The Society aims to promote professional relevance and teamwork in fostering biology education and scholarship in Uganda
Makerere University has mobilized resources to conduct research into the poor performance in Biology at UCE and UACE. This was revealed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof. Umar Kakumba during the inception meeting of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) held on 5th May 2023 at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility (CTF2) at Makerere. BioSU will, among other things, contribute to the promotion of Biology as a subject among learners, right from primary school, with an aim of achieving increased enrolment and improvement in academic grades at O’ and A’ levels, and ultimately at the tertiary levels of education in Uganda.
Addressing participants, Prof. Kakumba appreciated the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) for leading efforts to improve performance in Biology, a core discipline in the life sciences. “Five Colleges at Makerere namely CoNAS, the College of Health Sciences (CHS), College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), and the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) largely rely of biology as an essential subject. The entire science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystem in Uganda is more than 60% biological in “fabric”. The formation of the BioSU is timely and will largely address the challenge of poor performance in the subject.” Prof. Kakumba appreciated the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) for supporting the formation of BioSU, and rallied other stakeholders to take interest in the Society. “This is a national formation that will build foundations for the future of biologists in this country,” he noted.
In his remarks, the Principal, CoNAS appreciated the School of Biosciences for taking lead in addressing the challenge of poor performance in Biology. He equally appreciated the University leadership for supporting the initiative. “When Biology is negatively affected at UCE, then enrolment at UACE gets affected, and this poses major challenges for the colleges at Makerere and the institutions related to medical, agricultural, veterinary and other forms of training where biological knowledge is essential. The move to address the challenge is timely, and working with BioSU, I’m hopeful that performance will greatly improve.”
Trend of poor performance in Biology
An analysis conducted by the School of Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University indicates that since the late 1970s, academic performance in Biology at UACE has never been at its best and recently deteriorated to worrying levels. “In the UACE sitting of 2018 whose results were released in February 2019, UNEB statistics show that a total of 13,061 candidates sat for Biology countrywide, and of these only 1 candidate scored an “A”. That year, only up to 38% of the candidates scored at least an “E” leaving almost 80% failed (score O or F). In the next year’s sitting of 2019, only 44 candidates countrywide scored “A” in Biology. This trend was found quite repeated several times before 2018 and has not improved to-date. According to Prof. Arthur K. Tugume, Dean, School of Biosciences at Makerere University, Biology is an essential subject because it accounts for 70-100% of the academic and research work at CoNAS, CHS, CoVAB and CAES at Makerere. “The poor performance at UACE affects the totality of life-sciences academic and research ecosystem at Makerere University, and several essential sectors, and MDAs of Uganda whose mandates are hinged on Biology,” he noted.
Addressing the challenge
To address the challenge of poor performance in Biology, Makerere University through the School of Biosciences, supported by the BioSU will conduct a detailed and carefully planned analysis of; i) qualifications, competence, and availability of Biology teachers and technicians at A’ Level; (ii) the scope: breadth and depth of Biology curriculum at A’ Level; (iii) how topics are segregated or not segregated in different UNEB past papers of Biology at A’ Level in comparison to other A’ Level subjects; (iv) the state of laboratory and field infrastructure for teaching Biology at A’ Level; and (v) attitudes of learners/students towards Biology at A’ Level. The results will inform steps to be taken.
Formation of the Biology Society of Uganda
The Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) is founded on Uganda’s aspirations for a strong bio-economy to spur national development under National Development Program III (NDPIII). Cognizant of the importance of Biology applications that account for over 60% of Uganda’s science, technology and innovations (STI) ecosystem, it is envisaged that bringing together biology professionals will augment and consolidate their contribution to national development.
Specifically, the objectives of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) are to:
- Establish a functional and dynamic platform that will promote communication among biologists engaged in knowledge generation, testing, teaching and the end users at all levels.
- Promote biological research and its application in the teaching and/or solving challenges of national development at all levels.
- Host and publish a biannual Biology Newsletter (or any other publication deemed essential) on biology aspects of interest in Uganda.
- Promote the writing of biological science articles, books, papers, and magazines.
- Provide guidance on matters of national importance that demand expert knowledge in Biology or its applications.
- Create a community of people interested in biology, gather and exchange ideas, learn more about biology and sustain interest in the subject.
- To advance the quality of biology in academia, industry, education and research.
- Increase awareness of the importance of biology in national development.
- Foster a lively and early interest in biology in order to improve learning outcomes from primary to university level and beyond.
The BioSU inception meeting
The inception meeting brought together Biology professionals who deliberated on a number of issues in line with the formation of the BioSU, and the continued failure of the subject of Biology. The meeting featured a panel discussion in which a number of factors undermining performance in Biology were highlighted and possible solutions proposed. Panelists including Prof. Arthur Tugume, Dean School of Biosciences, CoNAS; Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde, Director of Research at NARO; Mr. Peter Watiti, a primary school teacher; Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a geneticist and biotechnologist; Mr. Nixon Opoya, a secondary school teacher and examiner at UCE and UACE; and Dr Godwin Anywar from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology at CoNAS emphasized the need to improve competence of teachers by conducting refresher trainings. Other issues arising from the discussion included the need to improve practical training, interest learners in the subject at an early staff and conduct career guidance.
An Interim Committee coordinated under the School of Biosciences, CoNAS, Makerere University has been put in place to foresee the formation of the BioSU. Members include; Prof. Arthur Tugume – Interim Chair, Dr Godwin Anywar – Interim Secretary, Dr. Mary Buttibwa, Dr. Agnes Nandutu Masawi, Dr. Shahasi Athman, Dr. Jamilu Ssenku, Dr. Joel Isanga, Dr. Samuel Ojelel, Mr. Nixon Opoya, Dr. Eric Sande, Dr. John Joseph Kisakye, Prof. Fredrick Muyodi, and Dr. Godfrey Kubiriza.
Mak Paves Path to Biodiversity Leadership: Inaugural ABS Project Workshop Strengthening Uganda’s Nagoya Protocol Capacity
By Laban Lwasa
In a groundbreaking event that unfolded at Makerere University‘s Telepresence Center on November 7, 2023, the Inception Workshop for the ABS Project took center stage, hosted by the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology, and Biotechnology. Prof. Tumps Ireeta, Principal of CoNAS, set the tone with a warm welcome, highlighting Uganda’s rich biodiversity and the pivotal role of the Nagoya Protocol in ensuring the legal utilization of genetic resources. The collaboration between NEMA and Makerere University, supported by the GEF, aims to equip professionals with ABS knowledge and position Makerere at the forefront of Nagoya Protocol compliance.
Prof. Arthur Kajungu Tugume, Dean of the School of Biosciences, emphasized the project’s significance in institutional capacity strengthening for the Nagoya Protocol’s implementation in Uganda, showcasing the School of Biosciences as a hub for genetic resource research and training. The pilot project, in collaboration with NEMA, GEF, and UNEP, aims to expand countrywide and potentially across the African continent. It seeks to empower a skilled workforce informed on ABS issues, contributing to economic development and poverty eradication as aligned with SDG 1.
Mr. Achuu Peter, Project Manager from NEMA, highlighted Uganda’s extraordinary biodiversity and the need to explore the benefits of genetic resources for medicines, food, and more. He emphasized the importance of the Nagoya Protocol in mitigating biodiversity loss and highlighted challenges faced by Uganda in terms of weak institutional capacity, inadequate policies, and lack of coordination for ABS. The project focuses on strengthening ABS frameworks, capacity building, community-level management, and raising awareness to ensure equitable benefits from genetic resource utilization.
Mr. Daniel Abowe, UNCST ABS Project Officer, shed light on the complex landscape of national ABS laws in Uganda, resulting in legal complexity and high transaction costs for users. He also detailed the Uganda research approval process, emphasizing UNCST’s role in ABS implementation, which includes issuing access permits and ensuring benefit-sharing agreements. The multifaceted project aims to align Uganda with the Nagoya Protocol’s goals and foster collaboration between higher institutions and local communities for the management of genetic resources.
Dr. Katuura Esther, the Project Principal Investigator at Makerere University, highlighted the institution’s pivotal role in training and research. Makerere University aspires to be a thought leader, committed to providing transformative teaching, learning, research, and services that cater to dynamic national and global needs. The institution’s strategic goals encompass leadership in high-quality programs, knowledge dissemination, research, scholarship promotion, and corporate social responsibility. Dr. Esther also addressed the challenges and opportunities in preserving indigenous knowledge, emphasizing the role of digital technologies and collaboration between research institutions and local communities.
The programs designated for updating at Makerere University are a comprehensive effort to align with the Nagoya Protocol. Notable among these programs are BSc Applied and Economic Botany, BSc in Conservation Biology, Bachelor of Biotechnology, Masters in Botany, Masters in Genetics, Masters in Plant Pathology and Crop Science, and Masters in Economic Botany. This holistic approach aims to contribute to the conservation and equitable utilization of genetic resources.
Dr. Cyprian Misinde, the Director of Quality Assurance at Makerere University, emphasized the importance of incorporating international and global standards into the academic curriculum. He underscored the crucial role of projects like ABS in enhancing the capacity of professionals and equipping them to become part of a globally competitive workforce. This workshop marked a significant stride in Uganda’s journey towards sustainable biodiversity management and conservation, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond its borders, leaving a lasting impact on the world stage.
Laban Lwasa is the Senior Administrative Assistant, Makerere University, Grants Administration and Management Support Unit (GAMSU)
Ugandan student Dorothy Akoth wins 2023 GBIF Graduate Researchers Award
Ms. Dorothy Akoth, a Master’s student at the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University has been named one of two winners of the 2023 GBIF Graduate Researchers Award. An expert jury selected Akoth, who was nominated by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology together with National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), for the instrumental role of her research in improving the knowledge of the distribution and imperilment status of 110 native fish species outside the iconic Haplochromine tribe of East African cichlids. The student was supervised by Prof. Fredrick Muyodi and Dr. Jackson Efitre
from the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences at CoNAS, Makerere University, and Dr Vanny Natugonza of Busitema University.
Since its inception in 2010, the annual GBIF Graduate Researchers Award (previously the Young Researchers Award) has sought to promote and encourage innovation in biodiversity-related research using data shared through the GBIF network.
CARTA Fellow Anywar Selected as Fellow of ASLP
Godwin Anywar (cohort 6 graduate, Makerere University) was selected as a fellow of the Africa Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) based at the Future Africa Campus at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, on September 8, 2023.
Within the month, he:
- Will be participating in the Uganda-Swiss Museum Cooperation Workshop from September 24 – October 4, 2023, in Kampala, Uganda, and will present on ‘Traditional Medicine in Transition.’
- Presented a keynote paper on ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing during the PhD Journey’ at the Makerere University Business School (MUBS) 27th Annual International Management Conference (AIMC) under the theme “Leveraging Governance, Human Capital and Technology for Sustainability in Kampala – Uganda on September 25 – 27, 2023.
- Presented a paper on ‘The Cannabis/Marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) Landscape in Africa: An Overview of its Cultivation and Legal Aspects’ at the 20th International Napreca Conference on Natural Network for East and Central Africa (NAPRECA) in Harare, Zimbabwe on September 20, 2023.
- Attended the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Science Forum at the University of Nairobi on September 20, 2023, to celebrate 50 years of DAAD in East Africa.
Source: CARTA Newsletter Issue 69
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