Provide right framework for quality education

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • At the end of March, I was in Nairobi presenting a paper on media development at Daystar University, in collaboration with the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism.

By the time the late Speaker Jacob Oulanyah was laid to rest, the number of students he has been sponsoring to attain education in various institutions both locally and abroad had risen to 180 or had been ranging between 100 to 200. Yet, even 50 is staggering. 

So people see various solutions in these things. For some, the former Speakers’ son must be delivered to Parliament, at all costs, who in turn will carry the ‘burden of poverty’ in his community. For others, starting an education fund is the surest way to ensure his children never lack and government has pledged to contribute to the fund.

There might be many things he has done for others who do not have the privilege of sharing their stories like DP president Norbert Mao did in a moving tribute published in the Daily Monitor last Thursday. We may, thus get lost in awe of a man so generous he tried to educate and support so many, sacrificing so much.
These stories have reminded me of an incident in which I went to interview a Member of Parliament for research I was doing many years ago. There were literally hundreds of people waiting to see him. He sat on a chair on the compound and saw one person after another. My research became a by-the way. I watched from a distance, and managed to talk to some of the women. 

Many needed school fees or medical attention while others needed jobs or opportunities for their children. 
I still interviewed him. In the end I asked if the scene I had witnessed was regular. He said: “Every time that I am here.” Many of the needs were clearly beyond him to meet, but he endeavoured to support ‘here and there.’ This is a common thing for most MPs, I learnt. 
If I had any illusions about becoming an MP one day, they must have died and disappeared that day. I decided I would stick to my relationship with books and be content.

But that incident bothered me for a long time. And now the revelation that hundreds of children were worried about their education because the former Speaker had been doing ‘everything for them’ has made me wonder a little more about how sustainable this dependence on politicians to ‘fix things’ from their pockets is. 
What is it that makes it difficult for our leaders when they have the capacity to change things, to resign and instead take on such responsibilities that can in turn shorten their lives? 

There are many parents in this country whose children are left to the mercy of good samaritans and politicians. We have heard of ministers who lost elections and ended education support to hundreds of students. As such, this kind of dependence like all others is tragic in many ways, although it provides hope for those who get lucky to enjoy full support.

At the end of March, I was in Nairobi presenting a paper on media development at Daystar University, in collaboration with the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism. I joked that since the Americans had paid for my doctoral research, the Norwegians for my doctoral studies, Belgium for a Master’s degree, as the British paid for a one-year research fellowship, and the Swedish, for fellowship in media development, the Germans needed to do something. 
Many laughed. A participant, seemingly bothered, asked me after, what role government had played in my education. Finding something, I told her it employed my mother, who in turn paid for my first degree, and it employed me twice. She said that was ‘you two serving government.’ 

I had to find something in the spirit of patriotism. To be fair, I did not qualify, but government sponsored those who did. Reading these stories about the former Speakers’ sponsored children, I reflect on what it means to say government supports education or that it is free for all. 

Clearly, the reality about access and availability of these opportunities is different for many.
We may as well accept that there is no ‘free’ education in the country if our politicians have to pay fees for hundreds from their pocket. Why don’t these politicians point these parents to the free education being offered by the government that they remind voters of during campaigns?

I recognise that I have been fortunate to get great opportunities to study. It is what humbles me and keeps me contributing to causes that educate children, writing about it or directly getting involved. I have been paying fees since my early twenties. That is not just me, many have to hold hands of others from time to time. Development partners are doing a lot too.

Still, as we laud the former Speaker for educating many and seek to support those he cared for, let us play our role to make it reasonably accessible for Ugandan children with no real connection to those in power. All are our children. Policy makers need to provide the right framework for quality education.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                      


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