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Education Sector Reform: Uganda to Abolish Automatic Student Promotion After PLE Results Reveal High Failure Rates

In a significant shift in education policy, the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports, led by Minister Janet Museveni, announced the discontinuation of the automatic promotion policy in schools. This decision comes in the wake of the release of the 2023 Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results, which revealed a concerning level of underperformance among pupils who appeared in the category of ungraded.

Minister Museveni, during the announcement of the PLE results, highlighted the alarming number of students who received ungraded results, emphasizing the need for a change in the promotion policy. She pointed out that advancing students to the next grade without them achieving the necessary skills and competencies is counterproductive.

The Uganda National Examination Board reported that 10.4 percent of the candidates, totaling 88,269 students, were ungraded in the recent examinations. These students failed to achieve the minimum performance level required for a Division 4 grade, rendering them ineligible for admission to the next educational level.

The minister stressed that the root causes of academic failures must be addressed, citing the automatic promotion policy as a potential factor. She argued that this policy allowed students to progress without acquiring essential competencies, leading to increased challenges and failures at critical examination points.

In her directives, Minister Museveni called on the Directorate of Education Standards to focus on building schools’ capacity for formative assessment. She criticized the practice of promoting students merely based on the completion of an academic year as detrimental to both the students and the education sector.

The policy, which was initially adopted in 2005, aimed at improving internal efficiency in basic education by increasing retention rates and addressing school dropout and repetition. While some private schools and local governments like Mpigi District had already rejected this policy, it remained widely implemented across the country.

A 2017 report by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment criticized the policy for not providing opportunities for weaker students to improve and for compromising critical evaluation processes.

UNEB statistics reveal that certain districts consistently record high numbers of ungraded students. The board, chaired by Professor Celestino Obua, expressed concern over these persistent low performers and plans to conduct a thorough analysis to identify and address the underlying issues.

The announcement of this policy review coincides with growing calls from educationists to overhaul the entire assessment framework. They advocate for a shift from a centralized examination system to a more continuous, school-based assessment approach to better monitor and support student progression.

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