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A personal view John Whiteley. Primary Education in Uganda. Who am I?. John Whiteley From Wigan UK Over 60! Schoolteacher for 45 years; started teaching in 1967 Degree in theology Spent much of my educational life as a deputy head in a British senior comprehensive school

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Primary education in uganda

A personal view

John Whiteley

Primary Education in Uganda


Who am i
Who am I?

John Whiteley

From Wigan UK

Over 60!

Schoolteacher for 45 years; started teaching in 1967

Degree in theology

Spent much of my educational life as a deputy head in a British senior comprehensive school

Joined VSO in 2009 and came to work with the inspectorate in Masindi.

Since 2011 have been looking into the issues involved in teaching the Ugandan primary curriculum in typical Ugandan schools.



Ogunga primary school kiryandongo district 16 th october 2009
Ogunga Primary School, Kiryandongo District, 16th October 2009

I counted 165 heads!


Natural and artificial forests p4 sst
Natural and artificial forests P4 SST

Being an “artificial forest”, all standing the same way in rows

Being a “natural forest”, standing anyhow





Bee drama to explain the swarming habits of bees
Bee drama, to explain the swarming habits of bees

Feeding one of the larvae with royal jelly

Worker bees doing all the work

Queen mating with drone

Queen laying eggs in a hexagonal cell



Relationships p6 english group work
Relationships, P6 English, group work

Who is the (1) grandmother of Joan (7) son-in-law of Hellen, etc

What is the relation of (1) Enid to Jane (7) Peter to Francis, etc


Reading all years

This is a set of P3 SST books, never used because P3 are taught in Runyoro. But they are written in English, with a large typeface, and the syntax is relatively simple. They could be reading books for any year group.

Reading, all years


Combustion p5 science
Combustion, P5, Science taught in Runyoro. But they are written in English, with a large typeface, and the syntax is relatively simple. They could be reading books for any year group.

When the bottle was sealed, the candle went out after five seconds because all the oxygen had been used up.


Distance speed and time p6 mathematics
Distance, speed and time, P6, Mathematics taught in Runyoro. But they are written in English, with a large typeface, and the syntax is relatively simple. They could be reading books for any year group.

A length of road was measured using a 10 metre length of string. The speed of passing vehicles could be calculated by measuring the time taken to pass between two points visible from the classroom.


Drawing angles p5 mathematics
Drawing angles, P5, Mathematics taught in Runyoro. But they are written in English, with a large typeface, and the syntax is relatively simple. They could be reading books for any year group.




Digestive system poem

Digestive system English

I’m the mouth and I’ve got teeth

at the top, and underneath.

Chop the food up nice and small,

so we can digest it all!

I am the oesophagus;

I take food in a bolus

to the stomach deep within

for digestion to begin.

In the stomach there’s no rest –

lots of juices, they’re the best

at dissolving all our food

so that it will do us good.

There is lots of acid here,

hydrochloric, that is clear,

kills the germs and makes enough

digestive enzymes do their stuff.

Digestive system, poem

Into the small intestine

where the food goes next in line.

It’s a long tube, there’s no doubt,

several metres all stretched out.

Much digestion goes on here,

enzymes come from the liver

to break down the proteins fast,

carbohydrates, fats are last.

Next the colon, it’s quite fat,

takes the liquid out, and that

means that what’s left, our faeces,

can come out from us with ease.

Most important in all this –

what we call peristalsis.

Squeezes food along the tract

so that digestion can act.

The anus is last to show

in our bottoms, as you know.

Out come faeces, briefly seen,

as they drop in the latrine.


A maximum and minimum thermometer not a six s thermometer
A maximum and minimum thermometer English(NOT a Six’s thermometer!!)


Inertia learning for english vocabulary p4 p7
Inertia learning for English vocabulary, P4 – P7 English

Holiday Activities

P7 work Vocabulary

study (verb)

meaning – to apply one’s mind to learning, perhaps to a particular subject

example – “I am going home to study mathematics.”

farm (noun)

meaning – a piece of land belonging to a person which is used for growing crops or raising animals

example – “I am going to dig on my uncle’s farm.”

tour (noun)

meaning – a journey to visit several destinations

example – “I am going on a tour to America.”

tour (verb)

meaning – to make a journey to visit several destinations

example – “We are going to tour America.”

camp (noun)

meaning – a place where people stay in temporary shelters

example – “We went to the camp in Bweyale.”

camp (verb)

meaning – to stay in temporary shelters

example – “We shall camp in Pakanyi.”

visit (verb)

meaning – to stay at a place for a short time, for social reasons

example – “We shall visit my aunt in Hoima.”


How to learn vocabulary and other things

Learning vocabulary English

Copy the words NEATLY AND CAREFULLY into your books.

Read what you have written ALOUD to each other.

TALK TO EACH OTHER in English about the words.

ASK if you do not understand something.

How to learn vocabulary, and other things



Use of whose p5 english
Use of “whose”, P5, English English

The children, in their groups, had to agree on the answers.



Cape pe p4
CAPE, PE, P4 English




Millennium development goals

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger English

Achieve universal primary education

Promote gender equality and empower women

Reduce child mortality

Improve maternal health

Combat HIV / AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Ensure environmental sustainability

Develop a global partnership for development

Millennium Development Goals

Education can have an influence on all of these goals.


Millennium development goal 2
Millennium Development Goal 2 English

  • Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Uganda has been hugely successful in getting children into primary schools.

It has been less successful in retaining those children to the end of Primary Seven.

If children do not complete Primary Seven, Uganda will be much less successful in meeting the other Development Goals.


Why do children not complete primary seven
Why do children not complete Primary Seven? English

What are the figures?

2009 Number of children who were registered for the PLE – 511,123

2003 Number of children in Primary One – 1,914,893

73% of the 2003 cohort did not complete Primary 7.


Why do children not complete primary seven1
Why do children not complete Primary Seven? English

Responsibilities at home – early marriage – taken to work in the fields or family business – death - transferred to other schools - sickness

But behind many of these reasons is the fact that children (or their parents) don’t see the point of staying in school. Why not – because they cannot do the work and they are failing. What is the point of staying on?

If they were succeeding at school they would be much more likely to stay.


Why are children failing in primary schools
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

This school bought end-of-year tests from Kampala Examination Services.

Abitekaniza Jackline scored 1%, and she was not alone. There were many children who results were below 10%.

Will Abitekaniza Jackline complete Primary Seven? I don’t think so.

Abitekaniza’s parents paid 1,000/= to be told that their daughter scored 1%. Will they want to keep her in school? I don’t think so.

And this is happening all across the country.


Why did the school buy tests like these
Why did the school buy tests like these? English

. . . Because on page 18 of Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards it says, “At the end of each term the learner does end-of-term examinations . . .”

The school cannot afford to produce its own written papers at the low cost offered by Kampala Examination Services, or other providers, so they buy from them. Unfortunately, many of these tests, particularly for P4, are utterly unsuitable for the learners.


Why are children failing in primary schools1
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Reasons beyond the control of NCDC

  • Underfunding of the education service leading to crumbling buildings, huge classes and few or no resources.

  • The national obsession with PLE results, often shared by inspectors and district education officers.

  • Difficulties over language, particularly the transition from local language to English.

  • Life for many primary teachers, especially those in rural areas, (i.e. most of the country), is tough and not conducive to reflective and experimental education.

  • Many primary teachers are not particularly well educated themselves.


Why are children failing in primary schools2
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Reasons within the control of NCDC

  • The curriculum, especially in P6 and P7 is inappropriate for children in the lower half of the ability range.It is not enough to say that children of low ability should be given special treatment. They need a different syllabus.

  • Conscientious teachers feel that they must teach all of the curriculum without regard to whether children are learning.They receive the impression, from the syllabus books, government instructions, documents like BRMS, and the attitude of inspectors and CCT’s, that education is just a matter of following the rules. It is not. They are not encouraged to experiment with the curriculum or ask crucial questions, such as, “Are the children learning?”

  • An acknowledgement (in the P6 syllabus page xiv) that the PLE examination is something to be anxious about. But there is more to life (and education) than the PLE.


Why are children failing in primary schools3
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Reasons within the control of NCDC

4. Many prescriptions seem to be written without regard to the abilities of the teachers or the children.For example, in P6 science children have to read or write stories about caring for and protecting vertebrates and invertebrates, sound, energy and the ear, the composition and functions of blood, and diseases and disorders of the heart and circulatory system. In my experience most children find enough difficulty in writing a story about what they did yesterday.

5. The integrated science syllabus is overloaded with facts and far too short on scientific enquiry. Teachers use text books, and if the text books include words like monocotyledon and dicotyledon (Primary Four!), the teachers try to teach these to the children, because they are in the text book. This does not help the children to enjoy science.


Why are children failing in primary schools4
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Reasons within the control of NCDC

6. The forty minute lesson – “Each lesson in P5/P6/P7 shall last for 40 minutes” and the same is implied for P4. The syllabus allows double lessons for practical subjects. A lesson should be as long as necessary for the child to learn and understand. 40 minutes is not long enough for large classes, older children or extended work. (The BRMS prescription that there shall be “at least eight lessons” in a day should also be challenged.)

7. There has to be more FUN in education CAPE is naturally enjoyable for most children, and there are references to games, puzzles ands riddles in other syllabuses. BUT the general approach is humourless and didactic. Education in Uganda is about BEING TOLD, not about DISCOVERY.


Why are children failing in primary schools5
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Primary Five, Integrated science, Term III, Theme 5, Managing changes in the environment


Why are children failing in primary schools6
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Observations about Primary Five, Integrated science, Term III, Theme 5, Managing changes in the environment

  • The maximum time available is only 18 x 40 minute lessons.

  • Many children will be only 11 years old.

  • Most children will be struggling with English.

  • The following topics are substantial studies in themselves –fermentation, respiration (not studied until P6), earthquakes, placement faulting, volcanic action, mountain formation, rain formation. (Since “mountain formation” is not an observable change, why is it here?) There are 12 letters in the word “fermentation”. “placement faulting” is a misprint. It should be “placement/faulting”

  • The classification into biological, physical and chemical changes is an abstract concept beyond the capacity of P5 children to grasp.


Why are children failing in primary schools7
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Observations about Primary Five, Integrated science, Term III, Theme 5, Managing changes in the environment

  • The consequences of changes do not include death and injury, which are common results of earthquakes, landslides and volcanic action.

  • “Reciting poems”, “role playing” and “writing and singing songs about environmental changes” are far from easy for your average Ugandan teacher to organise, and would occupy a good deal of time.

  • Content 2, “Characteristics of various types of changes to the environment” is not explained and has no examples. Why is it there?

  • Content 3 “Change of state”, “new things are formed” and placement of things” seem vague and rather pointless.

  • Assessment activity 3, “Describe ways of managing different changes that happen in our environment” is a huge subject in itself, and is not explained.


Why are children failing in primary schools8
Why are children failing in Primary Schools? English

Observations about Primary Five, Integrated science, Term III, Theme 5, Managing changes in the environment

  • This type of prescription is common throughout the syllabuses. It is far too difficult for most children and many teachers. There is too little time, far too much content and the schools have not got the resources.

  • The obvious danger is, because the subject matter is extensive and difficult, that the teachers will simply write lists of facts on the board, which the children will copy down illegibly in their books, and will fail to comprehend in any way.


Some suggestions 1
Some suggestions 1 English

Write an alternative syllabus for P6 and P7

This syllabus should concentrate on basic literacy and numeracy and practical and life skills. Above all it must be ENJOYABLE and the children must feel that they are succeeding.

P6 and P7 could probably be taught together.

Schools would need to find an eighth classroom. (In my experience schools have sufficient staff to cover this extra class. Teaching space would be the usual problem.)

A certificate should be awarded for successful completion of the course, recognising such qualities as attendance and punctuality, ability to work with others, imagination, service to others and business acumen.

Certificates could perhaps be awarded by districts which would allow some flexibility appropriate to the area.


Some suggestions 2
Some suggestions 2 English

Issue guidelines to schools, inspectors, CCT’s and PTC’s to be read in conjunction with your syllabuses

The guidelines should stress the importance of success in education. If children drop out, that is failure on everyone’s part.

Teachers should be encouraged to be flexible about which parts of the syllabus they choose to emphasise.

It might be better for the children to cover half the syllabus and understand some of it, than to cover all of it and understand none of it.

Not all lessons need to follow the same pattern or be of the same length.

Not all lesson plans need to follow the same pattern. Lesson plans should be HONEST. There is too much pressure on teachers to say the right things without doing them.

Above all, the children must UNDERSTAND what they are being taught and they should ENJOY being in school.


Some suggestions 3
Some suggestions 3 English

Open a public debate about the examination oriented culture of Ugandan education

In Primary Seven most children spend their time revising from the printed commercial tests rather than from their own books. Are past tests the best books they have?

The prescriptions in BRMS

at the end of each lesson, the learner answers oral and written questions

at the end of each topic, the learner answers oral and written questions

at the end of each term, the learner does end-of-term examinations

need to be questioned. Why do there have to be written questions every lesson? Buying commercially produced tests for P4 and P5 is just condemning the majority of children to failure.

NCDC could lead the debate about what sort of school system Uganda wants.


Some suggestions 4
Some suggestions 4 English

Put yourselves in the position of the teachers who have to teach your syllabuses and the children who have to be taught by them.

The teachers, in most cases, have only Senior Four education.

Few of them have access to books or newspapers, or even television. Hardly any can understand or use the internet.

Many have to draw water from boreholes and cook on wood or charcoal. Few will have electric light. Taking work home is not an option. Marking and preparation have to be done in school. Most schools are still rural.

Their classes may be huge, and texts books few or non-existent.

By the end of Primary Four many children will have acquired only a few words of English. Most children in homes where English is not spoken will struggle to the end of Primary Seven.


Some suggestions 5
Some suggestions 5 English

Publish your syllabuses electronically

There are insufficient printed copies of the syllabuses. On-line publishing should not be expensive if the syllabuses are already held on computers.

In the UK all syllabuses are available on-line and for free.


Thank you for listening
Thank you for listening! English

Thank you for listening!