Basic biological research offered by the School of Biosciences at the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), more so at the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences (ZEFS) requires continuous recruitment of trainees to ensure its sustainability at Makerere University. Over the years, there has been a decline in the number of students admitted to offer biological courses at the School of Biosciences due to poor performance, but also the negative perception about the courses. These courses are often termed as “FLAT” during career guidance at high school, an indication that even the career teachers do not have a clear understanding of the Bachelor of Science degree programme. The perception that the programme is flat with no job prospects makes it unpopular, yet basic sciences are a pivot for several other applied sciences that significantly contribute to the wellbeing of humans and the economy of the country. For example, studies in basic Zoology, Botany, Chemistry and Biochemistry are a basis for effective understanding of applied courses such as plant breeding, vector control, wildlife management, plant pollination, environmental conservation, veterinary science, and human health management, among others. The decline in uptake of these programmes is a big challenge as it is likely to affect the learning of applied sciences.
The reduced recruitment of students into basic sciences has long term implications of missing on key scientists to support research in various scientific fields, yet the graduates of Bachelor of Science degree have numerous opportunities to undertake research and academic work in several national and international research institutions, academic institutions, and the private sector. The use of the term “FLAT” by career masters reflects the lack of clear understanding of the vast opportunities that this course exposes the candidates to, both in public and private sectors.
Plans to popularise the Bachelor of Science programme
To increase uptake, CoNAS has embarked on a programme to popularize the courses offered at the School of Biosciences among high school science teachers and learners by deciphering the myths associated with the Bachelor of Science degree. Broadly, the action aims at arousing the interest and improve academic performance among high school students in biology, and ultimately increase the students applying for the courses offered at the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences. Specifically, the programme aims to popularize research by early career researchers in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences in selected schools with A-level biology students, as well as biology and career teachers. The Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences will engage selected schools to share progressive research, experiences and lessons learnt to cultivate/arouse interest among the biological students in high schools. During the engagement sessions, the team will discuss possibilities to improve performance in biology and inform the next course of action.
The programme is coordinated by Dr Godfrey Kawooya Kubiriza, a Lecturer in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences and a postdoc fellow for CECAP. It is part of the activities supported under his project on “Popularizing early career research for increased visibility of the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences”.
CoNAS engagement with Secondary School Biology teachers
On 26th July 2023, the CoNAS through the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences held a seminar for Secondary School teachers from selected schools around the country. The one-day seminar was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, through the Directorate of Research and Graduate Training at Makerere University. It was intended to bridge the gap between the School of Biosciences, Makerere University and high school biology teachers in Uganda. It was also aimed at sensitising the teachers about the programmes at CoNAS, the importance of the Bachelor of Science programme and the opportunities it presents. The Seminar held at ZEFS was graced by the Commissioner in charge of Crop Inspection and Certification at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Mr. Paul Mwambu; the Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Winston Tumps Ireeta, and senior academics from the School of Biosciences, Makerere University.
During the engagement, academics from the School of Biosciences sensitized the teachers on the programmes in their departments, highlighting the different course units, research activities, career prospects and opportunities, and emphasizing the importance of the BSc programme.
The Dean, School of Biosciences, also Patron of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) delivered a presentation on the past, present and future dynamics of biology, stressing its relevance in driving the world systems in the next century. He also briefed participants on the BioSU and its intended purpose to improve performance in the subject of biology that has been declining over the years. A research conducted in the performance of Biology at the UACE sitting of 2018 whose results were released in February 2019, indicated 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 post COVID-19. To solve this problem, Makerere University through the School of Biosciences at CoNAS in partnership with the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) under the supervision of the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs has embarked on a programme to identify the root causes of poor performance, by undertaking a detailed and carefully planned analysis of the qualifications, competence, and availability of Biology teachers and technicians at A’ level; the scope- breadth and depth of Biology curriculum at A’ level; how topics are segregated or not segregated in different UNEB past papers of Biology at A’ level in comparison to other A’ level subjects; the state of laboratory and field infrastructure for teaching Biology at A’ level; and attitudes of learners/students towards Biology at A’ level.
During his presentation, Prof. Tugume appealed to government to support and promote skilling programmes, noting that there are many people who have not had an opportunity to acquire University education but are doing wonders because of the skills attained from vocational training.
At the same meeting, Dr Kubiriza presented the research activities at the College, specifically in the Department of ZEFS, whereas Mr. Paul Mwambu, Commissioner in charge of Crop Inspection and Certification at MAAIF narrated how his study of the Bachelor of Science programme had exposed him enormous employment opportunities.
During the engagement, the secondary school teachers shared the challenges they experience and brainstormed on strategies that can be used to demystify the negativity about the Bachelor of Science programme. They also shared ideas on how to improve performance in subject of biology, emphasizing the need to review the syllabus and to retool the teachers. “The syllabus is so wide and this could be one of the lead causes of poor performance in the subject,” Prof. Tugume noted.
In his remarks, the Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Winston T. Ireeta emphasized the importance of career guidance and sharing of resources to improve performance. He pledged the College support towards secondary school career guidance programmes and retooling of teachers.
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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