Absence with permission
November 28, 2018
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Do highly rated schools deserve the merit?: demystifying academic performance differentials

Overview: Often times, input determines output. World over, best performing schools admit the best students graded by the education system, usually through the national examination bodies at primary, ordinary secondary and advanced secondary levels. The performance of students at those levels is a function of many different factors; varying from location, socioeconomic, demographic characteristics to hereditary factors.  In Uganda, for example, before a student qualifies for university entry, such a student is supposed to pass three national examinations, namely; the primary leaving examinations (PLE), the Uganda certificate examinations (UCE) and the Uganda advanced-level certificate examinations (UACE). All managed by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB). The output, thus student’s performance is tagged on the tripartite role sharing between the parents, teachers and the school. Of recent, though the school characteristics, including location and previous records have become deterministic factors of student’s performance, regardless of the fact that equally qualified teachers teach the same subjects’ syllabi to students whose genetic differences are not significant. Central student selection has been encouraged by the ministry of education, where schools determine the number and minimum score. Often high performing schools select the very best performing students. Three questions arise: should students’ academic performance in the high performing schools versus low performing schools be of any surprise? In such a scenario, what schools should deserve the credit of enviable sort? What policy recommendations are worthy the member of parliament’s debate time into law?

Problem analysis: Given that high performing schools only admit the best students, it is not surprising that they always get very good grades. The marginal contribution to the already capable student is too minute to be recognized given that their contribution is only to maintain high performance among high performing students, using their good facilities! On the other hand, low performing schools have very high marginal contributions since even with barely minimum facilities, they can transform the majority low performing students to fair performing students. Lack of realization of this problem has increasingly created more problems leading to the call to investigate the national examination bodies such as UNEB, especially when  the students’ academic performance in the high performing schools is not to the expectation! Aspects of two or more examinations for the same level have been suggested as if to create two nationalities in the same nation! The mode of implementation of universal schools at primary and secondary levels seems to support the notion of two or more examinations for the same level! Is UNEB doing something at the output level to solve an input problem!

Policy recommendations:  Below are a few recommendations:

  1. Review the implementation of universal primary education and universal secondary education. Primarily, this was meant to curb economic disability among households. The national planning authorities and education ministries should be tasked to develop policy measures specifically targeting the reduction of access to education at household levels, nationally.
  2. Review the student selection procedure to break the monopoly in the admission of high performing students to high performing schools and vice versa. Develop an allocation ratio of say 50:50 for all schools, for all those who qualify to join the next level of schooling.  Let the other half benefit from the good facilities in high performing schools.
  3. Review the school grading system; to be based on the marginal marginal contribution. That is to say, rate the schools based on their ability to transform a credit six (6) student to a distinction one (1) student at the next schooling level. Thus, the students’ performances at their previous level contribute to the grading of the school at the next national examination.