Friday August 29 2014

Focus on quantity rather than quality fails our education system

By Fidel Luwemba Apuuli

Education, said Greek philosopher Socrates “is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”. History may not relate whether he delivered this nugget of wisdom with a saucy wink or a solemnly disapproving brow. Either way, in regard to the present situation of Uganda’s education, he hit the nail on the head.

The set-up of the Ugandan education system is simply geared towards ‘filling vessels’ rather than ‘kindling a flame’, to use Socrates’ words. Students are pumped with too much theory with little emphasis on problem solving skills and how their theoretical knowledge can be practically useful - and as a result, most products of the current system, be it Arts or Sciences, have little or no ability for proficiency in thinking out-of-the-box, let alone having the ability to inspire holistic national development through new artistic or scientific breakthroughs.

The consequence is that most of us - the so-called “educated” people in the country - are unable to think of new solutions to ever changing societal/world problems but are rather pre-occupied with seeking formal employment as it seems to be the only logical conclusion/ends for our hard-earned education papers/degrees we proudly boast of possessing. Thus formal education has only been rendered relevant where it leads to formal employment for both humanists and natural scientists.

So, the assertion that Arts courses are useless can’t be further from the truth, considering the fact that there are limited employment opportunities for graduates in humanities while natural science fields such as medicine and engineering still require many workers. So in that regard, humanities can be rendered ‘useless’ while the same may not be said of natural sciences irrespective of the fact that the quality and outlook of graduates from both is much more the same.

Our insistence on quantity rather than quality has done little to improve the situation. We have forgotten that it is possible to store the mind with a million facts i.e. possess Masters, PhDs and so on, but still be uneducated in thought, ability and outlook – so the yardstick of an educated mind should be on its practical ability to create and inspire new knowledge-based breakthroughs and inventions rather than simply encouraging the acquisition of too many papers, especially in humanities which are of little direct positive consequence to society.

The above offers the perfect context in which the logic of the President’s comments about the humanities being useless needs to be understood. It is also the lens that allows us to see why, despite the increasing number of graduates we boast of having; Uganda will most probably remain underdeveloped.

Instead of taking it as an offence, the President’s comment needs to usher in a new awakening on the side of humanities’ graduates about the need to think positively and differently for national transformation in order to justify the relevance of our courses. To quote Albert Einstein, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking” so we humanities’ graduates need to change our thinking if we are to justify the continued existence and relevance of our courses in this constantly changing era largely based on digital scientific technology.

Mr Luwemba is an economist.