Sunday January 5 2014

A country without a good education system is doomed

By Prof. George W. Kanyeihamba

A report about the educational quality and standards of the countries of the world was recently published. It revealed interesting and disturbing phenomena. It shows that the most advanced states of Asia such as Singapore, Hong Kong and China top the table of countries where the value and standards of education are valued, paid for and properly supervised and monitored.

It is not a surprise either that these are the most developed and wealthiest nations of the world, in terms of social, political and economic achievements.

In countries where there is little or no concern about educational facilities, facilitation and standards, the citizens will remain in a perpetual state of underdevelopment, ignorance and political manipulation.

There will be chaos, bullying and untold miseries within the communities existing under regimes, which do not consider education as an asset to be carefully catered for, nurtured and harvested. Such a country’s wealth and resources are squandered in pursuit of selfish reasons of a personal nature or in the interest of the leaders themselves, their families, friends and fanatical supporters.

The report alluded to above placed the United Kingdom at the 26th. I happen to have been in Britain at the time of publication. British politicians, the media and education spokespersons regarded the finding that the British were so low in their educational standards as a national disaster.

The report’s findings were regarded as terrible news throughout the land. They were particularly painful to the people of Wales which was found to be at the bottom of all regions of the kingdom in educational standards and achievements. Politicians and educationalists were flushed out from their hiding places and forced to make public comments upon what was regarded as disturbing news for Britain.

Many Africans, including Ugandans who were in Europe at the time of publication, suspected that most African countries did not surface in this report in the belief that few, if any, had sufficient data on educational values and standards to make it even to the outer margins of the world screen of this very important subject in development and prosperity.

There have been grave concerns about our educational policies, finances, standards and achievements in Uganda. Several educators have expressed this concern in the media from time to time.

Some of the constructive critics of our educational values and standards have had the courage to express their fears publicly and gone as far as writing to the Ministry of Education in their endeavours to see change effected. These cries and appeals have fallen on the ministry’s deaf ears.

At a graduation ceremony, this columnist had the opportunity to meet and discuss some of these handicaps with the Minister of Education. The minister publicly appreciated the work so far done to advance education in Uganda and how the likes of this columnist’s services were badly needed.

Efforts to have an appointment with the minister have been frustrated by the minions in her ministry. Perhaps it is not out of order to ask her personal assistant to request her to read this advice and summon all the educationists and educators to a mammoth conference where several of them would be requested to prepare working papers for the occasion.

There can be no doubt that without proper and good education, which includes compulsory courses on combating corruption, ethics and integrity and the place and role of the individual Ugandans over and above blind political party support and benefits.

It will only be then that the minister, who in all other respects, strikes Ugandans as an honourable and honest leader, will be publicly reminded about the sorry state of affairs in her ministry.

It is high time that this country debated and resolved the burning question of the remuneration of teachers and those of our political leaders. Uganda pays on average much less than Shs400,000 to teachers and headmasters and mistresses in most of our schools and other educational establishments.

On the other hand, it has been blackmailed into paying its Members of Parliament the colossal sum of Shs25 million in salary, which excludes fringe benefits such as hiring expensive office space from commercial buildings in the city of Kampala, car and secretarial allowances far beyond those paid to Parliamentary representatives in more developed countries.

The vast majority of these representatives are there not to represent the interests of the people but of themselves, their family, friends and supporters, but mainly the leadership of the party that is currently in power.

These are the same so-called representatives who fear to advance and talk about preferences of their constituencies or if they do, and the governing oligarchy balks at them in opposition, they immediately reverse themselves and profusely apologise to the same oligarchy.
Most Ugandans know that with such a domineering Executive in all matters political and otherwise, Parliament has effectively been reduced to a rubber stamp.

Ugandans therefore ask the question, whether we really need a Parliament which is subordinate to and a shadow of the all-powerful ruling party with its caucus tentacles.

To add insult to injury, many of our elected or declared elected representatives are illiterate or semi-illiterate as far as relevant and applied education is concerned. Uganda is thus doubly handicapped.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.