Wednesday March 26 2014

To improve our human resource, we must reform the reward system

By Nick T. Twinamatsiko

Uganda National Examinations Board has lately been grappling with financial, technical and ethical shortfalls. The marking exercise was delayed due to shortage of funds, and that delay inevitably spawned the delay in the release of results. Then the computers used in the analysis of results reportedly crashed, and the board chairman, Mr Fagil Mandy, revealed that South African experts were to be flown in to fix the problem. Meanwhile, the IGG got reports that the process of recruiting a new Executive Secretary was mired in gross corruption involving the board chairman. The IGG’s investigations have apparently confirmed the reports.

I don’t know whether it’s the case with Uneb, but there are often linkages between financial, technical and ethical shortfalls. When board members who recruit staff are short on ethics, there is a high likelihood that they will hire people with insufficient technical skills. And the recruited staff will probably be as ethically challenged as the board members, since there isn’t really a big ethical gap between the person ready to receive a bribe and the one ready to give it.

With ethically and technically challenged staff, financial difficulties will follow. Being ethically challenged, they will steal the funds or divert them to activities that may be peripheral to the board’s mandate but in which they have personal benefit. Being technically challenged, they will make wrong decisions, with negative financial implications, or completely fail to perform their duties and, therefore, get forced to expensively outsource expertise, even from other countries. With funds mismanaged or used to make up for incompetence, core activities may fail to take off due to financial shortfalls.

We have a human resource problem in this country. Psalm 78 tells us that David led Israel with integrity and skill, and those two things are in scant supply in this country. And whatever natural resources we may discover, whatever gifts Nature may have bestowed on us, we will not make appreciable progress unless we resolve the human resource problem. How can it be that we have had a fully-fledged Faculty of ICT at our largest university for longer than a decade now, and we still have to fly in experts from South Africa when our computers crash?

There is always public uproar when stories of forgery of academic certificates appear in the media. But the thing that should cause even greater uproar is that the holders of fake certificates in the marketplace are often indistinguishable from the holders of genuine certificates. If these two categories can’t be told apart at interviews, or from their work performance, then obviously the holders of genuine papers wasted precious years at educational institutions, and these educational institutions in turn wasted the paper on which they wrote the certificates.

One of the measures that should be taken in the face of the human resource problem is the reformation of the reward system. Mediocrity thrives when mediocrity is rewarded. Students will continue to cram for exams for as long as cramming is rewarded with good grades. That’s why Uneb and its sister bodies have a very important role to play in the educational reforms for which there have been many calls and many promises. However much the curricula are amended, students will continue to cram, and teachers will continue to coach them to answer predictable questions, unless the examinations are amended to reward critical thinking rather than rote learning.

Similarly, universities will continue to churn out graduates of limited competence until university examinations begin to reward critical thinking, and until employers begin to ask for much more that academic papers. Modern workplace challenges require the capacity to think in a certain way and to relearn, rather than evidence of having studied certain things, perhaps in the 20th century. Instead of rewarding the ability to memorise lecture notes, university examinations should reward the ability to think and to do private study.

Mr Twinamatsiko is a civil engineer and novelist.