On Wednesday, 12th October 2022, Makerere University researchers from the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) hosted, virtually, a symposium on the recent research project that engaged Early Childhood Education stakeholders in North, Central and Eastern Uganda on scaling the school readiness initiative (SSRI) through play-based learning.
The International Development Research Centre Canada (IDRC) funded program titled “Strengthening school and community capacities in scaling school readiness through play-based pedagogies in pre and primary education.”envisions generation of knowledge and evidence to strengthen Early Childhood Education, strengthening curriculum and capabilities for teachers in Early Childhood Education development for Uganda and Zambia to ensure a strong education foundation for learners and promotion of Play Based learning in learners between 0 to 8 years.
While opening the symposium, Professor Anthony Mugagga the principal College of Education and External Studies (CEES) Makerere University shared his disappointment from some professionals who under look early childhood education teachers and consider them failures.It is on this basis that ten years ago, he started efforts to better Early childhood education in Uganda through research.
“I am happy that 10 years down the road, the College of Education admits students of PhDs, Masters and Diplomas of Early Childhood Education,” added Prof Mugagga.
He said the country has only about 5% graduate students as early child hood education givers, saying most of the caregivers are from S4 or Primary 7 students, a thing he said must change if we are to improve ECE. “Teachers who are constrained in learning cannot do a good job teaching the young children,” Prof. Mugagga said. He decried the policy of administering interviews for children joining primary one, saying it has forced teachers to teach pre-primary children with the primary curriculum in an effort to ensure they pass the interviews.
Prof. Mugagga concluded his remarks by thanking IDRC for funding this incredible study and the research team for the dedicated work done. He assured the team of his support in promotion of play-based learning in ECD centers in Uganda.
While giving his remarks, the Dean School of Education and the program Principal Investigator in Uganda Professor Bwanika Mulumba noted how the benchmarking for ECDE had been neglected in Uganda concentrating much on higher Education hence a challenge in production of unskilled learners in writing and reading for learners in tertiary institutions.
Professor Bwanika added that Ugandan schools and parents give children less time to play always cautioning them on academics and homework which hinders children’s cognitive skills and emotional wellbeing in response to learning. He hailed IDRC for the funding and the Zambia Open Community schools (ZOCs) that hosted the research team to benchmark in Zambia for the assessment tools developed to promote Play Based learning in Zambia.
Mrs. Cleopatra Muma the Executive Director ZOCs emphasized that the program is based on schools’ readiness for children, children’s readiness for school and parents’ readiness to work with schools in educating children. The project in Zambia has solved challenges of limited access to quality ECDE service especially among marginalized rural communities and inadequate knowledge and skills to ECD workforce hence enriching cross learning and strengthening linkage between centers of knowledge, government and all stakeholders.
While sharing experience on Zambia’s preparedness in response to ECDE, Dr, Edward Kansiime a research team member praised Zambia and ZOCs for moving swiftly and steadily in benchmarking and preparing for early childhood education play based learning where learning centers have equipped demarcated playing grounds on top of a well-developed digital assessment tool teachers use in guiding learners on their able gadgets.
Dr. Nancy Nabiryo an English and Literature specialist from School of Education Makerere University presented Findings from a systematic review of play-based learning in national ECD frameworks and baseline survey on play-based learning in ECDE centers in Uganda.
It is evident that parents and schools are not aware that children can learn effectively through play and play based learning has not been benchmarked and neither has it been much encouraged.
The government has not recognized the role of an effective ECDE in tertiary Education, Dr. Nabiryo ended by calling on government not to only regulate but to assiduously fund, benchmark and encourage play based learning across ECD centers in the country and also help out teachers through training to understand rights of the child and values of play in Early Childhood Education.
Dr. Alfred Buluma and Mr. Edward Kansiime also presented their projects on Infrastructure in Play Based Learning and Play based learning ECDE teachers ‘pedagogical practices respectively where learners were encouraged to use their own bodies and materials in learning. Both studies at least found that learners are using actions and the five senses in learning.
The project also captured gaps in ECDE that need immediate intervention which include pupils singing while sitting which limits full body activity, most ECDE teachers arenot well trained, congested classrooms by desks and too much play materials where some are actually not used, interpersonal skills and personality traits of curiosity and creativity not fully encouraged.
The project team thinks that it is prudent if workshops were put in place to sensitize teachers, parents, policy makers and implementers. Also, organizing of In-service teacher training, provision of an ECDE learning framework to some of the schools at least in every region and working alongside the inspectorate of Education for building linkage and sustainability of play-based learning in ECDE.
The symposium on scaling school readiness initiative (SSRI) through play-based learning brought together education enthusiasts from universities of Uganda and across the world. It is a joint partnership among Makerere University, University of Zambia, University of Arizona and the Zambia Open Community Schools organization funded by the International Development Research Centre Canada.
Improving performance in Science subjects: Mak scholars translate science books into local languages
Makerere University scholars have translated science terms into local languages to ease learning of the students in lower primary classes.
The scholars include Dr Henry Busulwa, Dr Harriet Nabushawo, Dr John Ssentongo, and Dr Allen Nalugwa.
The quartet conceived the idea of translating learner’s materials in 2020 after conducting research that showed that there was decreasing interest and performance by learners in science subjects.
They (scholars) therefore translated two resource books into Luganda and Lumasaaba languages following the thematic curriculum of lower primary to help learners easily grasp the content taught when they reach primary four. The lower primary curriculum directs teachers to teach children in their mother tongue from primary one to primary three and start learning in English only when they reach primary four.
Dr Busulwa, the Principal Investigator of the project found out that between 2015 and 2019, less than 5000 pupils got distinctions in science and over 1000 children failed completely.
“This is because these children are not given a chance to learn most of the terms in their mother tongue. They may be knowing something in English but cannot translate it to their local language which is not right,” he said.
The scholars therefore conducted research in a project dubbed “inter-disciplinary enhancement of science education in the Uganda Primary thematic curriculum”, a project funded by the government of Uganda through Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF).
The innovators interacted with teachers, learners and elderly persons in Mbale, Manafwa, Mpigi, Lwengo, and Masaka districts to give them the suitable terms for the science terms.
“We sampled 24 thematic curriculum teachers, 24 elders and used instruments like questionnaires and Focused Group Discussions. We were however surprised to find out that at least 80 percent could not translate science terms into their mother tongue,” he noted.
The scholars also found out that there is no science subject in lower primary, they rather incorporate different terms in Literacy I and Literacy II subjects.
Out of the teachers who teach lower primary, the study revealed that very few teachers from the sample taken have taught for over four years.
He further explained that schools in the villages use local languages a lot unlike those in urban centers which do not follow the thematic curriculum.
“Many teachers are relatively young and they can’t teach in local languages. A good percentage of teachers could not articulate the science in the themes and yet some were not comfortable teaching science in local languages,” he added
The books will help teachers to teach science comfortably without struggling.
Prof Anthony Muwagga Mugagga, the Principal of the College of Education and External Studies, lauded the principal investigator for having pulled through the project saying, “Last year, many Biology students in the country failed. We look at the failure of science students at Advanced level as having stemmed from primary school because students do not understand the meaning of what they study.
He added: “Abroad, science is taught in their mother tongue for example Britain, where their mother tongue is English. Your study does not only solve the problem of teaching science but also medicine. We have lost a lot of medicine because we don’t know about them.”
He thanked the team of scholars for rejuvenating the traditional learning and noted that their intervention at a lower level will make things better.
Ms Lovenance Napokoli, a teacher from Mbale who helped researchers in developing the Lumasaaba book noted that the book will be useful to the learners and teachers since it translates words from a local language to English.
“Many teachers have been finding it difficult to teach children because they don’t understand what they teach in their mother tongue. The innovation is therefore timely and it will help teachers in conveying what they teach to learners.”
Mr Michael Ssonko, the representative from Wakiso district noted the challenge they have is that elders who used to teach science had better knowledge than the people currently teaching science and noted that current learners are not getting the information required.
Ms Gloria Naggayi, the Research Support Officer who represented the Grants Management Committee said the innovation has a foreseeing impact on the education sector and if they are taken up by the Ministry of Education a lot will be changed.
The resource books are designed following the thematic curriculum of lower primary and if the government provides more funding to the project, the materials will be replicated into other local languages.
The National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC) asked the scholars to digitalise their resources such that it can be read by many people.
Dr Deborah Magera, the representative of NCDC noted that children can only understand science concepts in the language they understand.
Police approves new compulsory soft skills training course
The Uganda Police Force (UPF) in partnership with Makerere University have approved a new training course intended to impart soft skills in police trainees.
The program dubbed “Promoting community policing by integrating soft skills in Uganda Police training” funded by the Government of Uganda through Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) is expected to be rolled out in 2025 and it will be part and parcel of the police training course.
SCP Anne Tusiime, the Deputy Director Human Resource Development, embraced the program and pledged support for the course.
“I believe with this project that is ongoing, we are heading to making the force better,” she noted
This idea was conceived in 2020 by Dr Badru Musisi, a senior lecturer at the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) and the Principal Investigator (PI) following the public’s outcry that police is brutalising people and the general feeling that police is anti-people.
SCP Tusiime revealed that they are facing challenges arising from lack of soft skills and those having the skills lack the tactics to use those skills.
“While we have put in much effort, we still have some challenges, especially from lacking skills or having skills and we don’t use them the way they are supposed to be used. And picking from our name, some of the skills are typically hard skills not soft ones. And so we end up losing out some bits,” She added after approving the course during the workshop which was held at the Police headquarters in Naguru, Kampala on November.
She asked the team of the principal investigators to design a way how skills that may look to be hard, can be simplified and made a little bit softer.
“Let’s hold our hands to see that we pull it through. The pledge on behalf of the force is that we are committed to human resource development. We pray that this project will give us a serious backup in whatever we are doing,” SCP Tusiime emphasised
SCP Fred Enanga, the Police Spokesperson told the team of researchers that when passing out officers, they are trained in soft skills because in exercising their duties, they use negotiations but the practice has not been direct as this course is intending to do.
Dr Musisi revealed that the three-year project has finally started to bear fruits after soft skills taxonomy was approved by the top officers.
“We are going to use the soft skill taxonomy to develop a transformative framework for embedding soft skills in police training programs,” he noted.
On this move, researchers believe that when they secure the balance between the hard and soft skill policing, community policing will ultimately be promoted saying, “We expect to have police officers that build a cordial relationship between the force and the community.”
After developing the transformative framework, Dr Musisi noted that they are going to train the instructors of all police training schools and colleges in the country how to use that framework to embed soft skills in their routine training programs.
“The soft skills taxonomy is going to give us a foundation of which soft skills are going to be embedded. And our next step is to develop the transformative framework for embedding soft skills that will be tested, refined, passed and thereafter in the third year, we shall be rolling it out,” he revealed.
Ms Evelyne Baelvina Nyachwo, the Research Support Officer from Mak-RIF who represented Prof Fred Masagazi Masagazi revealed that the Makerere University Research and Innovations fund (Mak-RIF), funded by the government of Uganda and started in 2019 to support research to provide solutions through innovations to the current challenges Ugandans face.
“We receive money to support research and so we give this money to Makerere lecturers so that they can be able to develop ideas which are majorly tailored to solving our local problems. We identify what is disturbing us and then through research, we come up with the solutions and innovations to solve these problems.” she said
She noted that this project was very timely owing to the issues coming up between the community and the police. “There is limited trust and yet police are supposed to be an arm that protects the community. We want to ensure that our officers have extra soft skills added to them to ensure that they can serve the nation but also become better people and provide better service,” she added.
Student teachers join hands to make a difference in the environment
On Thursday, November 9, 2023, students of the College of Education and External Studies (CEES), mobilized by the college chairperson, Mr Ssebina Solomon, united in a display of environmental conservation as they gathered to pick litter around the Makerere University premises under the theme “The teacher’s walk against littering in Makerere University.”
The main goal of the event was to rebrand the teaching profession and reawaken teachers as agents of social change. The teacher’s walk also emphasized the critical role of teachers in shaping morals, values, and character, of their learners and those around them. ” Teaching is a noble profession that shapes generations to come, yet often faces challenges and misconceptions,” Mr Ssebina said.
To counter these stereotypes and create a positive image, the teacher trainees at Makerere University decided to come together in an activity that would not only benefit the environment but also highlight their dedication to their chosen profession.
Littering being a common and widespread problem throughout the country that not only affects the aesthetic appeal of the environment but also poses serious health concerns, calls for intervention countrywide. The CEES Community took initiative to ensure a litter free Uganda starting with their very own campus grounds.
The event kicked off at around 9:00am and was officiated by Dr. Muhammad Kiggundu, The Head Department of Languages. The students started by cleaning their very own college grounds and moved to Mary Stuart hall picking up any litter found along the streets. The trek continued to the western gate, CEDAT, CONAS , CHUSS and ended at the Complex hall. Here the students sang the national anthem, the Makerere University anthem and Buganda Anthem which depicted the nationalistic and patriotic spirit embedded in the teacher solidarity.
Mr Bakulumapagi Ibrahim, one of the event organisers noted, “Today was a testament to the strength of community spirit. We achieved a lot in just a few hours, and this is just the beginning of our efforts.” The students came back to CEES where they were welcomed back and given lots of logistics to share.
The success of this cleaning picking event has inspired hope for future initiatives aimed at preserving the environment and fostering a strong sense of community responsibility. It showcased the power of collective action and community spirit in addressing environmental challenges. It was a reminder that small steps, when taken together, can lead to a cleaner, more sustainable future.
In summary, the litter picking event carried out by teacher trainees from Makerere University was not just about cleaning up the campus; it was a bold statement to the world. It demonstrated that the teaching profession is not confined to the four walls of a classroom but extends to the community and beyond. By taking the initiative to reshape public perceptions of teaching, these future educators are exemplifying the qualities that make teaching a profession of pride and purpose. They are proving that a teacher’s influence is not limited to textbooks but extends to the hearts and minds of their students and society at large.
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