Ref: Daily Monitor and New Vision, 17 June 2015
When teachers feature in our news stories, it is often because of a strike they are planning, demands for pay increase, or accusations of absenteeism and dereliction of duty. In May this year, the latest sit-down strike made headlines throughout the country. The issue only left the front pages when government agreed to a 15 percent salary increment for all public school teachers.
But let’s step back from the welfare/salary fight for teachers and focus on the less talked about issue: teachers’ competence.
The Daily Monitor, New Vision and several radio and TV stations today reported a small, but significant decline in performance of primary school teachers who sat Grade III examinations last year. According to the reports, the pass rate dropped from 77% in 2013 to 71% in 2014, with Swahili and mathematics being the worst performed subjects.
Daily Monitor quoted Ms Winnie Tukamuhebwa, the Kyambogo University senior assistant registrar, who said the worst performing colleges were privately owned institutions that admit candidates with only pass grades at O-Level. However the New Vision noted that there is more to this. The paper reported that higher education state minister, Sandy Tickodri-Togboa, attributed poor performance to poor teaching methods and the misconception among student teachers that mathematics is difficult.
Regardless of the exact reason for the decline of performance, there is need for increased and sustained media attention to be paid to teachers’ competence. After all there is an agreed upon link between the success of students, particularly at primary school level, and teachers’ subject and instruction mastery.
A 2013 study entitled Teacher issues in Uganda: A diagnosis for a shared vision on issues and the designing of a feasible, indigenous and effective teachers’ policy, explains that although admission of students to train as teaches is based on equal opportunities, “some pressure from the local authority and other stakeholders to have their people recruited (despite unmet minimum requirements) has been recorded”. The study conducted by the ministries of education finance, public service as well as Uganda Bureau of Statistics and Uganda National Teachers’ Union adds that in 2010, 12.7 percent of primary teachers and 16.1 percent of secondary teachers were not qualified.
Significant media coverage has been given to the ‘hardware’ of education, i.e. the construction of classrooms and the lack of sufficient textbooks and learning materials. Now, with the exam results in the news, it is a good opportunity for more reporting on the ‘software’ of education in order to raise public debate on important issues of teacher training, teacher assessments, performance appraisal and teachers’ motivation.
Here are some ideas for follow-up stories on the exam results:
- How have the entrance requirements to teacher training institutions changed over the years, if at all? What effect has this had?
- Who is teaching the teachers? Are they qualified? What monitoring and inspection mechanisms are in place for teacher training intuitions? Are they implemented?
- What is the profile of the average student teacher? Why is this a chosen profession and what support do the students receive to attain their goals?
- Does the curriculum in teacher training institution suffer from the same bottleneck that schools do? Are there efforts to sort this out? What are they?
- What opportunities are available for other professionals to join teaching? What training is given to them on or off the job?
- What made the teachers of the 1960s to 1980s different from the current crop of teachers?
- Profile Uganda’s oldest teacher training institution, tracing how it has evolved over the years, what challenges is it facing and what is being done to boost the training of the next generation of teachers.