Thursday September 4 2014

Planning authority should redefine the Uganda we want

By Kahunga Matsiko

The reactions of Ugandans to President Museveni’s remarks about sciences versus Arts courses reveal one strange reality: unplanned, unfocused education in Uganda. We cannot handle matters that bear on our country’s destiny, in such a casual manner.

Education in 21st century Uganda is the key determinant of individual, family and national destinies. We, therefore, must refocus the debate and accord it the degree of seriousness it deserves. Education is not for its own sake, neither is it for immediate, individual survival.

The starting point is our concept of the Uganda we want. What is the Ugandan concept of humanity? What is it that we value and are proud of being? This is what will determine the education path we take. Key questions to ask here include, inter alia:

Do we want a Uganda of one billionaire and 100 million beggars? Are we inspired by the current strange-but-true fact of 85 individuals owning the wealth of 3.5 billion people globally?

Are we building a Uganda that will be a nuclear power but with people whose destiny is cleaning open sewers with bare hands? This is the case of India, based on their belief that there are castes created to and divinely ordained to play specific roles in society. The United States, the global superpower, has 32 million of her citizens literally homeless. North Korea is a nuclear power, but with millions of her people starving. It is normal and okay with these countries, because it is within their value systems (determined by the humanities), which inform the scientific innovations. Sciences, therefore, are determined by the humanities.

Do we aspire for a Uganda where human life is valued and each individual must lead a dignified, fulfilled life? If this is our aspiration, who then will be our model while choosing a development path?

Finland, the country with the most appropriate education system in the world, is driven by the belief that education is for the realisation of human dignity. Schools, therefore, teach children the skills of ‘defeating’ problems and increasing humanity, not ‘defeating’ one another in rote exams. Scientific discoveries and technological innovations are based on this belief.

The Swiss, for instance, believe in human equality and hate greed. Thus, their education, scientific discoveries and technological innovations are based on such a belief. Recently, they held a referendum to determine salary ranges between the top-paid executives and the least paid worker in any company/organisation. Scientific development in a society led by this belief is different from that led by the belief in India that there are people created to clean open sewers with bare hands.

What will be the position of Uganda in regional, continental, global affairs? To grasp this, and therefore innovate, engineer and manufacture accordingly, we must rely on the humanities to inform ourselves of what drives global dynamics and their implications on our destiny as a country. Blind focus on sciences will produce a country of robots, oblivious of what lies beneath what we see in technological breakthroughs.

The buck stops with the National Planning Authority (NPA), the crown-bearer in all this. For starters, NPA must re-think its definition of the Uganda we want because middle income country, per capita GDP are convenient but misleading parameters.

Which successful developed nation, as a society, not merely an economy, should be our role model and benchmark? Finland, India, USA, or North Korea? This will define the practical path we take. And it will be the humanities to guides us in this, as we choose the correct sciences for the right discoveries and innovations.

Mr Matsiko is a management consultant.