Make ICT a principal subject
March 2022 will mark 10 years since ICT was introduced at A-Level, as an elective second subsidiary subject. The other is Subsidiary Mathematics. In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Sports made significant changes to the A-Level curriculum, allowing students to study only 3 principal subjects, and 2 subsidiary subjects, including General Paper. Before that, students suffered with 4 principal subjects, and 1 subsidiary subject, which was deemed very hectic.
It should be remembered that in O-Level, Computer Studies was only added as early as 2006. So, at that time, the addition of ICT into the menu of A-Level subjects was the right thing to do.
The beginning was not easy, and many schools grappled with the challenge of adequate computers, no access to electricity, and skilled teachers. Through its RCDF programme, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) distributed computers to more than 700 schools. The big schools connected to the electricity grid got 40 computers, while rural ones received 11 computers and solar panels to power them. The challenge of skilled teachers has persisted, partly due to lack of ICT subject combinations in the education courses at universities, making head teachers to recruit graduates of Computers Science/Information Technology to teach. However, many universities now have appropriate programmes, to enable one qualify as an ICT/Computer Studies teacher. For example, Lira University has Bachelor of Computer Education, and Busitema University has BSc. Education (Math/ICT).
Generally, the teaching and learning of ICT in A-Level has been going on well. Actually, in most schools, ICT is one of the most preferred subjects by students, and pass rate is good. In fact, many students select principal subjects that will push them to ICT, as a second subsidiary, even though it has two papers – S850/1 Paper 1, which is purely theory (40 percent of total grade) and then S850/2 which is practical, and accounts for 60 percent of total grade. This means that, emphasis has been put on practical skills. The practical paper examines proficiency in use of office applications such Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Publisher.
For many teachers of ICT, there has been a challenge of having to teach computer programming at O-Level, and nothing like that in A-Level. Yet, A-Level students would be better placed to understand computer programming logic and algorithms that is the basis of digital systems. Perhaps, it is because it is only a subsidiary subject that’s why more engaging topics like computer programming were not included. I must state here that many students who do Computer Studies in O-Level get disappointed when they reach A-Level, because most of the content is repetition of that they have done already.
After 10 years, I believe that it is now time to make ICT a principal subject. This gives an opportunity for our youth to deepen and broaden their digital skills before reaching university. For example, in Tanzania, one can study Physics, Mathematics and Computer Studies. And in Rwanda, where it is even compulsory, one can pursue Maths,Computer Science and Economics (MCE), or Maths, Physics and Computer Science (MPC).
In the new lower secondary curriculum that debuted in 2020, the NCDC included ICT among the now 20 subjects. But again, it is not among the 11 compulsory subjects in Senior One and Senior Two, meaning it is optional from Senior One to Senior Four.
Yet, subjects that are elective (optional) usually do not receive the same level of seriousness as compulsory ones. Making it an elective subject means most schools will most likely abandon it, as it requires more resources compared to other elective subjects such as Agriculture, Art and Design, French etc. Consequently, this denies many students the full menu of subjects, which limits their choices, and future career prospects.
My hope is that when the new A-Level curriculum comes, at least, we must have ICT as a principal subject. Many countries that have introduced ICT/Computer Science early in the education system have successfully developed the critical digital workforce, and also harnessed the full power of digital systems in the economy, and social life.
The last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown that we need top-notch digital skills, both for work and social life. Digital systems are here to stay. Therefore, we need to scale up our investment, efforts, skills, infrastructure and attitudes to acceptable levels. Making ICT a principal subject is part of that investment.
This article was first published in the Daily Monitor.