Teachers’ strike and myths of the failure of ‘free’ education
Posted Tuesday, September 24 2013 at 01:00
The children of those in charge of the State are already doing well with expensive private education; waiting to lord it over those who will come out quarter baked due to ‘free’ education. Simply blaming and demanding from the government is like shouting obscenities at a padlock. It will not open!
As we enter week two of the teachers’ strike, it is important to know why governments that claim they have no money insist on providing free education. There is nothing that a politician loves like having multitudes of poor, powerless people waiting upon them as the sole providers, the alpha and omega, Lords of poverty and prosperity, etc. That is the power relation maintained by under achieving politicians.
Many Ugandan parents have abandoned their responsibility of paying for their children’s education and even health needs. The same government has stopped the parents from contributing lunch for their children. There is no graduated tax to pay.
Education and health consume a lion’s share of the household budget. With the two apparently catered for by the government, the incentive to work is minimal if not, nonexistent. So many in rural areas wake up to take local brew, go gambling, shoot pool plus play cards and ludo.
So when the politician comes visiting with money, sugar and soap, he finds needy people ready to receive him as an important person as far as their survival is concerned. The tragedy continues. The teachers who are now on strike are barely motivated to provide holistic education let alone teach students meaningfully.
Many of the schools hardly have facilities like libraries, equipped computer, art, wood/metal works and music rooms. There are no infirmaries to cater for the health needs of pupils or even dining halls to help students learn the cultural and communal importance of gathering around a table and sharing a meal.
Much as the enrollment figures have gone up, the fact that the dropout rate is alarming is hidden from the much touted statistics. The grim reports of students who have spent at least six years in school but can hardly comprehend and appreciate what they should have mastered in their third year of primary school, are muted.
With the current state of affairs, we are destined to have citizens who can hardly read and write. A peasant living in a fool’s paradise enjoying the fruits of ‘free’ education will be succeeded by children who are slightly better than them but equally powerless and unable to determine their own fate.
That is the beginning of opportunity. What parents should know is that in our backward setting without social safety nets worth talking about, children are our hope for the future. (True there are cases of university graduates who never get employed and are dependent on their parents.) The ‘alternative’ is worse.
Depending on their fortunes, the children are our resort to especially the health challenges that come with old age. With this understanding, those who are concerned about their future need to see to it that their children get an education and school learning of considerable quality for them to compete favourably.
Even if they are too poor to take their children right up to tertiary institutions at least the children should learn how to comprehend, read and write. That will give them a chance at self education. For instance, a person who can read and write and is methodical by orientation, can follow steps and processes, is capable of doing many things with computers, which will widen their opportunities.
Parents need to become innovative to save their children’s future and theirs too because even if the teachers are forced back to class it is unlikely that they will teach wholeheartedly and give our children a bright future that makes them competitive.
A friend suggested a chicken idea. One chicken costs about Shs10,000. If in a school of about 1,000 pupils, each parent contributed two chickens, about Shs20 million would be generated per term, which makes Shs60 million per year. A portion of that would go to supplementing teachers’ salaries. Another part would go towards development of sports, music, art, drama, woodwork and other extracurricular and technical education activities.
Parents have to be involved and make sacrifices. Yes we pay taxes and the government has its obligations in this social contract -which it is not fulfilling. The children of those in charge of the State are already doing well with expensive private education; waiting to lord it over those who will come out quarter baked due to ‘free’ education. Simply blaming and demanding from the government is like shouting obscenities at a padlock. It will not open!
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.