Education is key to moulding a balanced, integrated citizen

Sunday December 1 2019


By Harold Acemah

In Church calendar, today is the beginning of a new liturgical year, commonly known as Church year. It’s also the first Sunday in Advent. May I wish all Christians a Happy New Church Year!

On November 29, I was guest of honour at the 3rd graduation ceremony of Mother Mary Junior Academy located in Arua Municipality. Below are excerpts of my commencement address to pupils, teachers, parents and well-wishers of the school on that occasion.

“It’s a pleasure for me to be guest of honour at this colourful 3rd graduation ceremony. I come from a family of educators who attach great importance to education and the pursuit of knowledge, not only for its intrinsic value, but also because knowledge is power.

Congratulations to the pupils, parents, teachers and to Ms Christine Bako Abia for this wonderful occasion. I like the ambitious goal of the school, ‘to be a leader in academic, spiritual and social development of children in the Great Lakes region.’

The vision of the school, ‘to bring up well-nurtured and holistic children as global leaders with unquestionable integrity to serve humanity’ is appropriate and timely for Uganda.

Integrity – a rare and, if I may say, an endangered species in contemporary Uganda – is defined as, ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,’ but I prefer a layman’s definition which says, ‘integrity is who you are when nobody is watching.’
As a parent, I know what the layman’s definition means when dealing with small children. As Christians, I used to caution my children that even if daddy and mummy are not around, there is somebody who is always watching them, day and night. That somebody is God, our Father in heaven.


Purpose of education
In 1962, government of the day proclaimed that the enemies of Uganda were, ignorance, poverty and disease and declared war on these three enemies. The weapon of choice to fight ignorance was education which was given top priority because education is the key which unlocks the door that leads to peace, justice and prosperity for all. Education is also a human right and cornerstone of national development.

During the period 1962-1972, almost 50 per cent of the national budget was allocated annually to education, health and agriculture. Education got the lion’s share of national resources followed by health and agriculture. That wise decision laid a solid foundation for Uganda, upon which succeeding governments have built for the good of our beloved country.

The transition from colonialism to independence demands that Ugandans change their mindset; what Ngugi wa Thiongo calls, ‘decolonising the mind.’ It requires Ugandans to change the way they think about society, social relationships and work. Social consciousness is a product of economic and social conditions and a factor which helps to shape the political, social and economic environment we live in.

Except for our parents, teachers play a very important role in shaping social consciousness of children and young people. Education is the planned and systematic shaping of social consciousness. Education is an important instrument for social transformation and must be accorded the highest priority.

The way forward
What kind of education should Uganda provide for students in the 21st Century? This is a burning question for government, school owners and Ugandans because the quality of education, especially public education, in our country has deteriorated very drastically and is now quite appalling.

In my opinion, good quality education is not only a matter of imparting knowledge, obtaining good grades and acquiring job skills, but also a wholesome effort that aims at forming an integrated human being who is guided by moral, ethical and spiritual values. A good school, like a good education system, must focus on producing citizens who respect themselves, others, the environment and property which belongs to the community.
Good education must also inculcate critical values such as justice, respect for the rule of law, hard work, honesty, humility and concern for the common good.

Ugandan schools should focus on providing quality education which stresses the importance of honesty, integrity, personal hygiene, discipline and self-control. Uganda needs schools and universities which groom her future leaders. Leaders who cherish values such as, love for God and for one another; to serve and not seek any reward, and render selfless service without holding citizens at ransom for whatever the sacrifice one has made for the country.

The need for competent, honest and good leaders has never been greater, in Uganda and Africa, because we have learnt the hard way that a fundamental problem facing Africa today is lack and failure of political leadership at national level.
That is a big challenge which Africans must face with courage and determination.”

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.