In Search for Good Grades, Schools Drive Candidates to Their Graves

A parent with a child at St. Francis Primary School, Ntinda has expressed concern about what she described as excessive drilling of candidates in the lead-up to their Primary Leaving Examinations. Available information indicates that at St. Francis Primary School, just like many others across the country, teachers continue to administer tests, and drills to candidates, on top of morning and evening preps as part of the preparations for them to excel in PLE.

“Is this the proper way of preparing our children for examinations?” the parent questioned, “Our children are stressed, and it appears that the PLE is a matter of life and death. Can’t they give them some time to rest?” This question comes at a time when reports from many regions of the country indicate that learners in candidate classes are stressed to a breaking point. Some have reportedly committed suicide while others are running away from schools.

For instance, in the previous weeks, candidates have been committing suicide with cases registered in Luweero, Bukomansimbi, Mubende, and Wakiso districts.  Besides this year, there is a big trail showing that over the years suicides among children and young adults are increasingly common during the exam period and when the results are released.

In some of the listed cases, the suicides have been tagged to academic pressure. While experts point out that the causes of suicide among learners, and candidates, in particular, are always complex, they say academic problems could play a significant role.

Henry Semakula, a Senior Education Officer in charge of Guidance, and Counselling at the education ministry says that although most of the learners are stressed with a lot of things including the breakdown in family structures, and drug abuse among others, they also continue to flounder under exam stress and the pressure of academic achievement, which devastates their mental health and wellbeing.

“Schools are stressing these children with test after test and if some fail to attain the required marks they are abused, and caned. This, plus other pressures from the parent can overwhelm the child. That is why we are seeing these mental health-related issues among these children increasing,” Semakula said.

Roselyn Ngorok, a child psychologist notes that in search of good grades, many schools are pushing the learners too far. She notes that although a few learners can react by committing suicide, the majority are left with health issues that can disturb them in their last stages of learning and adulthood. Ngorok, whose work is mostly in schools, adds that children in boarding sections are the most affected.

Moses Isoba, a parent, also observes that instead of being a tool to help both teachers and learners measure what has been understood, national examinations are increasingly becoming a competitive race, and instead of getting a good grade some learners are been driven to the grave. Isoba says that he didn’t know how schools are stressing candidates but he came face to face with this monster when his boy started wetting the bed due to execessive pressure towards the examination.

Tom Matovu, a retired teacher, says that many educators today don’t know how to deal with candidates. He explains that back in his days, classes of such learners would end almost a month before exams to give students time to unwind.

“When I heard that teachers were testing and drilling students at this hour, I was astonished. At this point, teachers should be caring for these students favorably, paying attention to their sentiments, and handling any crisis situations that may develop. Give them some time to relax,” Matovu said.

Semakula also wondered by teachers who have been teaching a learner for the last seven years think that mounting pressure in the last months of the national examination will have a positive impact.

A week ago, John Tereraho, a senior educationist, while appearing before the Nuwe Amanya Mushega- led Education Policy Review Commission described the pressure imposed on candidates and semi-candidates as madness.

“We have slowly slipped into this situation. All that schools care about is what they call best results but leaving long-lasting impacts on these kids. Some go to the extreme and commit suicide,” Tereraho said.

Several education experts who have been appearing before the said commission have been blaming the action of teachers and schools on the poor assessment framework, which they say must change.

For instance, the Uganda women network, and Uwezo all agreed the Ministry of Education should consider overhauling the assessment framework to give more room to class-based continuous assessment, which will relieve pressure and attention put on candidates.      

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