Results of the 2012 A-level examinations were yesterday trickling into schools and homes across Uganda, with statistics showing a markedly better performance compared to the previous year.
At least 10,743 more candidates got two principal passes in 2012 and, therefore, qualify to join tertiary institutions.
Figures from the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) show the best-done subjects as History, Entrepreneurship, Education, Islamic Religious Education, Literature in English, Kiswahili and Art.
Education Minister Jessica Alupo was, however, concerned about the tendency for private schools to neglect sciences in favour of arts subjects.
"I wish, therefore, to encourage private schools to seriously consider investing in and encouraging the teaching of sciences in their schools," she said.
Sciences were generally poorly-done. Half the science candidates failed to obtain at least a principal pass, a result Uneb officials say projects "a negative impact on the country's manpower needs in science and technology."
The results show that of the 109,974 candidates who sat for the 2012 examinations, 10% did Biology, 17.3% Physics, 24.5% Mathematics and 10.5% Chemistry. This, Uneb officials say, "breaks" the heart.
"Without sciences, we cannot move," said Chairman Fagil Mandy.
But a few schools continue to distinguish themselves as winners in both arts and sciences. They include St Mary's SS Kitende, with 37 quadruple-As, Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo (17 quadruple As), St. Mary's College Kisubi (4) Namilyango College (3), Mt St Mary's College Namagunga (4), Nabisunsa Girls School (4), Naalya SS Bweyogerere (5) and Seeta High (4).
The Observer has today published some of the country's 2,500 best A-level performers (See tables on pages 6, 7, 35, 36 ).
Uneb Secretary Matthew Bukenya announced that "a total of 109,974 candidates appeared for the examinations, compared to 102,296 in 2011, an increase of 7,679 candidates (7.5%)."
Out of the 109,974 candidates, 76,151 students qualify for places in tertiary institutions compared to 65,417 in 2011, an increase of 10,734 candidates.
"Overall performance in the 2012 examinations is better than that in 2011, with a lower failure rate. Failure rate has been declining over the years," Bukenya explained.
There was a drop in the performance of Economics, Christian Religious Education, Islamic Religious Education, Mathematics, Physics and Agriculture. Agriculture was the worst done subject at 0.1% of As, compared to 2.8% of As scored in 2011. The number of girls who attained the "critical" two principal passes in arts subjects superseded that of boys by 1%.
"This must be applauded," said Alupo said.
Statistics show that more boys than girls are taking on science and technical disciplines such as Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry. Girls are settling for English, Economics, History and Geography. Indeed, Alupo was appalled that the number of girls offering science subjects had declined.
"At this rate, the country stands a risk of missing out on science-based development programmes," she said.
Kampala, Wakiso, Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale and Luweero were the best-performing districts. Like it was for UCE candidates, Bukenya lamented the language limitation, which he said continued to fail some of the candidates. He also mentioned the phenomenon of 'spotting', whereby students attempt to restrict their revision to particular questions expecting them to be asked.
"These were caught out and did poorly," Bukenya said.
There were also cases of malpractice. At least 404 candidates' results are being held pending further investigations.
Alupo attributed the drop in the number of students taking sciences at A-level to many government schools that admit "only students who have scored distinctions for science combinations, thus cutting out those with good credits and with ambition to study science subjects."
She urged head teachers to stop compelling students to take arts and humanities "simply because they didn't score distinctions."
Alupo explained that "there is no empirical evidence to show that students who have not passed with distinctions but with credits cannot do and pass sciences."
To drum up the case for sciences, Mandy asked Sheila Bagayana, a second-year Biomedical Engineering student at Makerere University, to explain why sciences are going to change Uganda. Describing what she called "my brief science journey," Bagayana said that to attract students to do sciences, there is need to break the bad attitude of people thinking that sciences are hard and boring.
"Science is the way to go if we are to solve the economic problems of our country," Bagayana said.
Who is to blame?
So, who is to blame for the low appetite for sciences among students? Is it a problem of teachers, students or parents?
Bagayana argues that some parents discourage their children from taking sciences, believing that their chances of passing will be reduced if they do. However, according to Mandy, the focus needs to be more on the teachers. Mandy said he had interviewed 3,840 teachers at both primary and secondary level across the country, and only 30 of these said they look for new knowledge all the time and love their country.
"If the teacher doesn't know, the learner will not know, the citizens will remain ignorant and the country will remain backward," he said.
In other words, Mandy said, "the teacher cannot give to the learner what she/he doesn't have."
What needs to be done, he advised, is for "teacher training institutions, including universities, [to] review the curriculum."
Options for candidates
Most such students who did not achieve the two principal passes required to join institutions of higher learning come from districts like Apac. Out of the 131 candidates who sat for the exams in Apac, none got A, B or C. Other districts with equally poor grades include Katakwi, Kotido, Kumi, Kaberamaido, Nakapiripirit, Bukwo, Amuru, Bududa, Bukedea, Amudat, Lamwo, Otuke, Agago, Alebtong, Bulambuli, Buvuma, Kole, Kween, Kyankwanzi, Mitooma, Napak and Rubirizi.
Alupo, however, suggested that this should not be the end; there are, the minister said, alternatives in technical schools.
Additional reporting by Edgar Angumya, Alon Mwesigwa, Joseph Kimbowa, Racheal Ninsiima, Prisca Baike, Polly Kamukama, Felix Eupal and Immaculate Wanyenze.