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DAVID MAFABI: Uganda’s CBC education reform, good but Education ministry must stop its hurried implementation and rethink it

David Mafabi is a veteran journalist (PHOTO/File)

MBALE —Just a week ago I had an argument with my daughter who was in Senior One in 2020 but only attended the lessons for three weeks that year under the new curriculum and the school closed.

In 2021, she went back to school to continue with her studies but she attended the lessons for only two weeks and the schools closed again due to Covid 19 restrictions.

The total number of days studied for senior One only adds up to four weeks in two years-less than a month under the new curriculum; Competence Based Curriculum [CBC] and school teaching stagnated around 12% due to Covid 19 restrictions.

When you look at the books for most learners in Senior One then, apart from just defining the subjects, there was nothing studied at all under CBC which our dear ministry of Education is forcing schools to adapt to.

Many a parent I have talked to are unhappy and have been taking to social media to highlight challenges that they are facing and the challenges their children under automatic promotion are facing as they try to assist them with their homework.

With the rollout of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) hitting learners, some learners say they find themselves forced to learn new things under a new curriculum in a new class without proper instructional materials out of cardboard.

“Under this new curriculum, the teachers give assignments to the parents, the children are just co-coordinators. We are suffering because we completely don’t understand the new curriculum and our children even the teachers seem not prepared enough for this new curriculum,” one parent said in an interview.

This disquiet has been exacerbated by the dogmatism from the ministry of Education and sports where they have either turned a deaf ear on the many voices or concerns over the new curriculum.

Dr Grace Baguma, the director NCDC while appearing on NBS TV 13, January re-affirmed that they have rolled out the CBC in schools as a ministry of Education, only she forgot that many children are not learning anything under the new curriculum because the pupils live in poorer areas, face long journeys to and from schools and the schools lack basic infrastructure with no internet access, and whose parents cannot afford phone data.

From the onset, I would like to state that CBC is a good system of education that as a country we should, one day, aspire to have. But as things stand, it is not workable. CBC, as it, is not the magic bullet to the challenges of old system.

As much as there is serious need to move from knowledge-based systems of learning towards skill-based systems, to align with the various visions and agendas in and out of the continent, in doing so, we must always remember that at the core of any education system is promoting equality, equity and providing quality education.

It is rather unfortunate that we are implementing CBC hurriedly in schools without due respect to the learners who have not been in school due to Covid 19 restrictions just because we want to get money from donors in form of allowances without first thinking how it is going to work out in the short run, medium run and long run.

The CBC system has been rushed and is being implemented without proper planning and wide consultations necessary for something this serious and many parents with some teachers inclusive are only hearing of CBC when implementation is already underway.

Planning is being done as implementation goes on. Most of the stakeholders aren’t even aware of all its details; the details are being released in bits with a few teachers taken for conference meetings in three days as if it is on a trial run.

Have the economic aspects of CBC been well thought out? We are being told that by 2023 we will have all learners [Primary, secondary] will be doing CBC at the same time. Has the necessary infrastructure been planned for?

We are told that the national exam will only contribute 40% with 60% coming from continuous assessment. What measures are there to ensure that this continuous assessment isn’t bogged down with integrity issues?

If cheating can happen in national exams how genuine will be the results from this continuous assessment? What research informed the need for a new system? Why were the necessary policy steps such as involvement of parliament, all stakeholders including parents etc ignored?

During the NRM’s reign [since 1986] there have been a lot of unnecessary disruptions of the Education sector by changing things without any justification. A good example is liberalization of the Education sector, National policy on science education and science teachers’, all primary school teachers should have degrees, thematic curriculum for primary schools etc.

All this reckless experimentation will have lasting adverse consequences and our Education ministry now has been turned into a laboratory where educationist vendors have a field day selling new systems for their own benefits.

Government rolled out CBC in 2020 for senior one but shortly [in about three weeks] government closed schools due to Covid 19i later in 2021 when children reported again for their first term, government again closed schools, this means the new curriculum suffered setbacks twice.

The learners suffered a set-back too and to-date they don’t understand what the new curriculum is, they have no desire at all to go to the classrooms nor do some of the teachers across the country especially in rural hard to reach schools of Uganda.

And our dear ministry of Education should get some lessons from this proverb; “Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

For CBC to work, the government needed to, first, invest heavily in the learning environment; It is near impossible to implement CBC with a pupil-teacher ratio of approximately 90:1. Ideally, CBC requires a pupil-teacher ratio of about 20:1 at the maximum.

Although CBC captures the aspirations of the country which places emphasis on the learner’s competence, character, patriotism, citizenship, and ability to coexist as a responsible citizen, the reality that many schools not only lack enough classrooms and facilities to make education conducive means ministry of Education should rethink its implementation.

The ministry of Education should have also known that many parents are still struggling to make ends meet after losing on employment as a result of Covid-19 while those with jobs are not paid enough to meet up the expectations of this otherwise beautiful education system

As a scholar I have learnt that the economic assumptions underlying the CBC make it nothing short of ridiculous if anyone were to look at it vis a vis our socio-economic realities given the reality that not all Ugandan homes have electricity, smart phones or printers to conduct some of the assignments required by the CBC.

True, CBC fosters on the development of crucial soft skills such as Communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, imagination and creativity, citizenship, learning to learn, self-efficacy and digital literacy and towards the end, learners perform countless investigative, explorative, and experimenting activities in the course of learning but is this possible when we can’t begin climbing the tree from the top?

Our dear ministry should have started with Primary one class, senior one class, year ones offering Education at higher institutions of the country [TTCs, NTCs, Education University students] for human resource and the cycle would continue but not forcing those in senior two, three, senior five and senior six to start the new curriculum.

Actually, It is important that University graduates ought to have the basic capacity to implement CBC and this must be integrated into the curriculum.

True, I know that CBC introduces soft skills to give learners a massive competitive advantage when competing for job and business opportunities upon graduation however, Teachers’ and principals’ interpretations and understandings of their role under the CBC varies greatly, particularly in terms of their function as learning facilitators which should have been addressed first.

Many teachers under CBC are now providing a minimalistic description of their role in implementing the CBC, seeing it as one of student supervision and monitoring and yet others think the ministry will teach them to teach it.

Broadly speaking teachers who have undergone training on the CBC report feeling empowered to implement the fundamental components of the CBC; however, nearly all acknowledged the need for continued additional support, resources, and training.

Several teachers, for example, express their confusion about the new protocols and lesson planning components of the CBC, many of these don’t know anything about this and report that the ministry is using trainers who can’t differentiate a lesson plan from a scheme of work and teaching notes.

Take leave it, CBC is about digital literacy and most of the teachers in rural areas of Uganda have limited digital literacy which is also a big challenge to CBC implementation, which comes in contrast to the approach outlined in the Abridged curriculum for the CBC which underlines the need for both teachers and students to use ICT across the learning areas.

The entire hallmark on the relevance of any curriculum to the society is the promptness with which the curriculum adapts to changing societal needs as well as adapting to the current needs and aspirations of the nation as articulated in various policy documents, does CBC present these?.

We ought to build parental engagement with the CBC across the board, under CBC parental engagement is lacking –even when parents express enthusiasm for the new system, and they lack understanding or skills to play the role which the curriculum envisages for them.

We should be able to engage the parents or communities through using radio as a tool to provide information around the CBC’s goals, and how parents and communities can be involved and this could also help to develop a cohesive understanding of the CBC across all relevant stakeholders in a given area, to promote localised coordination, demand and support for the implementation.

Our dear ministry of Education and sports should have also designed a national social mobilisation strategy through community meetings and this could serve to reduce some of the conceptual barriers to community engagement with the CBC and reduce the risk of students receiving differing feedback at home and in school.

At the CBC implementation, there is need for the availability of materials needed for the CBC, for example when there is learning about computers, we need direct object that the learners can see, we might be talking about computers, in the community and the classes, and learners are not able to see what is this computer, we need those materials to be provided in the school so that they can at last be able to see and know this is a computer as they can see it with their eyes.

Before implementation the ministry of Education should have also known that there are deficiencies in training of teachers and overall inadequacy of available training and lack of material resources for implementing CBC suggest important financial deficits in reaching full implementation of the new curriculum, we should not have hurried.

It is also important for the ministry of Education to ensure that the CBC principles which are learner-centered must be entrenched in the curriculum and this calls for thorough curriculum review to incorporate different forms of assessment, content, and modes of delivery.

Lecturers and teachers need retraining and universities should create short courses for teacher professional development and, this calls for preparedness for the lecturer and for the students and especially in terms of tools and resources.

At the implementation of CBC, ministry of Education should have known that there was need to develop guidance around the use of alternative / low-cost materials to address funding limitations and address capacity gaps on new subjects.

At this level, the ministry of Education should also held further trainings at a more technical level; these can include both formal trainings, and when resources are more limited, the development of mentorship programmes within a school or camp, where teachers with these specific competencies could work with selected other teachers to build their understanding of the new subjects as an intermediary stopgap.

Ministry of Education should also have known that parents represent a powerful means of strengthening CBC implementation, not just through their role at home but through the knowledge and values which they can bring to the curriculum as a whole. For example, a parent working in agriculture could potentially support teachers in providing ‘lived’ experience on the subject to children.

Beyond the needed training for understanding CBC, there is a clear ‘numbers gap’ that could hinder the implementation of the CBC in the near future – with too few teachers per student, successful implementation of the curriculum and its interactive components could be rendered significantly more difficult.

The challenges outlined above are not unique to the camp setting, my assessment of CBC implementation in Uganda finds that the implementation thereof has not included enough preparation or training time, with head teachers, for example, raising “concern particularly with the lack of infrastructure, shortage of well-trained teachers familiar with the new context, and a comprehensive orientation of all stakeholders to the new curriculum.

Lastly I don’t see where our CBC curriculum introducing additional core subjects such as world languages, emotional intelligence, ethics and digital literacy to already existing subjects and how it is able in the nearest future to embed the pertinent and contemporary issues content in the curriculum: drugs and substance abuse, use and misuse of ICT, environmental conservation, HIV and AIDS, religion, gender issues, violence and family, health and education, sexuality and insecurity, citizenship, health education, life skills, education for sustainable development, non-formal programmes, service learning and parental engagement should all be catered for.

It is therefore crucial that ministry of Education considers universities, institutions of higher learning especially those inclined to teacher Education engage in curriculum reform as well as understanding the current changes in the education system by; re-designing the learning context to suit the new curriculum, offering short courses to refresh teachers’/lecturer’s skills, have pre-service teacher preparation,, get involved in integrating technology, teaching, and learning and understanding the pillars which Guide Competency-Based Education.

Our traditional Education system graduates have excelled in every corner of the world. Would this be possible if this was a deeply flawed system? Even if a new education curriculum was needed, the “incompetent hungry hyenas at the ministry” striving for allowances to amass wealth should be nowhere near such a delicate and sensitive process.

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