M7 endorsement: why opposition wait for power is now eternal
April 27, 2019
What we’ve learnt about Africa, freedom and security
April 27, 2019
Show all

Varsity academicians support A-Level scrapping — it’s just elitist

 By Francis Otucu

Calls by stakeholders to scrap the Advanced Level of education has continued to draw mixed reactions, with opinion divided on whether this stage of academic instruction constitutes the major hurdle to Uganda’s development.

The debate follows a March 11 suggestion by renowned educationist Prof. ABK Kasozi that Uganda should scrap the A-Level education. Kasozi, a former Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), opined that A Level is a waste of resources which has even deprived Uganda of scientists since many students with potential miss out on skills training offered at universities and technical institutions after failing to reach A-Level.

As a remedy, Kasozi wants Uganda to drop its 7-6-3 system and instead adopt the 8-4-4 system used in Kenya.

Academicians Take

Weighing in on the matter, Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe agrees with Prof. Kasozi, saying many students just drop science subjects at A Level (thus exacerbating the country’s unemployment problem. Nawangwe argues that out of nearly 1.9 million pupils that enroll for Primary One, only 90,000 go to university and this is after only 650,000 sitting for Primary Leaving Examinations. Curiously, less than 100,000 sit for Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE).

Nawangwe and Prof. Kasozi’s suggestions are echoed by the Makerere University Director for Quality Assurance, Dr. Vincent Ssembatya.  The academician agrees that A Level partly contributes to the dropout rates after O Level. He however sadly adds that while these dropouts are absorbed into some section of the informal sector, their productivity there is affected by lack of skills that would have been offered by the technical and vocational education. “These dropouts are within our communities doing menial jobs and other jobs they come across like riding boda boda,” he says. “I don’t think riding boda boda is necessarily a bad thing. But if you had someone who rides boda boda and even has better skills, it’s not only good for themselves but also good for the person being ridden. That means someone will ride you with more understanding of the environment and better respect for laws because these people are always exposed to a lot of fragile situations like hooliganism,” he adds.

However, Dr. Ssembatya cautions that instead of looking at only scrapping A Level, there’s need to focus on a more comprehensive system of study.

“In the UK and in South Africa, they call them Not in Education, not in Employment and not in Training (NEET). If these people have dropped out of school you need to pick them up and give them access to skilling and then give them certificates that can help them in training.  Individually, if you look into your community, you will see them,” Dr. Ssembatya says.

He adds that reviewing the school system is overdue given the change of times. Dr. Ssembatya says that in 1986 Uganda had only one university and that at the time focus was on producing managers for public service jobs.

“When the A-Level system was crafted then, there was a different purpose for higher education. We had one university in Uganda and whose main objective was to create people who would work in the white collar industry. But now, ever since we revamped this higher education and created capacity for even private providers in 1987, now we have about 50 universities in Uganda. So, the system that was supporting the university seems not to have the capacity to support the current 50 universities. Its delivery channel is too narrow for the expansion and we may have to deal with unclogging the system and that may require that option of eliminating A-Level,” he says.

According to Dr. Ssembatya, A-level might just be elitist. “If only one hundred thousand are coming out of the two million (that joined Primary One), we may need to look at the purpose,” he notes.

Further Dr. Ssembatya notes that the capacity to innovate and add value to existing products is built through higher education, adding however, that participation there is lackluster.

“The primary, secondary and the higher education system cannot work together to push these numbers through that will go to higher education. So, the argument now on the table is we must shorten the path, not drastically: it is too long and then deal with all other issues that seem to get other people stuck in the system,” he advises.

He adds: “In terms of numbers, NCHE tells us that those between 18 and 24 (expected to be in higher education), are about 3.5m people but only 6.5% are in higher education. Is that high or low? On average, it’s much higher than that — over 16% — but we are underperforming at that level. So, even though we already know that we need to push these numbers in, the supply chain (levels where students come from) are kind of stuck with so many problems.”

Drawing comparison with Kenya’s 8-4-4 system, Ssembatya notes that it has now enabled the neighbouring East African country to send about 500.000 students to university, annually.

“If you go back to P7, you will note that Kenya has moved away from that. They have the 8-4-4 system. It seems to be a better delivery vehicle for students to higher levels. So, in Kenya they deliver 500, 000 students ready for higher education every year. So, the pool to choose from to join higher education is much higher and then the other element that seems to make students stuck is the A-Level system which was preparing people for elitism. No kid should be left behind but here you have most the kids being left out. So that’s now where the discussion is,” he says.

This, he says, may have a negative impact in respect to the years spent at university.

“If we argue that 250,000 at S4 should be ready to go tertiary education, you may have to increase the length they spend at the university (8-4-4). Like instead of arguing that they spend the traditional three years, pick up an extra year for preparation. That could even be a better option for A-level. They will be more focused and themed towards what they want to be. If you examine the higher education system (at university), we have very few drop-outs. This is because people have already been prepared.

He however, says that for better results the 8-4-4 system can be complemented by improving the early levels of education.

“Of course you improve the earlier levels as well. We also discovered that there is another year of waste. From P6 to P7, where 100,000 students are lost,” he says.

Go slow— NPA Boss

On his part however, the man behind the nation’s planning vouches for caution if A Level is to be scrapped. Dr. Joseph Muvawala, the Executive Director National Planning Authority (NPA), says there should be a cautious approach towards suggestions to scrap A-Level. He argues that despite having a low transition rate of science students from A-Level to university, there is need for a holistic assessment of the entire education system.

“There is no evidence to suggest that ‘A’ Level is the main barrier in the transition of scientists into the University. Confounding factors must be dealt with rather than rushing to scrap ‘A’ Level,” Dr. Muvawala exclusively told The Second Opinion.

He also called for increased and strategic investments in the teaching of mathematics and sciences at secondary level and, reading at primary school.

“Foremost, science infrastructure including labs and science teachers needs attention. Secondly, Uganda currently requires more technicians than University engineers given that our ratio of engineers to technicians is very low,” Dr. Muvawala said.

He further emphasized against focusing only on admitting students to university to study science courses when those that are supposed to implement them are few.

“It does not benefit us to have more managers than technical staff. Therefore, we should think about ways of popularizing technical institutions,” Muvawala says.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *