A new study by researchers from Gulu University and the University of Bath has revealed that forcing learners to speak English is making it hard for them to smoothly learn and understand different concepts.
The study also found that in critical areas such as safeguarding the environment, learners get their knowledge from the community and not the school curriculum. Additionally, the study reveals that the majority of learners being passed out in different institutions are learning skills from outside schools.
According to the study, enforcing English, which is a foreign language, as the language of instruction, and punishing learners for speaking their local languages while at school, is inhibiting learning.
“Understanding is rooted in local everyday mundane interactions (with individuals and objects) that form part of the school curriculum, hidden and visible,” said the researchers in a statement.
The study was conducted in northern Uganda, particularly in the districts of Gulu, Amuru and Kitgum, among head teachers, subject teachers, curriculum developers, education administrators as well as lower secondary school learners.
It was led by Dr. Lizzi O. Milligan of the University of Bath (Principal Investigator) and Co-Investigators Prof. Daniel Komakech and Dr. Expedito Nuwategeka both of Gulu University.
Conducted under the Education as and for Environmental, Epistemic and Transitional Justice to enable Sustainable Development (JustEd) project, the study aimed at investigating the role of education in ensuring environmental, epistemic and transitional justice.
The researchers also found that teaching methods were not bringing to class students’ experiences, knowledge has been broken into silos as opposed to holistic learning, alternative viewpoints outside the curriculum are not embraced, and the curriculum is clogged with many subjects to be studied within a short period of time.
JustEd was implemented in Uganda, Peru and Nepal between 2020 and 2023 by Gulu University (Uganda), Tribhuvan University (Nepal), Group for the Analysis of Development (Peru) and the universities of Bath and Bristol (UK). It was funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund.
In June 2023, the research team convened a stakeholders’ meeting at Serena Hotel in Kampala to discuss its research outcomes. Participants were drawn from the Ministry of Education, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), universities, Parliament, Secondary Schools, and the media.
The general view in the hall was that despite recent changes in the curriculum as well as some changes in teaching approaches in secondary schools, the education Ugandan learners are receiving cannot respond to the needs of the Ugandan society.
Richard Gafabusa, the MP for Bwamba County, Bundibugyo District, who has previously worked with NGOs, said that informal education in Uganda, instead, is more practical than formal education.
“It is the things we learn from home, churches, and community gatherings that we tend to work with, more than what we learn at school,” he said.
Dr. Nuwategeka, one of the convenors of the meeting, wondered: “Why is education so detached from our conditions? Is it not possible for us to design an education system that suits our context?
“This is an emergency,” added Jessica Kabasiita, a Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Mountains of the Moon University in Fort Portal. “It is an emergency because if we do nothing things will get worse. As teachers and teacher trainers we need to get back on the drawing board.”
Dr. David Okello Owiny, the Gulu University Deputy Vice Chancellor in Charge of Academics, who officiated at the function, added: “We are in total confusion. The British who colonised us, and decided that the medium of education here had to be English, went back and changed their education system. For us we are perfecting the imperfection.”
The meeting agreed that it was necessary for stakeholders in education to push for a system of education that is responsive to community needs and aspirations.
“Gulu [University] has done us justice. In this country we rarely touch where it pains so that we can cure it. We love to lament, to think that things are impossible yet they are just difficult but doable. We should have a starting point,” said Dr. Muhammad Kiggundu Musoke, the head, Department of Humanities and Language Education, Makerere University.
Education, Makerere University.