Ugandan Tests of Faith

Working in the Library

Conor, Ben, and Wendy working in the KHPS library. Binders of past exams are top middle.

For the past two weeks, the Pathfinders have been teaching at Kasese Humanist Primary School (KHPS), one of the partner organizations we are considering for the launch of the Humanist Service Corps. Before we arrived in Uganda, we already knew KHPS was a bastion of skepticism and scientific thinking in a country where questions of belief dominate politics and policy. However, it was not until we had a chance to review Uganda’s Religious Education curriculum that we realized just how bad the situation was.

 

Primary One Beginning of Term Two 1

Figure 1: The first question Primary Two students answered for their Religious Education exam at the beginning of the second term last year.

The first time we came across a Religious Education exam at KHPS, we thought it must have been something one of the students brought from Sunday school. We didn’t think there was any way a school exam would require students to identify the Christian God as their creator (Figure 1).

 

We were wrong. Not only was that question on an official exam for Primary Two students, but the other exams we found in the school’s archives showed that the purpose of Uganda’s Religious Education curriculum is to indoctrinate students from Primary One through Primary Seven.

 

Primary Three with Answers 1

Figure 2: The first question Primary Three students answered for their Religious Education midterm this year.

Although the Constitution says “Uganda shall not adopt a State religion,” all government schools are religious, and Christianity monopolizes Religious Education through Primary Four (Figure 2).

 

 

Primary Three with Answers 2

Figure 3: A typical Primary Two question with correct student responses.

The problem is that the Ugandan Constitution makes no protections against religious preference. The country’s motto is “For God and my country,” and the language of the national curriculum makes Christian privilege clear. Notice how the words “God created” add no meaning to these prompts (Figures 3-6).

 

Primary One Beginning of Term Two 3

Figure 4: A Primary Three matching question.

 

Primary One Beginning of Term Two 2

Figure 5: A Primary Three vocabulary question.

 

Primary Three 2

Figure 6: A Primary Two vocabulary question.

 

 

Primary Five Christianity and Islam Example

Figure 7: An excerpt from a Primary Five Religious Education exam.

Beginning in Primary Five, the formal tests at least make a nod toward Uganda’s other major religion, Islam, by giving the students the option to answer from their knowledge of either faith.

 

 

Primary Seven Inclusive

Figure 8: A Primary Five “Either/Or” Religious Education question.

Even then, the tests never use language that assumes the test takers are Muslim, whereas the tests often do so for Christians. Note the use of “us,” “our,” and “we” for the Christian questions in these examples (Figures 8 and 9).

 

Primary Seven with Answers 1

Figure 9: A Primary Seven Religious Education question with corrected answers.

 

 

Primary Seven with Answers 2

Figure 10: An excerpt from a completed and corrected Primary Seven Religious Education exam.

As these excerpts show, a student need only have knowledge of one religion in order to demonstrate proficiency in Religious Education. Thus, the Ugandan Religious Education curriculum fails to even qualify as a comparative study of Christianity and Islam. In fact, the Religious Education exams actively discourage studying both. The directions for the Primary Five exam above (Figures 7 and 8) instruct the student to “answer either Christianity or Islam but not both.” On other exams, the directions state that questions with both answers will receive no credit.

Figure 11: An excerpt from the marking guide for the Primary Seven Religious Education exam at the beginning of the third term this year.

Figure 11: An excerpt from the marking guide for the Primary Seven Religious Education exam at the beginning of the third term this year.

This is because the purpose of Uganda’s Religious Education curriculum is not to increase religious literacy, but to foster faith. On the Leaving Examination, Primary Seven students about to enter secondary school are asked, “Why should we study Religious Education?” The scoring guide above (Figure 11) indicates accepted responses. To be clear: a student who answered that Religious Education promotes peace, understanding, and/or cooperation would receive no credit.

Had we known about Uganda’s Religious Education curriculum before arriving, we might have been less surprised to find that our interest in understanding others through their beliefs was regarded as strange. As it was, we were initially confused by the fact that KHPS students placed value on learning about the natural world but did not feel the need to learn about each other.

As the peacemakers of tomorrow, KHPS students need to realize that effectively helping others requires understanding them. The degree to which KHPS students internalize that idea will be the measure of our success.

After all, it is the same lesson we are learning ourselves.

Posted Sunday, September 29th, 2013 under Awareness, Philosophy.

9 comments

  1. even(or especially) to someone who was systematically brainwashed in a religious (so-called) community as a pre-verbal child, and who has spent time in his adult life aerobically attempting to discard the programming, your article was truly disturbing. that kind of regimentation is bred of so much arrogance and perceived superiority(in the belief that, how the perpetrators think, is the ONLY way to think) that it is very hard to dislodge. and , of course, it is not only Uganda…great writing and intensity, by the way…

  2. Thanks so much, Conor, for writing this.

    I had no idea that Christianity had such an extremely pervasive grip on the minds of Ugandans. It puts some of the country’s other problems into better perspective.

  3. This background gives us critical perspective and appreciation for the amazing courage of the Kasese Humanist Primary School founders and teachers. The task ahead of you all is daunting. Kudos to you all for planing seeds of reason, doubt and skepticism.

  4. Great article. I would just point out that the scoring of the either/or questions may just be a matter of test design, since two options affords two opportunities to guess if one does not know either answer, which is something of a loophole. I’m not sure I’d determine that interreligious understanding is discouraged from that observation by itself.

    • I see your point. Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say that the Religious Education curriculum and tests make no effort to encourage interreligious understanding of Christianity and Islam, despite many opportunities to do so.

  5. wow! thanks so much for writing about this and for showing those exam papers. It just reinforces to me how important it is to support the school’s efforts.

Leave a Reply