HE was a bright boy throughout his primary education, always comfortably standing among the first three class positions of his class every end of term. Joshua Kusiimwa had a great education career path, until the worst happened.
A few days to his Primary Leaving Examinations, Kusiimwa fell sick. Much as he turned up for the final national examinations, he was disorganised and he did not pass. He got 15 aggregates from four subjects; instead of the four aggregates he had always obtained in Primary Five and Six.
Kusiimwa later joined an academically weak secondary school, ending up with an unprofessional degree course at the university.
“We have lost good brains in this country, not because they are not intelligent, but because they failed to cram towards the final examinations and are now struggling in life. This has to end,” says the education state minister Dr. John Muyingo.
As the minister notes, the situation would have been different for Kusiimwa, had he been doing continuous assessments; since an accumulation of good scores in Primary Five and Six would have helped him excel in his final examinations.
It is the same reason why Government is now mooting a move to start progressive assessments of primary schools’ pupils. But, there is also a move which is being mooted at the education ministry’s high level, to completely scrap Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) and replace it with continuous assessments.
Continuous assessment from Primary Five
Pupils, in a few years from now, will start doing continuous assessments from Primary five to seven, and the results will be added to final Primary Leaving Examinations’ scores.
With tough targets for teachers and head teachers, automatic promotion and failure to develop physical education and creative arts and proper morals, progressive education seems the best way to redeem the country’s quality of education.
The national examinations board defines continuous assessment as a systematic objective and comprehensive way of regularly collecting and accumulating information about a student's learning achievement over a period of study. The collected scores are used to guide pupils’ learning and determine their level of attainment.
For a pupil to complete the primary cycle of education, he or she should then be expected to have scored well in continuous assessment and final national examinations.
Continuous assessment from Primary Five to Seven will take 20% of the final 100% score of Primary Leaving Examinations (P.L.E) conducted by Uganda National Examinations. It will be introduced with Swahili, Physical Education, Music, Dance and Drama, Art and Technology and then Local languages in a phased approach.
Continuous assessment is being introduced to avoid over dependence on paper and pen tests, in favour of assessing the practical skills, attitudes, and values. Government, through the National Curriculum Development Centre is taking the move to ensure that that P.L.E, “ceases to be the sole criterion for admission to secondary schools”?
In this other criteria, there will be cumulative records and assessment based on identification of talents, character, special skills, and achievement in certain core subjects that may be specified.
The assessment will be done in form of written tests as much as possible, and will ensure a high degree of objectivity; according to experts from the National Council for Higher Education (NCDC).
This assessment focuses on what a learner can ‘do’ rather than merely what they ‘know’ or can ‘remember.’
The education ministry and the NCDC were planning to start the assessments with Primary Five this year. “We however, decided to start with a pilot project in selected schools in a number of districts all over the country,” says Connie Kateeba, who is the director of NCDC.
The pilot project is being done in 100 schools, located in 50 districts spread all over the country.
“We will use the assessment of the pilot project, at the end of this year, to ascertain whether should continue with the programme or wait. But we will make sure that before we roll it out, we are sure we are set,” Kateeba added.
The second phase will start with capturing continuous assessment results from P1 to P4 for the same subjects. Phase Three after the implementation of CAPEs and local languages will introduce Continuous assessment for all subjects starting with P.1.
Dr. Muyingo says that the new assessment “will help in the development of a more holistic education system, for all children in the country.”
Uganda national examinations board made the first attempt in 1998 to conduct continuous assessments. The NCDC has also made attempts during the review and the assessment is being implemented under Thematic Curriculum.
Attempts made by UNEB concentrated on SST, Science, Mathematics and English, and did not implement what they had suggested for practical subjects.
Continuous assessment is already being used in Zambia (2005), Nigeria, Namibia (1993), Swaziland, Hong Kong (2005), and Singapore.
Scrapping of PLE
The revelation about Government’s plan for progressive examinations in Uganda comes at a time the education state minister Dr. John Muyingo is contemplating proposing the entire scrapping of Primary Leaving examinations.
In his view, nowadays children are coached to pass national final examinations; which he says is wrong. He also notes that children are no longer guided morally and that there is no development of skills since pupils’ concentration is merely on passing the final examinations, other than comprehending what is taught.
Why continuous assessment?
There is need to quickly improve the quality of education in the country. According to the National Assessment of Progress in Education Report, done by Uganda National Examinations Board; from 2011, the proportions of pupils rated proficient dropped to 63% in Primary Three and 45% at Primary Six. For 2012, it rose to 69% at Primary Three and remained unchanged at Primary Six.
As a general picture of the primary section; pupils who reached the defined proficiency levels in numeracy (counting) and literacy in English (reading, writing and comprehending text) was 45.2% and 40% respectively.
As a supportive assessment strategy, continuous assessment provides many opportunities of enhancing learner achievement. In a case where examinations are at high stakes, the practice of determining learner achievement using one–shot examination is reduced and with it, the stress, anxiety, and fear associated with examinations diminish.
Learners earn credits each day and accumulate these over the learning period (month, term and year) and once these are taken into account in the final grading, then a holistic picture of learning is established.
More so, experts note that learner’s difficulties are identified early enough, so opportunities for remedial action can be planned and implemented. Continuous assessment also gives credit to class work and it helps the teacher to determine the level of readiness of learners.
It is also useful in measuring learning outcomes and practical skills that cannot be assessed at the end of a course through pen and paper. Kateeba also notes that enables assessment of both process and product, a thing that cannot be achieved by using one end of study period examination.
Attempts at continuous assessment
This is not the first time Government is attempting to initiate continuous assessment. Plans to start this process started way back, but Government has never pulled it off. Continuous assessment was to begin with second term of 2004 and official date for launching was to be May 2004 beginning with P5 and P6 in the four subjects.
Observations were to be done daily, written formal tests were to be done once a month and a record kept, for submitting on the data forms to UNEB at the end of term one in Primary Seven.
The monitoring of implementation was to be done by the education and sports ministry agencies such as District Inspectorate, Teacher Education through coordinating centre tutors and the Directorate of Education Standards. The national examinations board was to do technical audit checks for quality control and assurance.
According to available documents, the programme was not launched because the education ministry directed that the primary school syllabus/ curriculum be reviewed. The review is now almost complete; and continuous assessment is now being piloted.
The whole process originated from Government, when it made a review of the education system in 1987, when it appointed an Education Policy Review Commission (EPRC).
The Commission in its report who years later, noted among other short comings, that the education system was examination ridden and there were very few attempts to assess practical skills. The same report made recommendations to improve the education system.
On assessment and examination, the report recommended inter alia, the introduction of continuous assessment in primary and post- primary training institutions. The Government, in its White Paper on Education, approved these recommendations in 1992.
With continuous assessment starting in primary schools, it is expected to be streamed to all other levels of learning; in a bid to improve the country’s education system.
From New Vision