EDUCATION

DAVID MAFABI: Automatic promotion; Uganda Education quality on the death bed

David Mafabi is a veteran journalist (PHOTO/File)

MBALE —When my senior one daughter read in the media; SCHOOL REOPENING: Every learner will be automatically promoted to next class; she asked me whether she was going to senior three.

And when I asked her why? She said she was in senior one at the time of closure of schools due to Covid and that since she has been at home for two years, she automatically qualifies for senior three. I chose not to answer her.

And this reminded me of a statement made by the spokesperson of the ministry of Education Dr Dennis Mugimba sometime last year while appearing on NBS TV’s Morning Breeze show, “We are not planning to have a dead year and so all continuing learners will be moved to the next class before the end of academic year 2020/2021,”.

This remark is contrary to the popular belief among many educated Ugandans and consistent with earlier scholarly works that have attributed automatic promotion with negative impact on learning outcomes.

Many of who urge that promoting a child who has not grasped anything to another level is condemning that child to a life of failure and that if that is done in Uganda, the children cannot even learn at the next level because the foundation would not have been set.

True, Covid 19 like climate change induced disasters and protracted crises have disrupted the education of our children and youth in Uganda, but does this really call for automatic promotion?

It is also an axiomatic fact that education was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with all schools [Nursery, Primary, Secondary and tertiary institutions] country-wide closing and this impacted more than 85% total enrolled learners.

Drop-out rates and teenage pregnancies in the country increased as a result of this massive disruption to education access across the country.

Many education researchers agree that the ‘pile-on effect’ of the Covid 19 is that, during the two year COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools, interruptions to education have had and will have long term implications — especially for the most vulnerable.

Dr Dennis Mugimba, the Ministry’s Spokesperson and the ministry of state for education [higher Education] Dr Chrysostom Miyingo clearly know that the automatic promotion policy must exhibit key competences in literacy and numeracy that are lacking in the Uganda situation but still also give a nod to automatic promotion.

The Bagisu have a saying that “when talking to someone before you, you are at the same time prophesying about one who is hidden up the shelf- I am not talking to Dr Muyingo and Dr Mugimba alone but I am also talking to all officials at ministry of Education who possess doctorates and are not advising government well on Education matters.

I know that the ministry is struggling with re-opening of schools because they were closed without plan, suppose there is another crisis tomorrow, as Education Ministry do we have enough preparation? Have you prepared government to move the right way? Or we are going to end up gambling again by closing schools?

As human beings who have gone to school, we move with the old proverb that ‘when the door is closed, you must learn to slide across the crack of the sill’ and have you prepared the ministry of Education to slide the crack of the sill for exit? And if you have not get some lessons from this proverb.

As educationists of this country, you went through an effective and competitive system of education that brought you out as good intelligent people, you ought to stop behaving like a woman who is not successful in her own marriage and has no advice to give to her younger generations.

Yes, President Museveni has been pushing for the automatic promotion policy in place even before Covid 19 just to paint UPE/USE as successful programmes, but there is need to consider the competence of the pupils before promoting them. It will be a disservice to this country if we train people who will not benefit us.

Our government should learn that there has been a real risk of regression for children whose basic, foundational learning (reading, math, languages, etc.) was not strong to begin with.

Education provides people with what Noble Laureate Amartya San calls “human capabilities”: the essential and individual power to reflect, make choice, seek voice in society, and enjoy a better life (World Bank, 2002).

In particular, Primary education develops the capacity to learn, to read and use mathematics, to acquire information, and to think critically about that information. Researchers have also proved that primary education promotes the achievement of seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals: poverty reduction, universal primary education, gender equity, reproductive health, and lower maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS prevalence, and infant and child mortality.

Primary education is also the get way to all higher levels of education that provide the critical mass of scientists, teachers, doctors and other highly skilled professionals that every country, no matter how small or poor, requires.

But is automatic promotion going to provide us with complete education and the quality of human resource we need for Uganda, East Africa and Africa?

I want to say that to have an education complete you must have examinations that will prepare learners to function effectively as global citizens in today’s complex and ethnically polarized nation and the world requires learners who think critically.

Any educational reform can be made meaningful if teachers are made to understand why reforms have to be made in the education system and how these will be effected, however, the awareness of teachers about the reasons behind the introduction of automatic promotion in our schools and about the different alternative strategies in dealing with low-performing students is found to be inadequate.

I want to say that teachers should have been given the opportunity to learn about automatic promotion and the different strategies in helping underachievers, such opportunities can be organized in the form of in-service courses, seminars, conferences, workshops and field trips.

We also ought to understand that examinations are a part of growing up, they are really important and necessary when it comes to knowledge testing and are not meant for creating a feeling of depression among students, they are meant to create a sense of responsibility among those learners to remember the concepts and present them in the most valuable form.

And examining is also testing the knowledge gained and the presentation of that knowledge is the reason behind conducting these examinations and that examinations enhance the child’s overall personality and memory and revision skills.

When examinations are given and good grades come out, the confidence to stand out and show others the expertise you have in your field becomes real., grades matter as they are a measure of a learners’ conceptual understanding, memory power and knowledge he/she has in that field.

It should be noted that the best thing one can get out of education is how to learn and the basic tools for this are the 3Rs (w) Riting, Reading and Arithmetic; Writing is vital for one to communicate ones ideas, Reading is a must so one can comprehend what one reads as well as follow instructions while Arithmetic is necessary for the development of computing skills.

The 3Rs provide a solid base for effective acquisition of subsequent knowledge and skills. I strongly believe that detection of lack of mastery in these core competences should be remedied, even if it means repeating a class, this means automatic promotion will do more harm if we just push learners who have learnt anything to the next class.

The government should restrain its Ministry of Education from implementing the idea of automatic promotion of pupils in schools because it is not a solution to the high dropout rates, it will instead open invitation to our children to care less about studying, well knowing they will cruise through to the next grade.

Allowing students to proceed to the next level without studying or even those who have failed examinations would become strenuous on a child as some will be unable to cope with the next level, which might be costly to the government in the long run.

In Uganda, there is no program arranged at school level to help underachievers before they are promoted to the next grade, the main criterion that is used in the schools to make automatic promotion decisions is attendance of learners which does not clearly show performance of the learner.

In light of this it is necessary to provide schools with relevant publications on the issue of automatic promotion and encourage teachers to conduct action research in their respective schools and it is also important to provide teachers with continuous assessment and promotion guides, well-developed checklists and observational techniques and alternative materials.

Rushed policy?

It is apparent that the automatic promotion policy is being hurriedly introduced and should be revisited because the policy will lead to poor performances and poor quality human resource in future with many graduates but unskilled; automatic promotion will not guarantee us the quality we are looking for.

In countries that have put in place automatic promotion, people look at total attainment in class and the curriculum as a complete unit whereas here (In Uganda) we don’t do that, we are only looking at automatic promotion not curriculum completion.

A study already done in Kenya on automatic promotion [To establish the influence of automatic grade promotion policy on pupils’ academic performance in Kirinyaga Central Sub-County] reveals there has been a declining trend in performance among pupils in public primary schools at Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCSE) examinations since the introduction of automatic grade policy. The cause of this worrying trend is blamed on, among other factors, the implementation of the policy.

I would like to recommend that; government and other stakeholders should provide adequate physical facilities in schools alongside complementary resources for effective implementation of automatic grade promotion policy, schools should institute routine schedule of maintaining the available physical facilities.

And for proper implementation of the automatic promotion systematically and objectively, it is very important to upgrade teachers’ skill of using continuous assessment procedures and the different corrective strategies to identify and help low-performing students through designing

Training workshops of different kinds.

Our leaders at ministry of Education should know that examinations are very important as they train the students like commanders, prepare them for the war ahead wherein they can excel and prove themselves to be a better version of themselves.

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