supposedly the key respondents of the government
research team, indicated that the 'researchers' just dropped the
instruments at the schools and did not interact with the respondents
to brief them about the procedure of organising focus group
discussions to discuss the nine scenarios of alternative subject
combinations from which one group would be recommended by a particular

Probably the researchers wanted to save their allowances by returning
to base and the teachers reciprocated by filling questionnaires and
returning them to the sender without forming focus group discussions.
Furthermore, only teachers and headteachers were consulted, leaving
out civic, religious and business leaders, among others. In addition
to the flawed methodology, the findings from teaching staff were
ignored while making recommendations. The NCDC O' level secondary
school curriculum review draft report of September 2006 (p. 28) states
that "In departure from the current curriculum, teachers wish to see
the values (CRE, IRE) and skill-based subjects (Agriculture and
Business) represented on the core subject list." In sharp contrast,
the recommendation on religious education (p.37) reads: "Religious
Education can be removed from the core/compulsory subjects so that it
remains optional." The reason given, with no data to back it, was that
there is a minority but significant group of students who do not
subscribe to Christian or Islamic religions.

Yet non-Christian and non-Muslim religious groups, traditional and
atheistic groups account for only 2.7% of Uganda's population. This
means that failure to meet religious educational needs of almost 97%
of Uganda's population. The circular which was withdrawn recently may
not have been designed by an overzealous officer because the
Commissioner for secondary education, John Agaba, and the Director of
NCDC, Connie Kateeba, were quoted in the New Vision of August 26,
2008, announcing a new educational policy whereby schools would teach
seven compulsory and choose three optional subjects during. This
implies that some schools will not choose Christian religious
education or Islamic religious education from the list of optional
subjects and this to me is more worrying than the banning of the
teaching of Arabic.

If the ministry is to live to educational principles, it should
espouse research, the engine of curriculum change in democratic
societies. My research on religious education in 2003 revealed that
teachers, religious leaders, academics and majority Ugandans would
love to have religious education as a core subject. There is no harm
in carrying out a similar research to establish the facts. Heightened
international interest in religious education has seen it become a
core or compulsory subject even in 'secular' countries like Britain,
Finland and Norway. This is because teh subject has potential of
enabling societies to appreciate religion as a key phenomenon of human
experience and a vehicle of promoting tolerance and respect in a
bigoted world. How much more do Ugandan policy makers need to see to
appreciate the importance of keeping religious education on the

The writer is a member of the International Seminar on Religious
Education and Values (ISREV) and a senior lecturer at Uganda Christian

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