Thursday March 27 2014

A call to start an education revolution brings volunteers and tales of woe

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Last week’s column calling for a revolution in our education system drew some surprising responses. There was an old friend who ruefully pointed out that he lives opposite an international school but cannot afford the fees for his child who starts school next year.

Then there was the retired teacher who, having had it with the mindless system, is now setting up his own school to provide a proper education rather that just attendance. There was a policy wonk from a public institution who offered to pitch the need for a rethink to those that matter, and Diaspora folks using their money and networks to build better schools back home.

The most memorable, however, was a mother who emailed me to share her frustrations about ensuring that her child gets enough sleep. With the long school hours, early commute, stacks of homework and inevitable late bed-times, they now no longer wake the child up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, just so that they can literally grab every minute of sleep they can.

It is a bit extreme, I thought, but it shows the great frustration that many parents face in trying to set up their children for a successful and rewarding future – an effort in which the state can and should do more.
Another reader pointed out the need to also have a discussion on the fees disparities between higher education and the lower classes – a matter that this column might or might not have covered in the past.

There is no harm in repeating the questions. A typical university degree programme at Makerere, the country’s largest university, costs about $600 per semester in tuition. Here students are taught by lecturers with several years of experience about things that are supposedly important enough to change the world.

Yet many parents pay about the same amount, if not more, for their children to spend a few hours at a typical kindergarten in Kampala, where they run around picking up bruises, scribble intelligible things on paper, and mumble their way through nursery rhymes.

Young children can be a handful and those we entrust to look after them should be paid well for the thankless task but something just doesn’t add up here. Either we are paying too much for kindergarten or too little for university education. I suspect that the real answer lies somewhere in-between.

Our education policies seem either silent on pre-school education or have left parents and preschoolers to the mercy of profiteering entrepreneurs. Children whose parents can’t afford these high fees invariably get left behind and they continue to fall behind when they get into UPE and USE where quantity comes before quality.

Those are the fellows that will end up on the streets with no skills, no income, no grounding, but with a gun they are willing to put to your head and oversee the redistribution of your income. (That many of them tend to be Arsenal supporters is a fact yet to be proven scientifically).

It is clear that many parents want to do something about our education system. And many policy makers appear willing to listen to smart ideas, if early responses are anything to go by. No good deed goes unpunished and your columnist now finds himself in the unenviable position of having to bring together those smart (but frustrated) volunteers to think things through and identify the problems.

It is a tough business but someone’s got to do it.

President Museveni always has crowds eating out of his hands when he gives speeches abroad; why does he then become native and parochial at home? It’s a mystery we shall soon ponder over.
Twitter: @Kalinaki