OP-ED: Time For Ugandan Schools to Adopt Continuous Assessments

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By Dr. Lawrence Muganga

Kampala: The recently released PLE results created a lot of confusion after some traditionally excellent-performing schools did poorly while several unheralded schools excelled. In fact, some schools and parents have cried foul that they were targeted.

This cycle recurs every year and I have observed that generally, schools lack consistency and as a consequence, parents’ allegiance keeps shifting as trends change. It is from such inconsistencies that I recently proposed key transformations for continuous and competence-based assessments.

This situation justifies the need to urgently transform the country’s and ministry of Education’s approach to education assessment and eventually how education is designed, delivered, differentiated to complement unique learner learning needs, localised, and the environments in which it takes place (traditional classroom, digitally enhanced, non-conventional classrooms, or a blend of two or all) towards achieving better learning outcomes for learners, the economy (employment and entrepreneurship), and the country as a whole.

Learner assessments are vital to check learning, learner’s progress, inform teachers of how effective their approaches are and where and when they need to adjust in the learners’ best interests, and where the curriculum and evaluation methods need to be adjusted.

With the aim being to facilitate proper childhood development from a tender age, inspire an unquenchable hunger for lifelong learning, curiosity, discovery, exploration, reflective and critical thinking, a more relaxed learning atmosphere as compared to a constantly tense or anxiety-driven school atmosphere, an immersed interaction with subject content to enable mastery and development of life and work skills, in-depth learning, and teaching, it’s crucial to adopt the transformations below:

Uneb changes to Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Development (READ)

With candidate class assessments and evaluation shifted as a responsibility of the District Evaluation Boards (DEBs) at district level, the reduced work, scope, and new function of Uneb will necessitate a change to its name as well.

The proposed name is READ as it will now be restructured around a smaller, specialist team responsible for maintaining oversight of the DEBs’ activities, supporting the ministry and the DEBs through continuous research into and development of more effective education assessment tools and systems and designing, updating, and supporting the successful implementation of the Basic Assessment Gains Framework (BAGF).

Others include ensuring consistent monitoring and evaluation into DEBs’ activities and success or challenges facing effective tools and systems adoption as well as designing and facilitating capacity building of DEBs teams and educators across the country.

Formal Education Starts at Age 6

Children joining the formal education system at six years old (instead of two years years old) after they have had enough time to learn through play-at-home and are able to join school when their brains are better developed and to experience their first class-test or evaluation in Primary Four.

Most Ugandan children are placed in structured school settings and subjected to school routines (including boarding or residential schools that enroll children as early as 18 months).

Nursery schools and daycare centres operate in a free space without proper guidance and parents are detached from their children at a very critical stage of their lives when they need a more natural and homely environment, more parent or family-guided play-based engagements.

This has significant effects on most children that become more apparent later as they advance to higher levels of learning and sometimes by the time these children are in their primary school, they have already developed a bias or dislike for school.

Additional Mandatory Subject 1: Patriotism, Community and Environmental Responsiveness

Alongside the current compulsory or mandatory subjects, introduce a mandatory subject on “Patriotism, Community and Environmental Responsiveness” as a standalone that all learners studying within Uganda must study and show evidence of learning to nurture not only an educated and highly skilled entrepreneurial workforce but a new generation of Ugandans guided by the philosophy of Country First in whatever they do; learners who are conscious of local community needs and opportunities and are actively engaged; and learners who are mindful of long-term sustainability in Climate Change and Uganda’s Environmental Resources.

Additional Mandatory Subject 2: Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies

Another critical subject to add to the compulsory subjects is Artificial Intelligence (Al) and Emerging Technologies. Learning artificial intelligence and emerging technologies is experiential in itself both for the teachers and learners.

Therefore, in introducing the subject, teachers will need to be adequately trained in how to use emerging technologies in education while training learners at all levels in learning how to use the same technologies for the classroom, outside the classroom, and adapt the same technology applications to life and work.

This will further the aims of STEM in Uganda’s schools and learners will be introduced to and immersed in key Emerging Educational Technologies (EETs) such as: Artificial Intelligence (Al), Robotics, Learning Games and Simulations, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, among others.

Countrywide development of new digital-age skills and artificial intelligence interactive spaces will spark significant innovation, position learners and citizens to compete favourably in the increasingly tech-savvy workplace locally and the world over without having to leave the country physically, accelerate entrepreneurship, and enable the country to sustainably develop or enhance its own technology unlike expensively importing it from more tech-savvy countries overseas.

Distinction Between Examinable and Non-examinable Subjects and Topics

Examinable and non-examinable subjects and topics should be clearly marked as such from the beginning so learners and parents know early on what is being studied as essential general knowledge and what areas learners may focus on when preparing for tests and other assessments.

Replace PLE and UCE with Continuous Assessment and School Transition Certificates

Consider replacing the high-stakes nationwide candidate examinations for primary (Primary 7) and middle school (Senior 4) learners with Continuous Assessments (designed and administered by teachers tailored to unique regional or localised district learner needs).

Following these continuous assessments, schools would award learners with a School Transition Certificates that captures the learner’s cumulative progress via the learner’s portfolio (projects, behaviour, in-class or in-course tests, et al) when completing primary and joining secondary school, and when completing Senior 4 joining high school or vocational colleges.

Senior 6 Exam Administered by District Evaluation Boards (DEBs)

A tailored exam administered after Senior Six designed by DEBs to test competency and skills learners have acquired but more to act as a feedback strategy into improving the effectiveness of teaching methodologies, resources, and teachers, and designed to stimulate reflective and critical thinking as compared to memorisation.

Freedom for Teachers to Set and Administer School and Classroom Tests

Teachers and schools to have more freedom to set and administer tests that address the unique regions in which their schools are located and considerate of their individual learners.

The READ would design a Basic Assessment Gains Framework (BAGF) as a guide to District Evaluation Boards which would adopt this and customise it to be suitable for their schools.

Schools in the said district would then each adopt the DEB version of the BAGF and further customise it (with participation of parents, teachers, and other key stakeholders) to what best complements their school’s objectives, and each individual teacher to additionally tailor their school’s version to what complements their unique learners’ subjects and classroom needs.

The author is vice chancellor, at Victoria University

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