Blaming Teachers vs. Real Development in Uganda

On 28 Jul 11, Konrad Glogowski passed this on:

Education |P6 in Uganda pupils cannot do fractions – report

  • Although the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) has boosted enrollment in primary schools (Uganda boasts 8.3 million children in primary schools [out of about 9 million; but only about a quarter of Ugandan youth attend high school] compared to 2.3 million before 1997), numerous pupils continue to perform poorly at one of the most important aspects of basic education.
  • The report stated that, “Few primary six pupils demonstrated skills in other competences of ‘measures.’ Only about a third of the pupils (35.2 per cent) could for example tell the time shown on the clock face and merely 4.1 per cent of the pupils could apply the concept of capacity in real life situations.”
    The tests sampled pupils in 1,098 schools from all the districts in Uganda between the ages of nine and 15 and over.
  • Findings indicate that the main reason why pupils cannot practically apply what is taught in class is the teachers failure to identify the weakness of the pupils in the various areas of study.
  • The report says: “the cause of this is failure to use assessment to diagnose pupils’ and to guide teaching and inadequate practice as these pupils do their work. Primary Six pupils, whose teachers had a university degree or Grade III teaching certificate, performed better than those whose head teachers had a Grade V teaching certificate. Pupils with head teachers who reside at school performed poorer than those whose head teachers live outside the school.”

I commented,

It is evident that the sources of these problems must be sought in earlier grades, and even in the experiences of Ugandan pre-schoolers. Compare them with what I describe for children in the US.

There are excellent materials on fractions online. See the Sugar Labs page for Open Education Resources for links to some sites that have as many as 100,000 e-learning resources available. Even if students do not have computers, teachers who can access these lessons can adapt them for the classroom or for individual practice, and share them with teachers who do not have Web access.

On the issue of fractions, see also my outline for a Turtle Art tutorial on fractions for an approach that requires no computers, but will be enhanced with software activities fairly soon. If your students have trouble with these exercises, and you can tell us why, we will work with you and them to develop materials that meet their needs. You will also have to tell us if there are circular Ugandan foods that we can use in lessons for children who are not familiar with European/American cakes, pies, and pizza. ^_^

When you have a 4.1% success rate on a particular topic, and thus a 95.9% failure rate, it cannot be said that individual teachers have failed to recognize individual difficulties. This is evidence that the entire curriculum is misdesigned. I assume that this is some part of the holdover colonial education system from before independence, designed originally for European children, with no relation to the prior experiences of Ugandan schoolchildren. Colonial education systems were designed to keep the population down, and have no place among free peoples.

We have some experience in overcoming these lacks, but it requires someone to identify the systematic failings of the current system, and let someone know who can fill the gaps. An excellent example is the Epaati software in Nepal, developed to meet specific local requirements by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Nepal and Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal.

It includes a counting/addition program that reportedly allowed the majority of Nepalese schoolchildren in the program to advance two or three years in their arithmetic classes within a few months.

I will blog about this report and my suggestions for helping to fix these problems on Replacing Textbooks at  WordPress. I discuss issues concerning e-learning materials and the fact that printed textbooks in many countries cost more than computers with Free Software and Open Education Resources, and about progress in providing OERs. Bangladesh, for example, is the first to digitize its textbooks for all primary and secondary school subjects in all grades. Uganda could do the same in its local languages, if we could convince the MoE [Ministry of Education] and various NGOs to take on such a project.

Actually, I am going to have to come back to that report another time, and talk about trying to get the right answers to the wrong questions, or as we say in tech, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

However, Uganda has more fundamental problems.

Uganda has been a colony under the usual British Imperial racist kleptocracy (starting by declaring that all land in Uganda and other colonies belonged to the Queen) and, under Idi Amin, an outstanding disaster area in a region of many disasters. Corruption and incompetence remain severe. Theoretically, Uganda has made a commitment to deploying OLPC XOs to its schoolchildren. Practically, this can be considered a political stunt of no immediate consequence, since there was no attempt to provide funding.

Uganda has recently connected to the EASSY fiber optic cable connecting East Africa to Europe, and is in principle laying out a fiber optic network around the country, with connections to Kenya, Rwanda, and its other neighbors. However, it is reported that the design and construction were completely mismanaged, and had to be done over. The wrong kind of cable was installed incorrectly, at insufficient depth.

Uganda: Fresh Storm Brews Over National Fibre Optic Cable Project

The government has ditched technical safeguards for proper construction and functioning of the multi-billion [in Ugandan shillings; $106 million] national optic fibre backbone infrastructure, Daily Monitor can reveal.


Kato Mivule | April 21, 2010
It is always the poor who suffer while the elites can afford expensive satellite connections in Kampala… Corruption and mismanagement are some of the largest impediments to ICT development in Uganda…

Internet cable project stopped | New Vision |April 20, 2010

By Cyprian Musoke

THE National Information Technology Authority has stopped the laying of the Internet cable over reports of poor quality and inflated costs.

The three-phase project, which was meant to be ready by now, has been mired in controversy since it started in 2006.

The cable is meant to be linked to the submarine cable that arrived at the East African coast recently and to provide faster and cheaper Internet access to Uganda.

However, experts say the project will not deliver on the objectives because of the poor quality of the cable. Experts also said Uganda was spending far more on the “inferior” cable than what Rwanda spent on a superior one.

I am in contact with OLPC Uganda and OLPCorps Uganda, with an orphanage in the south of the country, and with the coffee growers on the Ugandan side of  Mt. Elgon about laptop projects and about economic development more generally. (Part of Mt. Elgon is in Kenya.)

Mt. Elgon parchment coffee is some of the best in the world. Growers have been able to make Fair Trade deals, which has significantly increased their income, but they have suffered from

  • lack of infrastructure
  • misguided economic policies leading to huge smuggling operations
  •  lack of access to what we in the US would consider the most basic tools, such as a chainsaw to take down diseased coffee plants
  • equipment and facilities to process their coffee and move up the value chain.

Economic development in the area requires that somebody have a small surplus to invest in things like chainsaws, backpack spray equipment, and so on to rent to the growers. So far, so good. We have that. Next it appears that we will have to help the growers create a washing station for their coffee beans. Last year, severe rains during the harvest period prevented getting the beans to the distant washing station in time to prevent serious degradation in their quality. (We can talk about roads, trucks, and other such things another time.) An industrial-grade coffee roaster, packaging equipment, and a branding campaign could allow marketing to hotels and restaurants for the tourist trade, and to the retail trade in the cities. And so on. Our business advisor is working on a business plan that will bridge the gap from small tools to these larger initiatives, plowing back profits from one level into the next. Think of it as microfinance for whole communities at a time, not just individuals.

Then we can talk about schools, electricity, Internet, laptops, education, health, an effective civil society, and all the rest of what is needed.


About mokurai

Generalist; End poverty at a profit for all
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