Opinion | Good schools might give good grades but you just can’t put a price on class By Daniel K Kalinaki

Posted January 25, 2019 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 3,727 views


By Daniel K Kalinaki — The PLE results released last week upset the academic form tables. Previously unheard-of schools, some no more than a cluster of desks under leaky roofs, reportedly performed better than city A-list schools. The sound of distant village cousins jumping up and down with joy on their way to fetch water or collect firewood has almost been drowned out by the wailing and gnashing of teeth by their privileged and pampered counterparts in the city. Inquests are being held at traditionally strong primary schools with some head teachers advised not to wander around alone at night. Parents have access to knives.

Of course every so often, a small school or a student in some far-flung corner of the country emerges to top the charts, but it is not every day that dozens, maybe hundreds, of schools emerge from the shadows to the spotlight of academic excellence. Theories abound over what really happened. Some say Uneb, the body in charge, changed the way it organises, marks and labels the scripts, adding a layer of anonymity that denied the city schools their usual pedigree advantage.

Others allege cheating or claim that the government, keen to restore faith in its public schools, put a finger on the weighing scale in their favour. What really matters is that we are having this ‘crisis’ in the first place. To most parents, a good grade in PLE is the foundation to future success. It enables entrance into a ‘good’ secondary school, a ‘good’ university, a ‘good’ course, and a ‘good’ job.

To many parents it doesn’t matter if these ‘good’ grades are obtained by cheating. The end – a good job – justifies the means. This is clearly problematic on many levels and follows from a social conditioning of linear, as opposed to, critical thinking.  It presupposes a pre-determined future (I want my child to be a pilot, doctor or lawyer) as opposed to one with many variables and alternative scenarios (what kind of society will my child mature into and what competencies will they need to navigate it and lead comfortable and productive lives?).

At 13, around the age most children complete primary school, a child is just starting the journey of self-discovery. Their long-term success does not depend on their ability to recall and reproduce in an exam CHOGM in full or why chlorophyll is important for photosynthesis. What they need are values, and training in important life skills like delayed gratification, creative thinking, decision-making, problem solving, empathy, self-awareness and so on.

But many parents are products of the same linear-thinking environment. Even when we recognize the problem, we often lack the creative thinking to find solutions, or the courage to act. One way to tackle the problem is to change the way we pick which schools children should join, and how to transition them from one level to another.

Imagine a top secondary school in Wakiso with 100 S1 places. Currently, 50 places might go to top students who make the grade, 20 per cent to alumni and other connected families and 30 per cent to those able to bribe the head teacher. What if we changed the process on its head from a grade-based system that perpetuates the cheating and corruption, to one that is to a large degree random?

Say we earmarked 15 places to alumni families (the ones whose families gave the school the land and paint the dorms every so often) then 20 to locals so that they do not burn the dorms out of envy. Then we would give 30 places to gifted and talented applicants to ensure a quality core, and five to needy but bright students in order not to be too elitist. The remaining 30 places are then filled randomly from a national pool weighed across gender, religion and ethnicity.

In for-profit private schools we could give tax rebates to those able to provide financial assistance to means-tested local children, who wouldn’t otherwise afford the tuition or qualify via academic grades, but a similar chunk of their admission would random.

We just might end up with schools that are part of the communities in which they exist, and communities that actively work to improve their local schools. Schools shouldn’t be conveyor belts of dubious grades, but foundries where character is built and young adults trained.

Good grades are great, but the real long-term value is in values. This is the real test our ‘top schools’ should pass. ‘Good’ schools might give ‘good’ grades but you just can’t put a price on class.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. Twitter: @Kalinaki.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

One Comment

    Edith Kuteesa Gitta

    Great food for thought. I think our first question should be, where can my child be the best they can be, holistically?

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