May 18, 2024

Picking A S1 School: Look Beyond Academic Grades

(This article was first published in the New Vision on July 14, 2021)

By Conan Busingye

Parents will soon start hunting for vacancies in secondary schools for their children set to join Senior One following the release of Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) results by the Uganda National Examinations Board this week.

The question then will be, which school will be the best for your child? What factors must one consider when choosing a secondary school?

For many parents, the top-most consideration is a school’s performance over the years. The greater the number of good grades, the better the school and vice-versa. Much as this is an important parameter, education experts say it cannot be the only one.

The state minister for higher education, Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, says dynamics are changing and grades cannot be the only yardstick.

“The job market is changing and by the time your child graduates, a lot would have changed. Pay attention to the market trends and look for a school which offers you the skills and training which will be needed in the job market by the time he or he graduates,” he advises.

His argument is partly backed by several studies which show that new entrants in O’level and A’level will find different kinds of jobs than is currently available, when they graduate in the next 10 years.

Students in a tailoring session. Education should not only focus on grades, but also the hands and hearts

“More importantly, a child should have emotional and artificial intelligence to fit into the future job market,” adds Muyingo.

Some of the skills include proper discipline, empathy, cleanliness, time-keeping, self-drive, teamwork and commitment to excellence.

Muyingo says that at times, if you want to know the quality of people of a given school, look for the alumni. There is always some bit of their mannerism and character, which follows majority of them, even after they have left the schools.

Economics experts and teachers have argued that with the current level of unemployment in the country, there is need to give children holistic education; that which does not only focus on grades, but also the hands, heads and the heart.

The former director for basic and secondary education, Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, says there is need to invest in school activities which help build “the students’ heads, hands and hearts.” Such schools should do handwork, have a high reputation on character for staff and student or even owners, and should also be ranked highly in academic performance.

The former education minister for education and sports, Namirembe Bitamazire, says she is aware that the job markets are changing: “And it is the reason why the Government has focused on having almost every child taken to school, but also taken a move to retool and ask all teachers with low qualifications to upgrade.”

“The onus is on the parents to ensure that they take their children to schools which appreciate the direction that the Government has taken,” she adds.

Dr Lawrence Muganga, a curriculum expert and vice-chancellor for Victoria University, says secondary schools should be ready to focus on authentic and practical learning. He says teaching should not just be about the textbook knowledge, but also using the environment as a learning ground for the theoretical work taught in class.

“This explains why the Government curriculum experts are gradually planning to overhaul the overemphasis to examinations, and pay more attention to practical assessment and teaching,” he says.

He explains that authentic learning, also known as experiential learning, “This is where training of students is done through a student’s experience and is more specifically defined as ‘learning through reflection on doing.”

Schools should prepare learners with requisite skill

Dr Muganga adds that authentic learning education, also known as Big Picture Learning (BPL), focuses on learning by doing — students do real things, build products, make presentations, collaborate; just like in real-world occupations and professions. This helps in grooming job creators with work experience, other than job seekers, who are less experienced and less skilled. He says parents need to do enough research about the schools they are interested in before they seek the admission into them.

Dr Muganga also notes that with the fourth industrial revolution, students need to be more skilled to use their hands and heads to start enterprises and should be ready to solve or offer services needed in the real world.

“They must offer solutions to different issues that affect communities and lives of people. This cannot at times just be taught in the lecture rooms. It should, through the connection of students with the real world in their three to four years of training for a bachelor’s degree.”

He says parents need to focus on the kind of graduates that a given school produces in order to know if it is the right choice. The other way to ascertain this, he says, should be studying the school’s activities and implementation of the curriculum.

Margaret Ssekidde, an investor in schools, parent and businesswoman, says children need to be taught manners.

“A smart head is not enough to help one get a job or if you get it, be able to keep it.”

A parent should, therefore, look for a school that provides the child not only with additional skills, but also with what is now being termed as emotional intelligence. At the secondary school level, as they get into puberty, they need to be taught to learn to be more vigilant and to also to pay attention to their future careers.”

“Every parent should know that your child being highly educated, but without emotional intelligence, could be a mere waste of time,” Ssekidde says.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is most often defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions. People with high emotional intelligence can recognise their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments.

Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater mental health, job performance and leadership skills, although no causal relationships have been shown. EI is typically associated with empathy because it involves an individual connecting their personal experiences with those of others. Jobs of the future need skills, which can help one survive in whatever environment they are placed.

What Are The Options?

According to Uganda’s education system, Primary Seven leavers can either proceed to O’level secondary schools or go for a three-year craftsman training offered in farm and technical schools and also vocational training centres.

The formal community polytechnic schools offer three-year full-time courses to Primary Seven leavers, leading to the award of Uganda Junior Technical Certificate (UJTC). But even after Senior Four, students have a chance to go for certificate courses and can later upgrade after two years to go for diploma courses; and later degrees.

Much as this is the case, few parents and children are yet to embrace vocational training.

However, Bernard Akol Otemor, a curriculum specialist for Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) at the National Curriculum Development Centre, says: “It is high time we stopped thinking that vocational education is for failures. We should embrace it if the country is to realise development of both public and private sectors.”

But he cautions parents to choose institutions which are licensed by the Government; by always demanding that the registration certificate is pinned where it can easily be viewed by the public.

Even those who acquired skills through the informal sector have a chance to re-join the formal system.

Although it is still the wish of nearly all parents to get their children to university through secondary schools, Otemor advises parents to highly consider vocational education since it is more marketable and assures one of a job.

“The country is prioritising practical courses where the population can optimally contribute to development. We need people who can build roads, who can wire electricity and cook a good meal.

“It is a shift in mindset which NCDC and the leadership of the education ministry have tried to create for years: that vocational skills and acquisition of skills in ICT are the future,” Otemor said.

However, according to Otemor, some parents have not yet woken up to the need to have their children technologically prepared.

“This prioritising of skills acquisition is what these developed European and American countries discovered earlier. They facilitated their people to develop talent and in the long run the people and countries have all benefited from the grand plan,” Otemor says.

Parents can also opt for schools that emphasise co-curricular activities because sport is now a lucrative employer

Hands-On Training

Peter Tusubira, a retired headteacher, says a good school should offer hands[1]on training. As such, they must have school gardens, playgrounds, farms and enough space to do practical outdoor work. “It is dangerous to have graduates or smart students who cannot apply what they were taught. It explains why we have a high level of unemployment in the country.”

A 2018 report, dubbed, Future of Work in Africa, Implications for Secondary Education and TVET Systems, says: “Africa already faces high unemployment, which continues to be on the rise, and vulnerable employment among its youth.

According to the International Labour Organisation reports, youth unemployment is at 10.9% compared to that of adults at 5.6%.

More so, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate for young people in Uganda, aged 15–24, is 83%. This rate is even higher for those who have formal degrees and live in an urban area. This is due to the disconnect between the degree achieved and the vocational skills needed for the jobs that are in demand for workers.

Parents, as they select schools for their children, should be very keen on ensuring that these schools can safely deliver their children to the promised future of the changing job market

Other Factors To Consider?

When choosing a secondary school for your child, experts also advise paying attention to the following considerations:

  • Cost. Ask yourself if you can afford the school fees once your child is admitted.
  • Location. When looking at schools, ask yourself the kind of location you prefer; rural, suburban, among others. How far is the school from where you would live and does that matter to you?
  • Selectivity. Some schools are more exclusive than others. You may want to research the acceptance rates of the school you are considering before applying. More well-known schools are generally more selective. Consider your chances of being accepted into a well-known school.
  • Social life. This school will be your child’s second home for the next four years. You are going to want to know what the social life is like.
  • Extra-curricular activities. If your child is involved in sports, theatre, dance, art or any number of other interests and wish to continue these activities in secondary.
  • Safety. Safety is one of the most important factors to consider. When considering a school, look into its crime statistics and find out what steps the school is taking to ensure the safety of its students; or how safe it is, especially during this COVID-19 time.
  • Personal preferences. There are many additional variables to take into consideration, questions that may be more important to some students than others. For example, are you more interested in a mixed-sex or single-sex school for your child?

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