District education officers (DEOs) and head teachers of primary schools have complained that parents keep pulling their children out of public schools because of the thematic curriculum that encourages teaching in vernacular.
The officials said the curriculum, unless fully explained to the public, was likely to do more harm than good to the now 15-year old universal primary education (UPE) programme.
The education ministry introduced a new the Thematic Curriculum in 2009 to be taught in the lower primary classes (P1-P3). Key among the components of this somewhat special curriculum is the emphasis on using mother tongues as the medium of instruction.
English is only taught as a topic in the various themes until a child reaches P4. Some of the languages used for teaching in various regions include Luganda, Runyoro, Lusoga, Runyankole-Rukiga, Rutooro, Lugbara, Lukonjo, and Acholi.
However, debating during a conference organised by the education ministry at Hotel Africana, Kampala, yesterday (Thursday), education officers said the move has not augured well with the parents.
"Many parents who would wish to give good education for their children have transferred them to private schools we use vernacular in UPE schools which the pupils already know," said Bushenyi DEO Norman Lukumu.
If the trend continues, he said, "Enrollment will drop and give a false impression that UPE is a failure."
Lukumu, who is also the chairman of the district and municipal council education officers, urged the education ministry to correct the impression regarding the thematic curriculum.
Other head teachers said the curriculum had posed enormous challenges to teachers of schools in urban areas where pupils are of multilingual backgrounds.
The conference, presided over by the primary education state minister Kamanda Bataringaya, was organised to launch study materials which the ministry is to distribute to various schools under the quality educators' project.
Funded by numerous charity organizations, the project is aimed at boosting the competence of primary school teachers to enhance academic performance. It is currently piloted in the northern districts of Gulu, Pader, Apac, and Amoltar.
The officials' concern is in line with the latest national assessment of progress in education report done by the National Examinations Board (UNEB) which indicated that the thematic curriculum wasn't helping to improve academic standards.
The report shows that learners, especially in lower primary, are good at numeracy but seriously struggleing in literacy.
The trends of lower primary eat through the system till pupils finish primary education; with obviously doubtable performances since they cannot even at times speak of write good English.
The same report quickly suggests that it could be because of the new thematic curriculum at lower primary that performance in literacy is going down. This would mean that the thematic curriculum needs to be revised.
Bataringaya said since UPE was introduced in 1997, enrollment has increased from a mere 2.5 million to over eight million.
He, however, expressed concern over the wanting performance of pupils in UPE schools, which he mainly attributed congestion and absenteeism both by pupils and teachers as well as some teachers' incompetence.