The Society aims to promote professional relevance and teamwork in fostering biology education and scholarship in Uganda
Makerere University has mobilized resources to conduct research into the poor performance in Biology at UCE and UACE. This was revealed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Prof. Umar Kakumba during the inception meeting of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) held on 5th May 2023 at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility (CTF2) at Makerere. BioSU will, among other things, contribute to the promotion of Biology as a subject among learners, right from primary school, with an aim of achieving increased enrolment and improvement in academic grades at O’ and A’ levels, and ultimately at the tertiary levels of education in Uganda.
Addressing participants, Prof. Kakumba appreciated the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS) for leading efforts to improve performance in Biology, a core discipline in the life sciences. “Five Colleges at Makerere namely CoNAS, the College of Health Sciences (CHS), College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), and the College of Education and External Studies (CEES) largely rely of biology as an essential subject. The entire science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystem in Uganda is more than 60% biological in “fabric”. The formation of the BioSU is timely and will largely address the challenge of poor performance in the subject.” Prof. Kakumba appreciated the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) for supporting the formation of BioSU, and rallied other stakeholders to take interest in the Society. “This is a national formation that will build foundations for the future of biologists in this country,” he noted.
In his remarks, the Principal, CoNAS appreciated the School of Biosciences for taking lead in addressing the challenge of poor performance in Biology. He equally appreciated the University leadership for supporting the initiative. “When Biology is negatively affected at UCE, then enrolment at UACE gets affected, and this poses major challenges for the colleges at Makerere and the institutions related to medical, agricultural, veterinary and other forms of training where biological knowledge is essential. The move to address the challenge is timely, and working with BioSU, I’m hopeful that performance will greatly improve.”
Trend of poor performance in Biology
An analysis conducted by the School of Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University indicates that since the late 1970s, academic performance in Biology at UACE has never been at its best and recently deteriorated to worrying levels. “In the UACE sitting of 2018 whose results were released in February 2019, UNEB statistics show that a total of 13,061 candidates sat for Biology countrywide, and of these only 1 candidate scored an “A”. That year, only up to 38% of the candidates scored at least an “E” leaving almost 80% failed (score O or F). In the next year’s sitting of 2019, only 44 candidates countrywide scored “A” in Biology. This trend was found quite repeated several times before 2018 and has not improved to-date. According to Prof. Arthur K. Tugume, Dean, School of Biosciences at Makerere University, Biology is an essential subject because it accounts for 70-100% of the academic and research work at CoNAS, CHS, CoVAB and CAES at Makerere. “The poor performance at UACE affects the totality of life-sciences academic and research ecosystem at Makerere University, and several essential sectors, and MDAs of Uganda whose mandates are hinged on Biology,” he noted.
Addressing the challenge
To address the challenge of poor performance in Biology, Makerere University through the School of Biosciences, supported by the BioSU will conduct a detailed and carefully planned analysis of; i) qualifications, competence, and availability of Biology teachers and technicians at A’ Level; (ii) the scope: breadth and depth of Biology curriculum at A’ Level; (iii) how topics are segregated or not segregated in different UNEB past papers of Biology at A’ Level in comparison to other A’ Level subjects; (iv) the state of laboratory and field infrastructure for teaching Biology at A’ Level; and (v) attitudes of learners/students towards Biology at A’ Level. The results will inform steps to be taken.
Formation of the Biology Society of Uganda
The Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) is founded on Uganda’s aspirations for a strong bio-economy to spur national development under National Development Program III (NDPIII). Cognizant of the importance of Biology applications that account for over 60% of Uganda’s science, technology and innovations (STI) ecosystem, it is envisaged that bringing together biology professionals will augment and consolidate their contribution to national development.
Specifically, the objectives of the Biology Society of Uganda (BioSU) are to:
- Establish a functional and dynamic platform that will promote communication among biologists engaged in knowledge generation, testing, teaching and the end users at all levels.
- Promote biological research and its application in the teaching and/or solving challenges of national development at all levels.
- Host and publish a biannual Biology Newsletter (or any other publication deemed essential) on biology aspects of interest in Uganda.
- Promote the writing of biological science articles, books, papers, and magazines.
- Provide guidance on matters of national importance that demand expert knowledge in Biology or its applications.
- Create a community of people interested in biology, gather and exchange ideas, learn more about biology and sustain interest in the subject.
- To advance the quality of biology in academia, industry, education and research.
- Increase awareness of the importance of biology in national development.
- Foster a lively and early interest in biology in order to improve learning outcomes from primary to university level and beyond.
The BioSU inception meeting
The inception meeting brought together Biology professionals who deliberated on a number of issues in line with the formation of the BioSU, and the continued failure of the subject of Biology. The meeting featured a panel discussion in which a number of factors undermining performance in Biology were highlighted and possible solutions proposed. Panelists including Prof. Arthur Tugume, Dean School of Biosciences, CoNAS; Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde, Director of Research at NARO; Mr. Peter Watiti, a primary school teacher; Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a geneticist and biotechnologist; Mr. Nixon Opoya, a secondary school teacher and examiner at UCE and UACE; and Dr Godwin Anywar from the Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology at CoNAS emphasized the need to improve competence of teachers by conducting refresher trainings. Other issues arising from the discussion included the need to improve practical training, interest learners in the subject at an early staff and conduct career guidance.
An Interim Committee coordinated under the School of Biosciences, CoNAS, Makerere University has been put in place to foresee the formation of the BioSU. Members include; Prof. Arthur Tugume – Interim Chair, Dr Godwin Anywar – Interim Secretary, Dr. Mary Buttibwa, Dr. Agnes Nandutu Masawi, Dr. Shahasi Athman, Dr. Jamilu Ssenku, Dr. Joel Isanga, Dr. Samuel Ojelel, Mr. Nixon Opoya, Dr. Eric Sande, Dr. John Joseph Kisakye, Prof. Fredrick Muyodi, and Dr. Godfrey Kubiriza.