Rather curiously, the World Bank is now harshly criticising Uganda’s education system. In February, it released a report, ‘Facing forward: Schooling for learning in Africa,’ which says pupils in the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme are not learning.
At the end of May, the Bank, in a report titled, ‘Economic development and human capital in Uganda: A case for investing more in education,’ urged the government to increase the education budget to 16 per cent from the current 10 per cent. This is all fine.
But I have two questions: Why is the World Bank screaming from the rooftops now after quietly funding the ill-fated UPE programme for two decades? Why was the education system buoyant during Idi Amin’s regime (1971-79) while the economy crumbled?
To answer these questions, I want to start with the saying, “Blood makes people related; loyalty makes people family.”
During the tough 1970s, the family was still intact. Parents toiled to send their children to school. Education was a matter of family honour. Education was a priority investment for the family. The family was the first unit of productivity. The family was a custodian of morals. Women and girls dressed like nuns; when they sat they crossed their legs at the ankles, not at the knees.
But today, we hear horrifying tales, which suggest that the family is in trouble. Parents are not loyal to their children. Children are not loyal to their parents. Husbands are not loyal to their wives. Wives are not loyal to their husbands. People are living together as relatives, not family. The results? Rising cases of domestic violence, defilement, teenage pregnancies, parents marrying off their little girls, early childbearing, low education attainment among children, children dropping out of school, etc. These are bigger problems than lack of educational funding.
Even if the budget for education is 16 per cent, our education system will still be problematic. We must address the problem from its root – the family as the primary socialising agent. It is in the family that real education starts informally. Children learn the ways of a given group. Their personality is moulded to internalise norms and values, which define standards of desirability and goodness.
Poor education and poverty are linked. But what explains our poverty? First, the individual explanations tell us that, yes, there are people who make bad choices or lead lousy lifestyles so they end up poor. Secondly, poverty tends to run in families; it is passed from one generation to the next.
The third explanation is structural - class struggles and inequalities of income, wealth, gender, etc, lead to denial of opportunity and perpetuation of disadvantage to many Ugandans.
My interest here is on the second and third explanations. In the past, many poor parents toiled (they grew cotton, coffee, tea, tobacco, etc,) to send their children to school. I was from a poor family, but I joined one of the finest schools in Uganda, Busoga College Mwiri, in 1974. The sister I followed went to Mount St Mary’s College Namagunga.
But with government in the early 1990s unguardedly swallowing economic policies of liberalisation, privatisation, deregulation, etc, peddled by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, such public schools began to deteriorate.
Then in 1996, President Museveni announced UPE as a campaign pledge for the general elections that year. With its launch in 1997, parents started to abdicate their responsibility of educating their children to the government. Government, in turn, abdicated its responsibilities to donors rotating around the World Bank/IMF axis. Emphasis was on enrolment, not quality of education.
To resuscitate our education system, policy makers, parents and other stakeholders must accept that it is our responsibility as Ugandans to give our children an education that can give them skills and ability to think critically and solve problems.
The Ibo say when a child is crying and pointing a finger, it means that even if the father is not there, the mother is there. Our education system is crying and pointing a finger. You and I are the father and mother, not some do-gooders from beyond the oceans.
Dr Akwap is a senior lecturer at Kumi University. firstname.lastname@example.org