Ugandans seize the moment: Embedding life skills in the Ugandan curriculum

By Mauro Giacomazzi, Nabbuye Hawah, and Swetha Sridharan

RELI Uganda’s values and life skills (VaLi) thematic group has been contributing their expertise the reform of Uganda’s lower secondary education curriculum. This process presented the opportunity to go beyond positioning youth for academic success and equip them with the skills they will need to join the workforce and meet the challenges of everyday life. Education stakeholders in Uganda recognise the importance of developing these generic skills.

Therefore, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) commissioned a labour market survey to understand the core skills Ugandan employers look for in entry-level employees.  The Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) then embedded the skills identified and other generic skills into the new, lower secondary education curriculum. Since this incorporation RELI Uganda has been looking into how best to ease the implementation process which has lagged.

Implementing the new curriculum however will require strategic planning and coordination on the part of NCDC and at least four other divisions of the MoES: the directorates of Basic and Secondary Education, Education Standards, and departments of Teacher/Tutor Instructor Education and Training and Education Planning. The Uganda National Examination Board will also play a role. Five essential considerations should be taken into account if these authorities are to successfully work together.

  1. Decide upon a common definition of generic skills.* Education bodies currently have multiple definitions—interpersonal skills (like communication), vocational skills (like sewing), aspects of personal development (like creative arts and physical education), and knowledge important for adulthood (like 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 teaching methods to cultivate specific skills. The NCDC envisions developing skills by changing how academic subjects are taught i.e. 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 however only works to develop cognitive skills and some interpersonal skills. Personal skills like self-awareness, self-confidence, and dependability may need to be taught in stand-alone sessions supplemented by mentorship and empowerment training. A customized approach to cultivating skills—whether embedded in the core curriculum or taught outside of it—is needed.
  3. Teacher training. In-service teachers have to learn how to give students more voice and to elicit rather than provide information. This may also mean modifying the training for head teachers so they can champion the development of generic skills and be a resource for classroom teachers. Here, a simple, one-off training is not enough. Expanding teacher capacity needs a continuous, multi-dimensional training program. It will also require adjusting the teacher training curriculum at national teacher colleges and TVET teacher training institutions.
  4. Test generic skills. The current education system gives teachers the incentive to “teach to the test.” Therefore, including generic skills in the end of cycle exams could motivate teachers to focus on them. The Uganda National Examinations Board is currently modifying questions in UCE examinations to test the students’ high order thinking skills. This effort could be expanded to the generic skills targeted by NCDC’s new curriculum that fit well with 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. We need to look into ways of doing this such as participating in The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to track progress in preparing youth (15-year-olds) for adulthood. There is also need to look into approaches to monitoring 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 very valuable to agencies seeking to develop solutions to help teachers.

Uganda’s experience is feeding into similar processes across the region. RELI through the VaLi thematic groups that are involved in these national processes is well placed to document valuable insights on the experience of designing and delivering an African model for life skills transference in schools.

*What are generic skills?

Also known by many other names—life, soft, socioemotional, cognitive, transferable, and so on—generic skills are distinct from technical or vocational skills in that they are valued across work sectors and are essential to a constructive adult life. They fall roughly into three categories:

  • cognitive skills (like problem-solving)
  • personal strengths (like self-confidence)
  • interpersonal skills (like teamwork)

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