Recently, the Nakaseke District chairperson, Ignatius Koomu, said he would subject the district’s primary school teachers to Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) in order to establish whether they are competent enough to teach the subjects.
The move has since raised debate not only in the general public but also among education stakeholders, with teachers under their umbrella Uganda National Teachers’ Association (Unatu) even asking Education minister Janet Museveni to intervene.
“We have requested her to intervene. If government chooses not to respond, the day the chairperson (of Nakaseke) sets a date for the examination is the day the teachers will lay down their tools until he publicly apologises to the teaching profession,” Filbert Baguma, the Unatu general secretary, was quoted saying by Daily Monitor last week.
However, some parents support the proposal saying it will identify who is capable of teaching their pupils.
“This is not the first time authorities have questioned the competence of teachers. Several reports have pinned them as incompetent to an extent that they cannot pass Primary Leaving Exams themselves,” Isaac Kato, a parent in Masaka District noted.
In 2016, the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE), revealed that eight out of every 10 primary school teachers who qualified in 2015 could neither read nor solve basic primary level Mathematics questions. It was also reported that tutors at Primary Teacher Colleges (PTCs) were not any better.
Kato says there has for a long time been allegations in the public that most people who study education-related courses are those who had failed Uganda Certificate of Education exams.
Anthony Bbuka, a tutor, says although this used to be the case some years ago, currently such people are no longer enrolled in any teacher training institute.
“For one to be enrolled now for example in a PTC, they must have a credit in English, Mathematics and two Science subjects. I think whoever has these has really passed,” Bbuka noted.
Baguma, however, quashed the reports and allegations insinuating that teachers are incompetent. “Practically, you cannot say a teacher who passed their examinations at PLE, UCE, PTC or NTC can fail to answer a primary question. The reports are biased,” he said.
Focus on processes
Issa Matovu, an education consultant, says Ugandans always lose out when they focus on the output than the processes that lead to it (output). He agrees that a teacher is one of the most critical factors in a learner’s performance and if the teacher is incompetent, definitely it will affect the learner as the saying goes; garbage in garbage out, teacher.
He, therefore, says there is no harm in subjecting teachers to competence tests but rather the methodology of administering PLE as the competence gauge may look like despising them.
“All professional bodies have moved to competence tests to ensure they have quality people whom they are sure will deliver quality service. The same is done in some private schools nowadays,” Matovu said.
Similarly, Baguma says if any person wants to assess or evaluate teachers, there are standard ways of how this could be done such as taking them for refreshers courses and retool them in several aspects where they might be lacking.
“Who said sitting PLE will boost teachers’ performance? What are the intended results of the proposal? We just need a continuous professional development with an arrangement to induct teachers on how they should do their job,” Baguma said.
He added that trends have changed but some teachers who trained decades ago are still equipped with the skills of their time, which are no longer applicable thus the need to induct them.
Matovu says the current evaluating system is inactive as it is done once in a while, mostly annual, in form of performance appraisal filled by head teachers, which has no impact in most cases.
“In better performing private schools and districts, more so urban centres, teachers are regularly evaluated and even given targets. But there are areas where the school management committees, headteachers, teachers and other authorities are not answerable to each other what would you expect?” he asks.
Matovu further adds that there is need for holistic review of the education policies so that all stakeholders in the education system squarely address their roles other than making a piecemeal change of introducing competence tests for teachers.
“You cannot blame learners’ failure on teachers alone. Let the government deal with the gaps of teachers, inadequate classrooms, inadequate teaching materials as parents also work on lunch meals for their children, among other issues. In other words, the entire system should be reformed to make everybody part of the system,” he said.