Following the tragic death of a young female student who killed herself after being told to repeat a class, the debate about automatic promotion of students at the end of year is back on the table.
Despite the government of Uganda’s excellent policy against making children repeat classes, a staggering nine-plus million students have been made to repeat over the years.
Repeating a class is one of the worst ways of humiliating a student.
Indeed, most children who repeat rarely attain better grades due to the negative energy and loss of self-esteem resulting from the loss of face.
Confidence together with critical thinking and creativity are essential ingredients for success at any level.
Yet repeating a class erodes these core life basics at an early age.
I have had the opportunity to speak to a couple of young men who attained poor grades in the Uneb S4 exams last year. The parents of the first one insist that he must repeat yet the results are so poor it is hard to see if it will be worthwhile even if there is a slight improvement.
We failed to agree and left it at that. The second one believes that he has some skills. So he will attend skills-based classes in Wood Work and Technical Drawing during practical lessons but will not sit the academic examinations in the subject come S6 in 2015.
He cannot achieve any reasonable grade in either even if he were to spend entire nights in the school library. Making a child to repeat a class when there is just no hope of passing is miserable. Less than 10% of PLE pupils attained a first grade in 2013 S4 candidates were worse with just over 7% scoring a first grade.
About 18% failed O-level by scoring Division 9 which is not too far from the 15% (about 87,000 pupils) PLE failures. It is quite likely that the ‘repeaters’ make the bulk of these ridiculous numbers. The East African newspaper of last week reports that in Kenya only 123,000 students attained an average of C+ Grade, enabling them to access university – public or private – with some government sponsorship.
Of the remaining 323,000 students only about 150,000 can access a university place. Prof Chimera, a Kenyan lecturer, aises the unlucky students not to give up but to take a longer route, perhaps via mid-level colleges, in order to eventually hitch onto their cherished career courses. He does not seem to suggest that many should repeat.
Uganda may be worse. We have nearly the fastest growing population in the world with more under-18s than there are adults. Consequently, it is hard work providing school infrastructure – classes, labs, etc for such a growing population.
It is no surprise, therefore, that rising corruption can be found in the School Facilitation Grants (SFG) in which government is trying to address schools’ infrastructure. Repeating classes basically denies places for others.
As a poor country, it is amazing how we manage to pay school fees for our burgeoning population.
Most people you know are probably paying fees for extended family and friends – dead or living. Studies should be commissioned to find out the opportunity cost due to the school fees burden borne by all working East Africans.
What kind of investments would we make from the savings if we did not have to pay out such school fees? True, educating children is an investment however, considering the above statistics we may have to accept that the return is poor.
Whilst mortality rates are improving all over Africa, we are nowhere near the West. At some funerals here, the children of the deceased are lined up and displayed for everyone to worry about the school fees concern. In such circumstances repeating a class is frowned upon. Many children simply drop out of school when their parents die.
Teachers are not blameless. Many are quick to recommend that children should repeat classes without taking any responsibility for poor performance in examinations. There are also teachers who have no interest in facilitating or imparting knowledge but only teach to an exam.
Such teachers have records and reputations to maintain. But when their students fail exams, it is a hopeless situation since they are literally ‘uneducated’. Uganda teachers’ commitment and motivation for work is poor. Talk of strikes due to poor pay is endless. It does not help that a government minister aised disgruntled teachers to try out boda boda riding.
A World Bank report of 2013 commends Uganda for improving access to education but warns about absenteeism, claiming that up to 40% of government school classrooms did not have a teacher. Sometimes it may be worth the while for a student to repeat a class, especially if it is that very student who has initiated the discussion.
I have known some students who chose to repeat S6 to gain better marks to access their dream career courses at university and it worked out because they were able students. However, for the majority of students who are forced to repeat a class, it is simply a waste of time, funds and human resources.
The writer is one of the founding Kigo thinkers.
Source : The Observer