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WILL INCREASED PAY LEAD TO BETTER PERFORMANCES IN SCIENCES?

By Mulengera Reporters

For years, science subjects have been the worst performed at both the Uganda Certificate of Education-UCE and Ugandan Advanced Certificate of Education-UACE levels. Records from the Uganda National Examinations Board-UNEB over the last six years indicate that sciences subjects have been the worst performed with Chemistry and Biology posting the worst results. For instance, in 2020, nearly half of the candidates who sat for the examinations failed to secure a minimum pass of 8 in Science subjects. At the release, Dan Odongo, the Executive Director of UNEB admitted that Science subjects remain a challenge to many candidates.

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Odongo’s report blamed the bad performance on the lack of knowledge on how to handle apparatus, student’s inability to make and record observations or draw conclusions from the observations, tabulation of experimental results, and interpretation of results to meet the demand of the questions. In addition, many students showed poor mathematical skills required in calculations and were unable to write correct symbols of elements, formulae of compounds, and equations among others.

The Government White Paper on Education (1992) highlighted the potential role of science and technology in enhancing development. It was argued that since obtaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda has largely promoted humanities, producing large numbers of “white-collar” workers, such as lawyers, economists, and administrators. On that background, the government developed a strategic policy on science education, with the aim of bridging the gap by training more scientists. The policy, which took effect in 2005, made the study of science subjects namely: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics compulsory for ordinary level secondary school students.

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Since then, numerous initiatives and financial resources have been directed toward promoting science in secondary schools. The government has also increased the number of university scholarships for science programs. In addition to all these efforts, the government has now decided to increase the salaries of science teachers by nearly 300 percent from Shillings 1.2 million to Shillings 4 million monthly. Before this increment, science teachers were given a 30 percent enhancement up and above what their counterparts teaching humanities earn.

However, none of the interventions seems to be working. While releasing the 2020 examination results in August last year, the Minister of Education and Sports, Janet Kataha Museveni showed concern about the perennial poor performance in science subjects. The Minister expressed displeasure with the situation despite the billions of Shillings that have been sunk in by the government targeting sciences. “We have recruited more science teachers and enhanced their salaries. Public schools have the best equipped and resourced laboratories. Additionally, we have had a program called SESEMAT to build the capacity of secondary teachers in the area of pedagogy for teaching sciences. So, where and why is there a problem?” she wondered.

One such policy is the government’s Science and Mathematics Teacher Training (SESEMAT). The program was introduced in 2005 with the purpose to improve the teaching ability of science and mathematics teachers at the secondary level. It was believed that the skills attained by the teachers would lead to an improvement in the performance of learners in these subjects.

In spite of the investments, learners have time and again complained of missing science practicals as laboratory equipment lies idle and, some still in boxes gathering dust in school stores. In addition, many science teachers including those on the government payroll moonlight in other schools. As such, learners hardly get out-of-class assistance from the teachers.

Vincent Elong, the Chairperson of the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union, says that the increase in salaries of Science teachers may not necessarily lead to an improvement in the performance of sciences.

According to Elong, the performance of science subjects cannot be tagged on teachers alone because they teach and some students excel. He points out that many schools currently lack equipment and instructional materials that would be used in the teaching-learning process. Elong also attributes some failures to the poor curriculum that has been in existence, which focused more on examination results other than on the skills acquired by the learners. He is hopeful that the new Lower secondary curriculum is going to bridge the gap since it is focused on practical skills.

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He further adds that there are other factors such as the attitude of learners toward these subjects, which also need to be checked. A 2014 review report on the performance of SESEMAT compiled by Robert Agwot Komakech and John Robert Osuu backs Elong’s view. The report showed that many learners had the perception that sciences and mathematics are difficult and meant for boys.

This can be backed by the fact that many learners tend to shy away from science subjects. Records from UNEB show that over the years, the number of students that offer science combinations at UACE has been low. While this might be attributed to poor performance at the O’level, it is food for thought by the educational planners.

The report on SESEMAT also showed that teaching in these fields is also hindered by the lack of relevant instructional materials and poor or no pay, which demotivates teachers leading to poor performance. “If teachers are well paid and motivated, they will spend more time teaching and guiding the learners. And if they are not, they will spend more time on outside activities looking for alternative means of survival, thus devoting limited time to teaching,” one of the interviewees from MM College says in the report.

Elong says, with the enhanced salaries, the association is going to make sure that teachers stop moonlighting. According to Elong, they plan on doing this by talking to their colleagues. While Elong and his counterparts are hopeful that the increase in pay will lead to an improvement in the performance of sciences, some educationists are of the view that unless the government addresses the lack of equipment, textbooks, and even the quality of teachers, the performance of science will continue to bad.

Mousa Wamala, an educationist and science teacher, says the government has to do much more than just increase the salaries of science teachers. According to Wamala, the failure of science subjects is not due to the poor pay of teachers but rather to the lack of equipment and poor attitude toward the subjects.

Wamala adds the failure of school inspectors to do their work and the high teacher-to-learner ratio, which makes it impossible for schools to perform well. Wamala also questions the interest and competence of teachers that teach sciences. According to him, many teachers especially those who are sponsored by the government are not interested in teaching.

He says many of the students study education due to government scholarships and are not interested, which raises queries about the kind of teachers who ends up in the classroom.

Paul Musoke, the technical supervisor of the SESMAT program at the Education Ministry, admits that there are a number of things that stakeholders such as teachers, parents, administrators, students, and the government may do before they expect improved outcomes.

Musoke does, however, partially attribute low performance to instructors who lack the pedagogical skills necessary to teach students science and mathematics. Evidence, according to him, reveals that science teachers place a greater emphasis on theoretical instruction than on imparting scientific competencies like conducting experiments.

As such, learners find it hard to follow instructions and procedures in examinations.

Musoke uses the example of a leaf to illustrate his point, claiming that many instructors find it more engaging to sketch leaves on the board than to collect them from the actual world. Consequently, he adds, it is advised that deliberate efforts must be made to make scientific teaching learner-centered if performance is to change.

Musoke adds that it has also been proved that science teachers rarely appear at schools and the short time they give to learners is spent on rushing to complete the syllabus without considering whether learners understand or not.

“To improve on teachers’ output, there is a need to retool teachers in the best teaching methods but he also emphasizes that government there should a supervisory mechanism to among other things monitor lessons,” he noted.

He further points out that as the government has overhauled the lower secondary curriculum, there is a need to do the same for teacher training intuitions and universities. He argues that if a teacher is not well prepared on how to teach concepts, even if he was the best student, he might fail to effectively transfer knowledge and skills to learners.

Another issue that needs to be handled is the teacher-learner ratio. According to him, in many schools, teachers handle large classes of over 200 learners making it difficult for instructors to cater to each learner but rather rush to finish the curriculum-URN (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 0200900416 or email us at mulengeranews@gmail.com).

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