Uganda: Long Hours of Teaching Bad for Learners, Teachers

By 6:30am, Grace Kabiite, a Primary Seven pupil in Ndejje, is supposed to be in class. They usually spend the time between 6:30am and 8am revising with the teacher or doing corrections of a previous test before mainstream lessons begin.

This directly transitions into the school day, where she stays in class up to 10:30am when they take a break. At 11am, they are back to class for more lessons that go on until 1pm when they break off for a one hour lunch break. "At times if the whole class performs poorly in a paper, you are told to stay in class even during lunch time to do corrections," she states.

After the lunch break, they go back to class up to 5pm. As pupils from other classes leave for home at 5pm, Primary Seven get a break of 30 minutes and get back to class up to 7pm. The school is a private day school.

Whereas the syllabus has barely changed from past years when pupils and students had no extra classes, there is a growing and generally accepted culture of extra classes nowadays.

Immaculate Kayongo, a parent, shares that she has a daughter in Primary Six but she attends classes from Monday to Saturday. During week days, her classes start at 6:30am up to 6:30pm. "The school recently notified us that effective next term, the children will be studying on Sunday too, from 2pm to 6pm," she narrates.

But Kayongo is concerned that children do not get sufficient rest. "They never enjoy the home environment, and have no time to learn other things such as housework, yet I believe all that is part of wholistic learning," she says.

To add insult to injury, when the child returns home evidently tired, they still have homework to do, so she has to sit with her and do it up to around 9pm because every teacher has sent her home with about 10 numbers of homework to do.

"They should probably have classes from 7am to 6pm everyday and then return home without homework so that they rest early enough. Our children's brains are overworked and I think that is not a good thing. In addition to this, they mostly have to study during the holidays," Kayongo believes this is more reasonable.

Similarly, Vincent Mugarura is worried. "The time in which these children move is unsafe. Very early in the morning when it is even still dark, and late in the evening, you find groups of children, all below 15 moving from school. This is risky and wrong," he says.

"Every Saturday my son, who is in Primary Five, goes to school for extra classes for which we pay Shs5,000 as a must. If he does not go at all, he has to be punished on Monday for not attending the Saturday extra classes. He tells me that what they mostly do is revise, copy notes from the teacher, or sit a test," he says.

For Sharon Kamukama, extra classes should only be for candidate classes. "Normal classes should run from 8am to 5pm and extras for candidate classes between 7am and 8am and 5pm to 6pm. The problem with us, parents and teachers is, we think that the more time a child spends in class, the higher their chances of passing," she says.

Stop redundancy

Some schools as Simon Ogwal, was to learn use extra classes as a way to tame pupils. "A teacher - at Namagunga Primary Boarding School told me that instead of leaving the children to be redundant or even hurt themselves while playing, they tell them to go to class and keep them occupied," he says.

Gladys Musisi, an educationist and co-founder of Hope schools, says athough she would have wanted for classes to run normally from 8am to 5am, at all her schools, but this has only been able to work in the Mityana branch. "In Kampala, teachers and parents insisted in meetings that other schools are doing it, so should we," she notes.

Much ado about nothing?

However, Dr James Droti, a curriculum specialist at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), says it is possible for the current syllabuses for both primary and secondary schools to be completed within the stipulated timelines in the syllabus documents. "When syllabuses are being developed, the experts usually have a carefully thought about scope and sequence of what is to be learned, how they will learn and how to know that they have learnt."

So, why extra lessons? Dr Droti notes that time is one of the most challenging constraints a teacher faces in trying to achieve curricula goals and meet the needs of all learners.

"Nonetheless the effective teachers make attempt and maximise benefits of learning-teaching and instruction by making a thoughtful and careful use of learners' time. However, the majority of teachers do not," he says.

Dr Droti goes on to explain that in Ugandan secondary schools for example, instructional time varies between schools as well as location depending on the range of electives individual schools can offer. For instance, Ugandan schools with double shift have seven periods of 40 minutes each, which is a week of 1,400 minutes of instructional time. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some schools have an instructional week of six days with 12 periods of 40 minutes each.

This totals to an instructional week of 2,880 minutes. "So, what is happening in Uganda about instructional time poses a challenge for primary and secondary schools. This leads to a legitimate concern that Ugandan teachers are facing a burnout due to having a longer working day, week or year. As a result, the learners are often taught for only a small fraction of the intended time," Dr Droti explains.

How damaging can this be?

Teacher burnout can come in different forms such as: learner's time being often wasted due to informal class/school closure (for instance learners can be told to keep silent in class but doing nothing), high rates of teacher absenteeism, many teachers delaying to start lessons when the bell goes or early departures of teachers plus poor or ineffective use of class time. "All these behaviours are common in Ugandan schools. In the end, it manifests itself in having longer school days or extra teaching time," he observes.

If we are to use the analysis of schools that have an instructional week of six days (which many do) with 12 periods of 40 minutes each, students would have studied 34,560 minutes a term (if the school term is three months) and 103,680 minutes a year (with three terms in a year). Additionally, holiday and early morning (4am to 5am) classes tend to steal from children proper development.

"According to science, the human brain has right and left sides (right and left hemispheres). The right side/hemisphere is the side of the brain that influences and coordinates creativity, love for arts, music and games. It controls feelings and thoughts. A great appreciation of the right brain gives the individual the will to explore and encounter new experiences," Dr Droti says.

He adds, "On the other hand, the left brain coordinates analysis, mathematical and intellectual observations of the brain. It is also logical and verbal. The left and right brains, therefore, would need a balanced and adequate equal attention to their separate developments."

He adds that as children progress through school, it is very essential for parents to make sure such a balance is enabled for a holistic growth of the children, especially in these tech times.

In the end, time allocated for instruction must be appropriate and most curriculum developers attempt to allocate the time to material to be learnt. They match time, at the appropriate instructional level for students for instruction to be delivered in a way that is effective, efficient, meaningful, and motivating to students.

Why the fuss?

According to Dr Sylvia Mutenda, an education consultant, some of the factors for increased instructional time include.

-Quality of the teacher where majority have limited ability to develop sound learning in a shorter time

-Unlimited assessments, tests such as, beginning of term exams, weekly test, monthly tests, midterm exams and end of term. Teachers thus need time to cover the syllabus

-The need for learners to succeed in high-stake examinations.

-Schools trying to market themselves that they can offer a wide and diverse curriculum, overloading their timetable with 18- 22 subjects which requires more time.

-The promotion of rote learning.

-Teacher dominated classroom with silent learners result in time constraints due individual differences.

-Limited inspection and monitoring of school set standards.

-Outdated policy framework so it cannot guide current primary and secondary school operations.

-Limited time on task by learners.

-Complex and overloaded curriculum with 43 subjects for secondary.

-Out dated curriculum with strong emphasis on subject content demand more teaching time.

-Disruptions such as the local realities such as the fishing where learners come to school late.

Voice

"It is possible for the current syllabuses for both primary and secondary schools to be completed within the stipulated timelines in the syllabus documents. When syllabuses are being developed, the experts usually have a carefully thought about scope and sequence of what is to be learned, how they will learn and how to know that they have learnt." Dr James Droti, a curriculum specialist at ncdc

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