Science education gets double boost in Uganda

Uganda has made science compulsory for secondary school students Copyright: USAID / R. Buckley

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[KAMPALA] The Ugandan government has made science subjects compulsory for secondary school students, and said it will preferentially fund university students taking science courses.

Under the new policy, approved last month, biology, chemistry and physics classes will be compulsory for all secondary school students, and first year university students will have to take some science subjects.

Science students will also receive the majority — nearly 75 per cent — of government scholarships to universities and other tertiary education institutions.

Since obtaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda has largely promoted humanities subjects, producing large numbers of ‘white-collar’ workers, such as lawyers, journalists, economists, accountants and administrators.

This policy is blamed for a shortage of doctors, engineers, chemists and agricultural researchers, among others.

To address the shortfall in science education, the government plans to train and recruit more than 1,000 science teachers.

Richard Akankwasa, director of education at Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sport told SciDev.Net that the government would equip teacher training colleges with laboratories and equipment so the training of science teachers can be scaled up.

Since the government’s plans were announced, concerns have been raised in the Ugandan media that prioritising science in such a way could be harmful to Uganda’s development.

"[Implementing the plan] is going to start in earnest, but it should be understood clearly that we are not underplaying the importance of the arts," said Akankwasa. "All we are doing is prioritising sciences to create a cadre of technical professionals who can implement the vision of transforming Uganda into an industrial state. This should have been done years ago."

Despite public scepticism about the policy — and whether it can even be implemented — heads of Ugandan universities told SciDev.Net that they welcomed it.

Michael Senyimba, vice-chancellor of Ndejje University, says that because only ten per cent of students leaving high school have tried science, 90 per cent of Uganda’s intelligentsia including its policy makers, are not scientifically literate.

His counterpart at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Fredrick Kayanja, says the current system, which is based on the United Kingdoms, produces students who are not well rounded by requiring them to specialise early. He favours a shift towards the US system where university students still take a variety of subjects.

The vice-chancellor of Kampala University, Badru Katerega, approves of the policy of compulsory sciences for first-year university students, but warns it could be problematic if the majority of students joining the universities have not studied the sciences before.