New curriculum prepares youth for work and adulthood – Experts

According to experts, the reform of the lower secondary education curriculum offers a rare chance for youth. It not only positions them for academic success but also gives them the skills they need to join the workforce and meet the challenges of everyday life as adults.

Education stakeholders in Uganda recognise the importance of developing these life or generic skills. They comprise a range of cognitive, personal and interpersonal strengths.

The National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) commissioned a labour market survey to understand which skills Ugandan employers look for in entry-level employees. Results show critical skills needed, such as communicating effectively and solving problems systematically.

Ensuring that this curriculum is successfully rolled out will require strategic planning and coordination on the part of the National Curriculum Development Centre and at least four departments of the Ministry of Education and Sports.

These include the directorates of Basic and Secondary Education, Education Standards and departments of Teacher/Tutor Instructor Education and Training and Education Planning. The Uganda National Examinations Board will also play a role.

Consultation with these authorities to learn more about their approach to developing generic skills and what they view as the opportunities going forward point to five essential considerations for success.

  1. Agree on the definition of generic skills

Education officials define generic skills in multiple ways — interpersonal skills (communication) and vocational skills (like sewing).

Other skills include aspects of personal development (creative arts and physical education) and knowledge important for adulthood (topics related to health, safety and social issues). Agreeing on a definition of generic skills is a crucial first step in determining how to develop them.

2. Adapt National Curriculum Development Centre teaching methods to cultivate specific skills

Some skills, such as problem solving and communication, can be developed by changing how academic subjects are taught. This is the approach that National Curriculum Development Centre envisions — to modify the core curriculum and the way in which teachers deliver it so that students participate more actively in the classroom and develop higher-order thinking and interpersonal skills in the process.

This is a sound approach for developing some, but not all skills. It is best suited to developing cognitive and some interpersonal skills. However, personal skills, like self-awareness, self-confidence and dependability, may need to be taught in stand-alone sessions, and some mentorship and empowerment training may be necessary. A customised approach to cultivating skills — whether embedded in the core curriculum or taught outside of it — is needed.

3. Train classroom teachers and headteachers

A strong curriculum is a vital first step that should be followed by an implementation plan. This plan should include teacher training. Classroom teachers need continuous professional development to help youth develop generic skills. They have to learn how to give students more voice and to elicit rather than provide information. This may also mean modifying the training for headteachers so they can champion the development of generic skills and be a resource for classroom teachers. Training programmes at national teacher colleges and at institutions that prepare technical and vocational education and training instructors should also be revamped to train future teachers.

4. Test generic skills basing on National Curriculum Development Centre guidelines

The current education system gives teachers the incentive to “teach to the test”. At present, examinations do not assess generic skills. Therefore, including generic skills at the end of cycle exams could motivate teachers to focus on them.

The Uganda National Examinations Board is currently modifying questions in Uganda Certificate of Education examinations to test the students’ high order thinking skills. This effort could be expanded to the generic skills targeted by National Curriculum Development Centre – NCDC’s new lower secondary curriculum that is suitable for this type of testing.

5. Monitor Progress

As the curriculum is rolled out, it will be important to diagnose whether students are developing generic skills.

The National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE) could have been an optimal vehicle for monitoring this type of systems-level progress in students’ generic skills. But it was discontinued in 2015.

Other approaches will also be needed to monitor the development of skills that are not suited to standardised testing.

The Directorate of Education Standards is currently shifting the mandate of its inspectors to include teaching and learning.

This is an opportune moment to train inspectors to assess schools’ progress in cultivating generic skills. This information could be valuable to agencies seeking to develop solutions to help teachers.

The article was written by education and communication experts

Mauro Giacomazzi, Hawah Nabbuye and Swetha Sridharan

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