By Mukisa John
The National Planning Authority (NPA) is proposing the phasing out of the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) by 2027.
In a document titled “The National Planning Authority Issue Paper On Uganda’s Education Reforms” presented to the Education policy review commission, the authority argues that the said national assessment is irreverent.
“Overall, by 2027, entry to S1 should be automatic for each learner who completes the 7-year primary cycle…the UCE (Uganda certificate of education) to be the first national assessment in the Ugandan education system,” the document reads in part.
Dr. Hamis Mugendawala, the Manager of Policy Research, and Innovation at NPA says that PLE has become a stumbling block in the transition of many learners from primary to lower secondary yet, both are part of what is described as basic education. To him, if both levels make up basic education then failing a learner to transit through due to an examination is a total contradiction.
Dr. Mugendawala states that with PLE, the purpose of assessment at the primary level has become overly vulgarized and not uniform, frequently limiting learning to just examinable subjects, more so in private schools. He explains that this leaves out learning areas like music, dance, drama, and co-curricular yet they are critical to the development of the learner.
The idea of phasing out the PLE has been proposed before, as seen in the 13th Edition of the Uganda Economic update report by the World Bank. This report recommended that government scraps PLE and implements a policy of automatic promotion.
The proposal generated mixed reactions from the public, with some educationists advising the government to carefully consider the idea. In the early months of the commission, there were calls from various individuals to eliminate PLE and revamp the assessment framework.
The idea was equally backed by Uwezo Uganda, an organization involved in conducting research on quality and effective education, which suggested that the Ministry of Education and Sports considers revamping the assessment framework to allow for more opportunities for class-based continuous assessment.
It is also important to note that the Kajubi Report, which was adopted with a few modifications to inform the 1992 Government White Paper on Education, had three recommendations aimed at transforming the overlay summative primary assessment.
The report favored a system of continuous comprehensive evaluation, in which PLE would no longer be the sole determining factor for admission to secondary schools. According to the new proposal by NPA, if PLE is abolished, it should be replaced with school-based continuous assessments and the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE).
NAPE, which is currently administered by the Uganda National Examinations Board, is a low-stake random sample assessment. At the primary level, NAPE focuses on primary three and six learners and has been in use since 1996.
All test-takers are presented with the same cognitive booklets or tests, which are aligned with the national curriculum of each targeted grade. Mugendawala says that analysis shows that NAPE is a better assessment as it’s not geared towards eliminating learners from the system but rather informing teachers on the gaps in the learning and teaching process and the progress of each learner.
In an effort to reduce dropout rates in primary schools, the government introduced the automatic promotion policy in addition to making primary education free and other interventions. Under this policy, all learners are required to progress to the next class regardless of their academic performance.
Despite this, the transition rate remains low with about 32 percent of learners who enroll in primary one being able to move on to post-primary institutions. However, it is important to note that studies have indicated that many other factors limit the transition besides examinations, including but not limited to school levies, early marriages, long distance to school, and lack of interest in schooling.
Meanwhile, NPA has proposed an overhaul of the curriculum in order to cater to the specific needs of the people in a particular area. The proposal calls for a curriculum that speaks to the local context, for example, if an area is known for cattle keeping, the primary curriculum should reflect this to help learners relate with the subjects they are learning.
“Reform the primary curriculum to allow for diversity such that besides the core national curriculum, there is a curriculum that is domesticated and aligned to the local economy within the region,” the recommendation reads in part. NPA has also proposed that there is a need to increase the primary cycle to 8 years, with the 8th year serving as a preschool to prepare learners for primary education as well as addressing wastage from repetition and dropout in the system.
The Authority further notes that whereas Early childhood education should largely be provided by the private sector due to competing demands on the consolidated fund, the government should deliberately expand provision for children in nomadic, conflict and poverty-stricken communities by providing one year of preschool through the annexation of an extra pre-school class to selected public primary schools.
“The Ministry of Education and Sports should regularize and regulate the ECCEs that have been established within the public primary schools for them to provide quality holistic ECCE services for the 3-5-year olds and ensure their smooth transition to primary,” the part adds. Additionally, the authority suggested that the government revise the Education Act (2008) and related laws to criminalize the non-enrollment of school-age children between 6-16 years, making primary and lower secondary education mandatory.
Constituted in 2020, the Amanya Mushega Commission is currently holding public hearings and field visits as they look for solutions to the numerous challenges in Uganda’s education system. The Commission has a one-year mandate to investigate issues in the Education and Sports sector with the goal of producing a new Government White paper that will modernize the country’s Education and Sports system to address 21st-century challenges.