SUNDAY LETTER TO PRESIDENT: Why UNEB’s Dan Odong and NCDC’s Grace Baguma must go

While the country and the world at large might be experiencing a lot of hardships and untold suffering brought about as a result of the detection of the Corona Virus in 2019, this could be a blessing, and not in disguise, to us, as Ugandans.

Your Excellency, it is partly because of the ongoing lockdown that has enabled some of us at various issues of national importance, for the good of our country. You might have spent over 10 years fighting Amin, 5 years fighting Obote, and 20 years fighting Kony, thinking that they were the greatest stumbling blocks to national development.

There’s no doubt, they were! Ugandans wish to thank you for successfully fighting and defeating the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), in the mountains of Rwenzori. Indeed, you have fought and won many battles (if not, all). However, there are two monsters that have hindered national progress, even much more than the ongoing Corona Virus lockdown, both at home, and globally. Arguably, these two have greatly interfered with your plans to bring about the desired levels of socio-economic transformation in this country.

You cannot fail to blame the ever rising levels of youth unemployment, on these two. Your Excellency, these two have fooled each and everyone of us, regardless of whether you are highly educated, or not, including University Professors. Your Excellency, these two enemies to national development, can be traced in UNEB and NCDC.

In my open letter to you about the same, I referred you to the Toyota Production System (TPS), principle of “Improve quality by exposing the wrong.” Your Excellency, it was this principle, together with many others, that enabled Toyota Motor Company, to supersede the rest of the most highly recognized auto companies, worldwide, including Ford, over three decades now. This time round, I wish to introduce you to yet another principle that has been successfully applied at Toyota. Your Excellency, this is the principle of, “Rid of all, that adds no value.” As David Maggie, argues in his book, “How Toyota Became #1”, riding oneself of all that adds no value, is a principal requirement in business. In business, as in life, substraction is almost always as powerful as addition. In some instances, it is even more so. Imagine a hiker, desperate to reach his final destination, still miles away, by sundown. To get there, he has to pick up his pace considerably.

He quickens his stride, but he still isn’t moving fast enough. His backpack is full of weighty food and supplies he no longer needs. He stops, empties it, and resumes his hike, several pounds lighter. Consequently, his pace increases, considerably, allowing him to arrive on time. Progress comes, not only from moving forward, but also from removing hindrances along the way, as well. A world-class swimmer, adds a stroke, but also removes body hair, ahead of a big meet. A professional footballer, increases strength, but also loses weight, ahead of a new season.

A carpenter, buys a new, more powerful saw, but also learns how to decrease the number of strokes, needed to drive in nails. Your Excellency, there’s all evidence to prove to you, and everyone concerned, that the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), together with the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), have FAILED executing their constitutional duties of conducting and co-ordinating assessment, as well as providing and controlling the national curriculum, respectively.

By and large, UNEB has never administered authentic, valid, and reliable examinations, since its inception. Your Excellency, there is overwhelming evidence to prove this assertion. Even after NCDC failing to design the Economics syllabus, rightly (micro- and macro/applied economics), UNEB, has year-in-year-out, administered exams using this faulty syllabus. Your Excellency, I am still wondering how UNEB has for all this long fooled, even Professors in Economics, to the extent of subjecting their children to exams derived from a highly faulty syllabus.

Truth be told, Economics is wrong by design and structure. This means, the subject is being wrongly taught and assessed.

Even after the collapse of marketing boards in the early 1990s, NCDC has maintained the topic (Marketing Boards) on the Commerce syllabus, and UNEB has equally continued assessing students about the same. In a subject clearly described as “history”, students are instead taught current affairs/political education.

Reference can be to HISTORY PAPER 5 (Theory of Government and Constitutional Development and Practice in East Africa). Interestingly, even sons and daughters of Professors in English Language, have equally fallen prey. According to NCDC, HISTORY PAPER 6 (History of Africa), covers the period of 1855-1914.

Interestingly, little did they know that “pre-colonial states”, which constitute topic 1 of the syllabus, are out the scope given. Even UNEB has gone ahead to assess students about the same. The core guiding principle behind the teaching of history, is the period in the historical events in question (might have) occurred. However, this has been ignored by NCDC in HISTORY PAPER 1 (Africa: National Movements and New States) and HISTORY PAPER 2 (Economic and Social History of East Africa), hence rendering the exams null and void.

Little does UNEB know that Wh- question words, i.e., what, why, how, who, when, where, relate to knowledge, and, therefore, are never used in designing questions in an exam, like History, where higher-order thinking is mandatory. Surprisingly, UNEB does not even know that history is narrative, and not descriptive.

Generally, the verb “describe” has been used wrongly throughout all the UNEB exams, including English Language. Arguably, it is a verb that has challenged educators, at all levels of study. While all the 6 papers of history are done in 3 hours, Paper 3: History of Islamic Civilization, is done in 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The core assessment verbs of examine, assess, analyse, explain, discuss, etc., have many a time, been used by UNEB, throughout all its exams. You cannot imagine students have been told to “analyse the significance of …”, “assess the reasons for …”, “examine the merits and demerits of …”, “assess the origins of …”, etc. and everybody seems to be okay with the status quo. In Biology, for example, UNEB has tasked students to suggest explanations, suggest reasons for, suggest problems, etc., while the same examining body has presented learners with questions that necessitate them to suggest uses for …, in Chemistry. It is very surprising that UNEB scientists do not that there isn’t a single room for speculation in science, whatsoever.

Everything in science is purely based on empirical evidence. Little do they know that use of modal verbs in designing science assessment tasks, definitely calls for speculation, which renders the exam null and void. Students have been faced with questions that have answers ranging from 1-infinity.

Questions have been set with multiple tenses, and during marking examiners choose which tense to follow. Multiple choice questions (MCQs) have been designed either with wrong choices, or with more than one correct choice, which is contrary to the principles governing the designing of these questions. Questions that call for subjective conclusions/answers have all been administered by UNEB. Questions that purely call for “YES/NO” responses have appeared in UNEB examinations and on reaching marking, the Board changes goal posts, and demands for essays. It is very unfortunate Your Excellency, that UNEB does not that we do not set rhetoric questions in a formally designed assessment.

These have appeared, worst of all in examinations of English Language. The awarding of marks is purely at the discretion of individual paper examiners. It is common practice to find questions of the same weight, even within the same paper, being scored differently. Knowledge questions in almost every (if not, all) UNEB exams have been scored highly than questions that call for higher-order thinking. Students are subjected with more than one exam within the same exam. Some exams are officially set out of 90% and marked out of 100%, while others are set with a mark beyond 100%, but marked out of 100%. Students are issued with uncalled pieces of advice, instead of instructions/guidelines, necessary in guiding them on how to go through a particular exam. Even though all exams are marked out 100%, they are allowing different time. For example, while a student doing Geography is allowed 3 hours, their counterpart studying Chemistry is allowed only 2 hours and 30 minutes.

While the students of Subsidiary Mathematics sit for only one paper, their counterparts doing Subsidiary Information Communications Technology, are subjected to two papers, yet at the end of the day, they each obtain only 1 point. Students are faced with questions with very unclear communication; write a composition of about 400 words, for example. Instead of write a composition of between, say, 350-400 words.

Incomplete questions have been designed in assessment, and marked by UNEB as complete questions. Just like it is for Economics, even Entrepreneurship Education is wrong both by design and structure. Unfortunately, the people who have messed up Entrepreneurship Education at NCDC, are still the same people in charge of the subject at UNEB.

One wonders why all this is happening in a country where we have so many experts in the field, including Professors. Your Excellency, I have all evidence to pin NCDC over the literature they produce. I have publications of NCDC containing downloads from Google, moreover, in copy and paste form, and NCDC claims to have copyright over these publications.

Your Excellency, I have brought this matter to the attention of the Inspector General of Government (IGG), but it seems the IGG didn’t see sense in it. UNEB is at liberty to discontinue examiners for allegedly participating in examinations mal-practice, and still rely on the services of the same during the invigilation exercise. By and large, UNEB examinations do not conform to any internationally tested principles and practices of good assessment. The core elements of language (lexicology, philology, phonetics, syntax, semantics, morphology, etc.), are all not known to UNEB. The principles that govern effective communication, have all been abused by UNEB at all stages of assessment. The situation is not any better at the primary school level. In fact, at this level, most of the books (including books published by recognized publishing houses), are marred with lots and lots of irregularities.

Your Excellency, all this evidence can be laid on table. Even after the New Vision publishing a headline story on Saturday, February 24, that read, “UNEB SET WRONG QUESTIONS-EXPERT: Whistleblower lists 40 examples; Odong blames language), UNEB saw no sense in the whole story, for they have since then continually administered faulty examinations. People are simply after getting the grades, no matter how these come in. Your Excellency, UNEB is giving the nation false results. This evidence I can lay on table, for, since 2008, I have been at this research. I compiled my initial findings in a report dubbed: SOME OF THE ANOMALIES DISCOVERED IN THE TEACHING AND ASSESSMENT OF STUDENTS AT SECONDARY SCHOOL LEVEL, which I officially delivered to all the ministers concerned, through their secretaries, including the permanent secretary. Unfortunately, none of them seems to have received their copy. Parliament was also officially served with a copy.

A number of broadcasters, including the national broadcasters, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, have allowed me to airspace to talk about the same, but nobody seems bothered. Even the National Assessment Progress on Education (NAPE) report, pins UNEB over the same.

Your Excellency, this was a report released in 2013, after a scientific study, organized by UNEB itself. In January, 2011, before a team of almost whoever is concerned with exams in UNEB, I informed Mathew Bukenya, formerly executive secretary, UNEB, that the exams he was administering were marred with lots of and lots of irregularities. Unfortunately, this didn’t make sense to him, and all his accomplices.

Your Excellency, you were supposed to have terminated Bukenya’s contract in 1996, having administered wrong examinations that year. His long stay at the helm of the Board has caused the country problems, some of which are irreparable. By and large, he ought to be called back from retirement, for there are so many unanswered questions that he needs to attend to.

Likewise, all persons that have headed NCDC before, should be recalled from retirement. I personally told Connie Kateeba (Ms), formerly, director NCDC, in the presence of the current director, Grace Baguma, during the “training”, for Entrepreneurship Education teachers, in January, 2012, that the literature they had published for the subject was largely from Google. As usual, I was not listened to.

Your Excellency, I personally don’t think, having failed to effectively work on only one subject, NCDC, with the same people, moreover, would give Ugandans genuine work, regarding the new curriculum for lower secondary school level education. If publishing is about producing plagiarized work, then NCDC are on track. However, if to be called a publisher one must present their original work, then Grace Baguma should step aside and pave way to an independent audit at the Centre. Besides, she needs to explain why, and how wrong books bearing their stamp/approval, hit the market.

On September 25, 2019, I got the chance to interact with the deputy executive secretary, UNEB, James Turyatemba, and I told him the exams they are administering were null and void, because of the many irregularities in them. I even showed him a variety of examples of from different subjects, to prove my assertion. Unfortunately, this did not move him, even an inch. In fact, he instead described the matter as trivial. Replacing Mathew Bukenya, with Dan Odong, must have been an oversight, Your Excellency. All the problems cited here, happened directly in Odong’s presence.

Odong is a teacher and formerly examiner of Principles and Practices of Agriculture, but Your Excellency, I can guarantee with confidence, a well-prepared P.6 pupil, cannot fail to obtain 30%+ in an Agriculture examination of A-LEVEL. Truth be told, the examinations of Agriculture, and all exams administered by UNEB, are far below the belt of a standard exam.

Your Excellency, all these facts I have compiled and put together in a publication titled: DESIGNING EFFECTIVE ASSESSMENT-Question Formation and Answering Techniques, currently undergoing editing. This book provides a comprehensive analysis of UNEB examinations, for a period of over 20 years, in some subjects. To my dismay, the situation is worse off, in Luganda exams. You cannot imagine even the question that the executive secretary, Dan Odong, read out during the release of the 2019 UACE results, to justify the students’ failure of Luganda, was wrong, and was read from a paper that contained many other wrong questions, including the first question, too.

Discuss the current political and social life in Eritrea (25 marks). This is a question which appeared in a paper described as “History of Islamic Civilization.”

Questions of Islam and other religious faith, like Bahai, have on many occasions, appeared in examinations clearly labelled “Christian Religious Education” (CRE). Your Excellency, I strongly suggest that you use your constitutional mandate and set up a Commission of Inquiry to audit the two chief executive officers in question, Dan Odong (UNEB) and Grace to (NCDC).

“The illiterate of the 21st is not a person who cannot read and write; but rather one who cannot learn, re-learn, and unlearn,” Alvin Toffler. By and large, our children have a lot to unlearn today, or tomorrow, for they have been fed with a lot of wrong information. Surprisingly, even the theme under which UNEB is operating is wrong “Assessment for Quality Education” Little do they know, that “quality”, can be both positive (high quality) and negative (low quality). So, the right should be: “Assessment for high Quality Education.”

Your Excellency, like Gary Convis, formerly manager at Toyota, once said, “We can forgive people for mistakes, but we need somebody with honesty and integrity to show up and be willing to speak up when there is a problem,” I am being honest enough to tell you that there is a problem with UNEB and NCDC. “Problems must be made visible. Early detection and resolution, are the key,” says Gary. Adoption of the Japanese practice of “genchi genbtsu”, which is also well-rooted at Toyota, will go a long way in helping you to deal with the problem in the institutions.

“Genchi genbtsu”, literally meaning, go to the source and establish the facts yourself, so as to make correct decisions, build consensus, and achieve the desired goals. Your timely intervention, will go a long way not only in solving the problem, but in saving the “bazzukulu” from falling prey to the monster, once again, for their future is not tommorow, but it is actually, today.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationists, 0770880185. For God and My Country!



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