The government rolled out the new lower secondary education curriculum in February 2020 with the aim of creating meeting the learners’ needs especially in regard to skills training and enhancement. The Minister for Education, Hon. Janet Museveni, in her statement to Parliament, said that the need to review the curriculum was overdue since it had not been revisited since the colonial education system was introduced. The Minister revealed that the old curriculum was channelling out graduates with no practical skills to meet the demands in the labour market.
The National Curriculum Development Centre has made adjustments in the teaching subjects for the lower secondary, for example, teaching subjects have been reduced from 43 to 21. In the new approved curriculum, schools will teach 12 subjects at Senior One and Two, out of which 11 will be compulsory while one will be from an elective menu (optional). Students at levels Three and Four will exit with a minimum of eight or a maximum of nine subjects with seven of them compulsory.
Consequently, some subjects have taken different forms: Music has now included dance and drama to become Performing Arts; Fine Art has been redesigned to include elements of design and it is now called Art and Design; Technical Drawing has been integrated with elements of woodwork and metalwork and technology and it is now called Technology and Design; History has been integrated with Political Education; Accounts and Commerce have been integrated in Entrepreneurship education, and History has been integrated with Political Education.
Under the new curriculum, teachers will compile the learners’ achievements under the Formative Assessment in the four-year cycle, find an average score and submit it to the Uganda National Examinations Board to contribute at least 20 per cent in the final national examinations grading. The Chinese language has been added to the menu of foreign languages while Kiswahili, Physical Education and entrepreneurship will be compulsory for all students in Senior One and Two.
The aim of changing the curriculum
The new pedagogy aims at providing to the learners 21st Century skills which include; critical thinking, creativity, collaboration or teamwork, communication, information literacy, ICT, and flexibility. This is obviously good news to the nation, however, the perturbing question is whether this will be implemented amidst the facility inadequacies in most of the Ugandan schools. For the learners to become creative especially in ICT and the natural sciences, there must be necessary equipment such as well-furnished laboratories, effective internet and obviously knowledgeable trainers. These are not present in most of the rural schools in Uganda which are predominantly knowledge hubs for most of the young people.
Will the new curriculum cure the deficiencies in the old curriculum?
The State of Youth Report 2019 by Centre for Policy Analysis indicated that the majority of the youth demanded more practical subjects and over 50% of them revealed that the education they had received had not prepared them for the available opportunities in the labour market. The old curriculum could not equip the learners with thorough skills and knowledge to become innovative in order to create jobs but rather teaches them more of theoretical work than practical skills and that explains the high levels of unemployment in Uganda.
I observe that the difference between the old curriculum and the new Curriculum is that the subjects have reduced in number and some have taken different forms. Changing names of the subjects may not yield much but rather emphasis should be put on the content taught in class. There is no way of attaining different results when things are continued to be done as usual. The dilemma is when the presumed practical subjects such as ICT, woodwork and metalwork remain being taught in theory. If the learners are not exposed to the actual practice in these subjects, it defeats the purpose for which the curriculum was reviewed.
In my opinion, the only way the new curriculum can equip learners with practical skills is when the trainers in schools teach practical subjects ‘practically.’ Teaching computer skills to the students without demonstrating on a computer makes computing a hoax to the learners. Similarly, the woodwork class does not make more sense if there are no wood and equipment for practice. Another important thing which I think the curriculum is not clear about is the ability of learners to make decisions on what they want to be taught. Many times, the mode of teaching has been teacher-centered which makes the teachers have all the leverage of determining what is to be taught. Denying the learners an opportunity to participate in determining what skills they should be taught, presents them in a situation of studying the content which they may not be interested in. It is, therefore, noble that the leaner is put at the centre of learning.
Being aware of the gender stereotypes on science and practical subjects, I propose that female students be prioritised by the trainers while teaching these practical subjects and be given all the necessary support they deserve. In fact, there should be deliberate efforts by the stakeholders in education to equip the ‘girl-child’ with practical and soft skills which will enable her to quickly join the labour market so as to reduce her socioeconomic vulnerability.