Earth and Space studies in Uganda’s O Level Curriculum

When you look at your house and compare it with the city you live in, it pales in comparison. Compare that city with your country and the city becomes a dwarf. Compare your country to the entire earth and you struggle to find something smaller to define the comparison. The sun is at least 100 times bigger than the earth in diameter. The sun and all the planets that rotate around it form the Solar System with the Sun being one of the 200 -400 billion stars in the Milky way Galaxy. A galaxy is a large group of stars, dust, gas and dark matter held together by gravity. The Solar system is part of the Milky way galaxy which is 100,000 light years wide.

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Milky Way Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Frankfurter Rundschau 

Why light years? Due to the astronomical distances between planets and stars, the kind of numeracy required to keep track of Kilometres and miles gets crazy. So, scientists came up with the measure of Light years which is the distance covered by light in one year. Light moves at a speed of 300,000 Km per second giving us 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers per year. So, when we say the Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 Light years wide, we mean it is 950,000,000,000,000,000 Km across.

Wow!!! Do you realise how much we pale in comparison to the universe? Remember we have not yet dealt with the other galaxies that populate the universe like Andromeda among others. Phew !!!

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. Now to the subject matter.

We have complained and continue to do so about the falling education standards in Uganda. We keep demonising the government for not doing enough to turn around the situation. When Universal Primary and Secondary Education came up, the corruption that dogged it become the hallmark of such a well intentioned initiative. Over the past decade, the National Curriculum Development Centre has been painstakingly working on curriculum reviews that already saw the Primary Schools convert to a thematic guided curriculum and next is the Ordinary Level (Senior 1 -4).

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New O Level Thematic Curriculum

My biggest excitement about the O Level curriculum is not only the thematic approach that allows students to pursue their competencies from the word go but also the inclusion of a futuristic subject called Astronomy (referred to as Earth and Space in the image).

A young man Ghazali Mohammed has been foresighted enough to already have begun outreach in rural Ugandan schools teaching children the marvels of Astronomy. It is guys like him and the Fundi Bots honcho Solomon King doing similar outreach in Robotics that will show the way to those of us who are content with mere criticism.

Take it or leave it, within the next 30 years, we shall have human colonies on Mars and the moon. Space tourism is likely to be the next big thing (Shiyaya stand warned). Those that have excelled at attracting tourists to Gorillas will now have to compete with man’s curiosity with Space travel. Our children or grand children are likely to be part of expeditions to other planets and solar systems. Comets are seen as a likely source of mineral matter for us to utilise. The moon is already allegedly being mined of Helium 3. Elon Musk has indicated his strong desire to retire to Mars for the rest of his life. We already have probes currently billions of kilometres away from earth sending back updates of what space is like. Technology is advancing so fast that in the not so distant future, we shall cover millions of kilometres in a matter of minutes if Faster than Light (FTL) or Light Speed travel is achieved. That, is where we are headed.

For any curriculum to make sense in Uganda today, we need to look at the future of this world of ours. To be competitive, a good understanding of where we are headed as well as preparing our future inhabitants to harness the opportunities will be the best thing we shall have done for them. Every child today needs to learn about Astronomy. It is not enough for you to know how many Square miles of land are occupied by Uganda. Horizons are expanding, new states are likely to be formed. Like the europeans who ventured out across the oceans and founded colonies in North America, we shall have new countries or even stateless cities and countries on various planets while others could be floating in space above planets like Venus. While this may look far fetched, incremental improvements on knowledge are what will most likely get us there and this is the time to start.

Currently, the moon is slowly but surely moving further away from the earth at a rate of 4cm per year. [I see you laughing] What does that imply? If it ever leaves us, disastrous weather related consequences are expected since for example it has an effect on the tide in the oceans. However, it is believed that before the moon does this to us, the sun will have taken care of the destruction of our earth after achieving the red giant phase.

While such predictions of earth’s demise are billions of years away, the time is now to start enriching our interplanetary knowledge and make it as basic as the operation of a mobile phone. As a specie, we are going to have to migrate from this planet one time for it definitely will eventually become inhospitable. Who better to prepare for that eventuality than our school going children today?

My question though is, how ready are our teachers to teach such subjects like Astronomy? Can they tell what a Star, Black Hole, Pulsar, Quasar, meteorite, Galaxy or Dwarf star is?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

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