Almost everyone in Uganda has for the past 34 years been deriding and castigating the school curriculum saying it produces unemployable graduates. But when the government moved to introduce a new curriculum which in a nutshell is supposed to produce a “fully skilled” person equipped with practical know-how, the people’s representatives (Parliament) rose up in arms — on procedural grounds.
But first, let us quickly bring you up to speed with the 34-year-old war on the old curriculum. When the now 34-year-old government of President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986, it had a then elderly (now deceased) Prime Minister Dr Samson Kisekka. The elderly physician from Nairobi did not waste time once they took power and started touring the country giving his version of motivational speeches. His message was clear — the education curriculum was wrong. Using the image of a key, he said that the colonialists had given us a wrong key which failed to open our mind and kept it firmly shut.
Those were the days of political education, a programme that required all able-bodied persons to spend some three months undergoing orientation for life in the new Uganda. Besides basic military science, the more fundamental content of the political education training was giving the people proper “ideological orientation” so as to acquire the ‘correct line of thought’.
Mass political education continued until the mid-90s when donors and “human rights activists” opposed it. Some one million Ugandans including students, nuns, civil servants and village councillors had by then undergone the training. And by then the castigation of the curriculum had taken deep root. European history and North American development projects were ridiculed as irrelevant and a waste of time. The Tennessee Valley Authority, St Lawrence Seaway and Maize Triangle became like vulgar words to those with the “correct ideological orientation”. But for some reason they remained on the syllabus for more years. The European explorers who “discovered” great features like the source of River Nile and high mountains were denounced for plagiary and so on.
Now finally, government declared that the new curriculum was going to take effect starting this school term. And the MPs rose up in arms. The curriculum is faulty, they argued, citing examples like making Kiswahili language compulsory and agriculture optional. They also argued that teachers have not been retrained to handle the new curriculum.
What the MPs did not say loudly is that the Curriculum Development Centre made its presentation to the relevant parliamentary committee on education. For some reason, it seems the full Parliament was not updated with what transpired in the committee. And so parliament ordered a stop to the implementation of the new curriculum. And government said it must go ahead. That is how the school term started last week.
We are waiting for harmonisation of the implementation of the new curriculum. Meanwhile, the armies of graduates who join the unemployed every year are becoming more creative in expressing their plight. Graduation ceremonies are now crowned with marches and placards asking “What next?”
Generally, graduates attend the graduation ceremony and many take off to the Middle East to become security guards and housemaids. Some argue they could have gone for the guard and maid jobs without first going through high school. It is actually the practice now for export labour recruiting companies to favour semi-literate and illiterate applicants since they are not argumentative and don’t scrutinise the contracts they sign. That is how “usefully” the current curriculum is regarded.