Mak Scholars Translate Science Books into Local Languages

By Mark Kawalya

A group of scholars from Makerere University have translated science terms into local languages to help students in lower primary classes learn more effectively. 

The team of scholars, which includes Dr. Henry Busulwa, Dr. Harriet Nabushawo, Dr. John Ssentongo, and Dr. Allen Nalugwa, conceived the idea after conducting research that showed a decline in interest and performance in science subjects among learners. 

The scholars translated two resource books into Luganda and Lumasaaba languages, following the thematic curriculum of lower primary, to assist students in grasping the content taught in primary four. The lower primary curriculum in Uganda directs teachers to teach children in their mother tongue from primary one to primary three and then switch to English in primary four.

Dr. Busulwa, the principal investigator of the project, discovered that between 2015 and 2019, less than 5000 pupils achieved distinctions in science, while over 1000 children failed completely. “This is because these children are not given a chance to learn most of the terms in their mother tongue. They may know something in English but cannot translate it to their local language, which should be addressed,” he said.

The scholars conducted research on a project funded by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF). They interacted with teachers, learners, and elderly individuals in various districts to gather suitable terms for the science subjects.

The scholars found that at least 80 percent of the participants could not translate science terms into their mother tongue. They also discovered that there is no specific science subject in lower primary, but rather science terms are incorporated into Literacy I and Literacy II subjects. Additionally, they found that many teachers in rural areas use local languages more frequently than those in urban centers, and that a significant number of teachers were not comfortable teaching science in local languages.

The translated books will help teachers teach science more comfortably and effectively. Prof. Anthony Muwagga Mugagga, the Principal of the College of Education and External Studies, praised the scholars for their project, stating that the failure of science students at the advanced level can be traced back to primary school, where students do not understand the meaning of what they study. He also noted that teaching science in the mother tongue has benefits not only for science education but also for medicine.

Teachers and representatives from various districts expressed their support for the project, highlighting the difficulties teachers face in teaching children who do not understand the subject matter in their mother tongue. The National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC) encouraged the scholars to digitalize their resources for wider accessibility. Dr. Deborah Magera, a representative of the NCDC, emphasized the importance of children understanding science concepts in their own language.

The resource books are designed to align with the thematic curriculum of lower primary, and if the government provides more funding, the materials can be replicated in other local languages. The scholars’ work has the potential to have a significant impact on the education sector in Uganda, and the Ministry of Education has been urged to consider adopting their resources.

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