How teachers’ misery hurt children’s learning

A parent escorts children to school

While there have been concerns about high school dropouts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a report by researchers has shown that even those enrolled in schools are not adequately learning.

The Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Diagnostic in Uganda which focused on the primary sub-sector depicts a “learning crisis” that needs urgent government intervention in all educational institutions.

Speaking at a validation workshop held at Protea Hotel last week, the lead researcher from the Makerere-based Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), Dr Linda Nakato, said the current education system is generally aligned for other purposes other than learning for all.

“What inspired this research is that we have seen a lot of success based on research in school enrolment, transition, and completion rates, among others but there are alarming reports that continuously come out indicating that children are just going through the education system. They lack the basic competencies for their level of education,” Nakato said.

She added: “We are having a learning crisis where we see learners who stay in primary for seven years but can barely read or comprehend a P2 story or numeracy tasks. Quality education is currently being measured on thin indicators such performance of learners and schools in national examinations at the expense of other critical issues like competencies.”

For the past six months, Nakato has also been working with Dr Ibrahim Kasirye, Rehema Kahunde, Blessing Atwine, and Reagan Mugume – all from the EPRC. She said the research team interacted with education actors such as parents, learners, school inspectors, and educationists, and the final report is expected soon.


The report indicates that 70 per cent of teachers in government schools reported that they were not being supervised due to low financing towards the inspection component of schools.

The head teachers in turn expressed concern that they had limited authority in schools – even when a teacher is less-performing, they have no control over their salaries. As a result, most public schools are now focused on maintaining enrolment figures to get capitation grants and ignore what happens in the classrooms.

Currently, the capitation grant at primary level is Shs 20,000 per child, per year. This translates into approximately Shs 6,600 per child per term and Shs 82 per day. The researchers said this amount is not feasible to guarantee quality learning outcomes.

Nakato credited the National Curriculum Development Centre for designing a “good curriculum” with practical components but Uneb does not examine these aspects during the end-of-cycle examinations.

This, she explained, has to a greater extent forced schools to focus on what Uneb examines during PLE instead of learning holistically. The report also faulted commercial examination bureaus that are creeping up with unhealthy competition among schools yet they are not a true reflection of learning in schools.

“The bureaus are stifling an already vulnerable education system by focusing on lower cognitive levels of memorization instead of comprehension and applicability. They are not reliable because there’s a lot of cheating for learners, especially in private schools where teachers are assessed based on learners’ grades,” Nakato said.

“For the case of lower primary, teachers mark scripts while armed with a red pen, rubber, and pencil. Where an answer is wrong, a teacher is forced to rub and write a correct one. Another parent said she had received a nice report card but her child could not give the right answers for the same paper at home.”

At upper levels, learners are taken through the end-of-term papers and only reproduce what they were coached by teachers. The researchers concluded that there’s a lot of pressure on the teachers as parents look for good grades while the government looks at enrolment rates whether children are learning or not.

The “cumbersome” thematic curriculum was also highlighted as a hindrance to the education system – teachers are still struggling to implement it while parents demand for their children to study English language. The curriculum emphasizes the use of local language in delivery from primary one to primary three and then transit to English in primary four.


However, the researchers found that there are high school dropout rates in primary four as learners look at it as the hardest class due to transiting from local to the English language.

They said this confusion surrounding the transition is too much for learners to comprehend as teachers also confessed that the curriculum is too hard for them to teach. Commenting on the findings, the Kumi municipality MP also a member of the Education committee in Parliament, Silas Aagon, said the government needs to fine-tune the curriculum to suit the market demands

“Ultimately, we need learners who can perform in the various fields. It should not be just about examining you to pass examinations. In private schools, they mainly target grades because the education sector has been commercialized,” Aagon said.

He attributed the poor learning outcomes to minimal budget allocations to the education sector. The district education officer of Mukono, Rashid Kikomeko, agreed with Aagon about a curriculum review at primary level. He said children are studying a lot in classrooms but little is being examined.

On the minimal inspection of schools, Kikomeko said the government released funds last financial year to recruit more school inspectors.

“The money was released but their visibility is yet to be seen next year. In Mukono, we had one inspector but I currently have seven after the financial boost. However, in some areas, head teachers are unable to supervise fellow teachers because they were picked from the teachers and do not have the requisite skills to do the work. I think some training needs to be done to have meaningful inspection reports,” he said.


To improve learning outcomes, researchers urged the government to regulate commercial examination bureaus that are largely profit-oriented instead of effectively assessing the learner’s competencies.

In 2019, the education ministry issued a circular banning schools from dealing with the bureaus as the practice was exploiting parents and rendered teachers unprofessional. Since the circular was issued, more bureaus have emerged with insignificant supervision by the ministry.

Kikomeko agreed with the researchers on regulating bureaus in all educational institutions.

“These bureaus are not helping learners. True, they were banned but when people start a business in such a liberal economy, the government at some point may not have a right to close them down but has powers to regulate them. They often set exams from a wide range of activities which are not commensurate with the curriculum,” he said.

Whereas some bureaus have competent teachers as examiners, Kikomeko insisted that a classroom teacher knows the learner’s competencies better based on the content taught throughout the school term.

There’s also a need for the education ministry to; provide adequate instructional materials, improve school inspections and funding, ensure coordination among education stakeholders, and enhance pre and in-service training of teachers which is still wanting in both government and private education institutions.

Source: The Observer

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