Leadership Magazine interviewed Uganda National Examination Board Executive Secretary Mr. Daniel Nokrach Odong about government and private schools performance
What is your comment about private schools picking up children as early as 5:00 a.m.?
The picking up of children as early as 5:am is something that really pains me. When you look at the growth and development of children, they need a certain minimum number of hours of sleep and when a child is being picked at 5:am that means this child would have been woken up at 4:am in order to be prepared. And when they return, they have to complete their homework, which almost goes up to 10 o’clock and then they go to bed. If a child actually wakes up at 4 o’clock, this indicates that the child really sleeps even less hours than an adult. This definitely has an impact on the development of that child. It is a practice I wish private schools or parents could find better ways of managing this, it is very traumatic as far as I am concerned to the children. I wouldn’t want to have a child of my own or a grandchild or whoever subjected to this kind of…. To me, it’s a punishment and it doesn’t make learning fun anymore. How would you take a three year old out of bed at 4:00 a.m.? Do you think that child will enjoy that idea of school? It is cruel to say the least.
Commercialisation of education in Uganda has seen a big rise in the number of schools, what impact has this on the general performance in exams?
First of all, we need to thank the people who have invested in the provision of education because government alone would probably not have been able to provide enough educational facilities to all the citizens of this country. So, private schools are making a big contribution in supporting the government in providing facilities and opportunities for educating our children. That having been said, there are private schools set up by individuals whose objectives are not necessarily to provide education, however, some of these do not see the difference between their school and a wholesale shop downtown.
So they are going out to look for the turnover and the turnover is: how many children do I have, how many children have we enrolled and how much money goes in the bank? Such schools look for minimum costs so as to maximise the profits. The fees may not necessarily be high but then, the quality of education provided in such schools is not good, the facilities that the children need like the laboratory and so forth are inadequate. The teachers are not qualified and at the same time they are also not enough in number. As they go through the four years of secondary education, they have totally learned very little if anything! So those impact very negatively on the quality of education in this country.
Why is it that most private schools are performing much better than the traditional government schools?
It’s actually not true to say that private schools perform better than the traditional secondary schools that belong to government. The only thing that the traditional schools don’t do, they don’t go to the newspapers to broadcast themselves the way private schools will rush to do. But when you look at the statistics, the kind of education that the learners walk out with from the traditional schools, they are extremely performing well. Private schools may seem to be doing well but the focus of private schools is different, there is a lot of drilling. In order to get results there is a lot of sieving, you will find in some schools they would set an exam and say only the students who get this will be registered for exams, the idea is so that they get 100% first grade. But the traditional schools still go ahead and get good results.
On top of getting good results, they still provide holistic education. Traditional schools still have debating clubs, drama clubs, they are engaged in sports activities and so on which make a learner getting out of such a school getting a lot more experience than those in the Private where most of the time is spent on in class learning and doing tests merely to get these grades.
UPE and USE have widely been criticised, especially in urban areas. What is your comment?
I want to say that the government educational programs like UPE, USE and now that of UACE called the UPOLET, they are very good programs. They have enabled children who otherwise would have dropped out of school to remain in school. The problem is that sometimes people misunderstand, or confuse UPE and USE to poor performance, that is not true. In urban schools for example here in Kampala, there are UPE schools that are doing extremely well like Nakasero primary school, Buganda Road primary school, and Kiswa primary school are extremely doing well. The problems we find in the UPE schools have nothing to do with the program, however it is with the interest of the parents. When the parents know that the government is paying the fees, they seem to abdicate their responsibilities.
They no longer worry whether the teachers are in class or not like in the past when parents were paying fees. They were very concerned about whether the teachers were in class teaching or not. Now especially in the rural areas, the parents no longer bother whether the teachers are in school or not. The children only go to school to play and the teaching is not done, hence the results are affected. These are the sustainable development goals, which the UN is talking about. We have to provide universal education to our people. What we need to do is to look at those areas that negatively affect the quality of education in these schools.
There is a big gap in performance between regions i.e. schools from the central and south regions tend to perform much better than schools from the north and northeast, how can this be improved?
It is true that when you look at the statistics of performance both in primary and secondary, good performance is seen in the central, south and southwest part of the country, the eastern and the north are not doing that well. We have tried to carry out some research to find out why these differences and one of the things that have come out very clearly is the interest that parents have in the education of their children. We have observed to a very big extent that where parents are concerned and participate actively in the matters that affect their children’s education, the results are good.
So we find that these straits are very strong in the central, south and southwest. The parents are very actively involved in the education of their children. We also found that where teachers are regular in schools and they are actually teaching, performance has been ok. But we have found out in the east, north east, north and to some extent west Nile region teacher absenteeism is very high, and thus there is no way you can improve the quality of education or even the results of the children. Parental interests and involvement in the teaching and learning activities of their children and regular attendance to duty by the head teachers and the teachers, when these two are in place, results are likely to be good.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the children. In fact, you find that children from those other parts like the north once they are put in a good learning environment, their performance is extremely good. Then perhaps it also has to do with the level of education of the parents, the more educated the parents are the more interest they have in their children’s education. Possibly, it may also have to do with the social economic setup the poverty levels in the east and north tend to be higher.
What statistics does the board have about examination malpractice and what measures are in place to curb the vice?
Examination malpractice is one of the challenges we face as an examination board. In terms of magnitude, I want to say that it has been on the decline in terms of percentages of those whose results are cancelled against the entire registration. For example, in 2016 PLE we had about 1200 against 640,000 that registered, UCE 1000 against 314,000 candidates that registered, and UACE just 64 withheld results compared to over 100,000 candidates who sat. Thus, in terms of numbers and percentages the incidences of examination malpractice is not worryingly high and it is not increasing but of course as an examining body we would love to release the results of everybody.
We are intensifying the sensitization of all those involved because it has been noted that the drivers of examination malpractice are the heads of institutions that are looking out for good results. Malpractice is a serious form of corruption, and if our children begin to practice this at an early age, and even get to know that one can succeed through cheating, it will be bad as these are the people who are going to be in charge of the affairs of our country. Currently UNEB has tabled before the minister a revised act which when passed, will make it very hard and unpalatable to be involved in malpractice because the terms and sentences which will be provided are quite stiff.
Your appointment to head the examination board will be one year this April, how have you managed throughout the months counting up to a year?
I must say we have been able to put things together, we have released results of our three examinations, the first time I am doing as the Executive Secretary. I am also pleased to note together with my colleagues, that the results were well conducted. We reduced the levels of examination malpractice and the results delivered in time. The feedback we have gotten from the general public is that they are extremely satisfied with what we have done. As an individual, your first year is always very hard and you are always apprehensive, is it going to be well? I must say, I am very grateful to the Almighty for having given me the guidance to achieve what we have done.
We have been able to continue forging a very good spirit of teamwork, my office and my senior colleagues and the rest of the staff. We have a renewed sense of togetherness. We have continued to invoke God in all the activities that we carry out. We pray and we believe that he has kept us very well. As a government institution, funding is always a challenge, but we would need much more from the National cake to do so many other things. The cost of running exams is very expensive. We are in talks with the ministry of finance to get us more money so that we are able to improve on our service delivery.
However, I am so grateful that for the last one year I have spent here, we have been able to deliver on our mandate. With the new board, which was inaugurated by the minister in December 2016, we have started off very well, we are moving on together, the board and the staff. With the help of God we can only see ourselves doing better.
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