What you need to know:
- “We risk perpetuating poverty by keeping children of the poor out of real opportunities...”
I did not know Prof Christine Dranzoa (rest in peace) in person, but I knew about her. Seeing the news of her death took me by surprise. Sometime in May, I met an academic from Muni University in her home town of Moyo. He asked that I visit Muni University. He told me about the amazing things happening in the university and what it meant to work there.
I studied in Muni Girls Secondary School in the mid-1990s. At the time, the university was a teacher training college. Many of our teachers came from there and student teachers often came from there.
I had it in my diary that the next time I am in the region, I would visit the university and my former school, where I have never been since I left in 1996 to join neighbouring Mvara Secondary School for my advanced secondary studies. I was in particular interested in visiting the admirable vice chancellor. As part of my living research on women in public life, I wanted to have a conversation with her, the contributions she was making there. It was, therefore, heart breaking to hear about her death.
Many have eulogised her as larger than life, an academic with education in her veins and so on. Much of the narrative around her person, initially focused on her childhood in her village of Adua, Moyo District, and how she beat all odds to rise to the top of the academic world by the time of her death. It has been fascinating reading about her life since she passed on.
Prof Dranzoa’s death came at a time when the country was discussing the plight of teachers. Those in the Arts domain were striking over a proposed pay gap with their Science counterparts. They have since called off the strike, without an actual pay rise as they had hoped, following a series of meetings but a commitment to handle the matter. The teachers’ concerns were fair to say the least.
For now, it may seem that the division will remain and the striking teachers have lost. But in many ways, there are many gains from this strike. We have had serious conversations around teachers’ welfare, our schools, the status of science teaching, and the role of the arts in development.
Even though the teachers may have gone empty handed for now, the issues will remain for us to engage with. They managed to sustain a conversation around their welfare like no issue has done in a long time. In a country where sustaining conversations on the most critical issues is so difficult, this is an important milestone. There were serious attempts to engage with them, which is also key.
Many have honoured Prof Dranzoa as an educationist of iconic stature. Just the coverage of her death alone shines light into our education. Prof Dranzoa was quoted in an earlier interview saying she felt desperate to see young girls carrying babies on their back at a tender age when they are supposed to be in school. She wanted the men who impregnate young girls who have a lot of potential to be severely punished according to the law. “I stand for the marginalised, truth and integrity,” she said.
This desperation most of us share. Increasingly, it is hard to imagine a Prof Dranzoa emerging from a humble background within the villages in the far ends. That is becoming a narrative of the old guard. Younger girls from poor families almost all the time end up with babies on their backs at an early age. I have through various organisations whose work I am familiar with in the West Nile region, heard heart wrenching stories that have left me with that desperation.
My engagement with social policy stems from that desperation. Having to instead fall back on raising awareness around these issues, sometimes taking to advocacy is sometimes a copying mechanism. It is the reason I have been passionate about the issues around education and teachers. Looking back on my years at Muni girls, with many of us good at the sciences, but with the facility to effectively teach sciences limited, we instinctively opted for the arts, that would enable us to still move on somehow.
The best commitment government can make to the promotion of sciences, and to honor scientists like Prof Dranzoa is not just to stop at paying science teachers better, or prioritise sciences over arts in the manner that we have seen, but to create a learning environment that allows children with potential who study in remote places, without the ability to attend better schools to also excel.
What we have seen for a long time now, only drives the wage between children who can attend good schools and those without that opportunity. We risk perpetuating poverty, by keeping children of the poor out of real opportunities for getting out of poverty through education. Prof Dranzoa represents what is possible, that there is talent everywhere, and that one can rise, in spite of circumstances.
Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University. [email protected]