Degrees for MPs not a good idea

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Thinking about the country I come from, I realise that at least four outstanding prime ministers would never have made it to Parliament if such an academic requirement had been in place

Daily Monitor editorial of   Friday August 12, welcomed the motion to have a university degree as a minimum academic requirement for Members of Parliament.  The editor totally agrees with the Tororo Woman MP Sarah Opendi and her co-proponents.

There are too many A-Level candidates in the country now, so the quality may be reduced, the bar for getting into the Parliament must be elevated to a degree.

Since we have 53 universities in the country, the pool of possible worthy Members of Parliament must be big enough.  Our Parliament is, after all, still about 100 members short of the size of the “Mother of Parliaments” in Westminster.

I admire my architectural students when I see how, among most of them, their creativity has survived a schooling that is far from encouraging this particular trait, not curiosity and independent thinking either.

 I have followed quite a few young Ugandans through their school years, some all the way from nursery school to university.  The main thing they are taught is how to pass exams.  This makes the subjects not a matter of gaining knowledge, rather a matter of short-time memory.

When you have passed exams, you can forget about them.  It must be so, I can see no other explanation for the profound ignorance I have found not only among school children, but with “learned friends” also.

 Things I know they had in their school curriculum, have left a complete blank.  Exam passed, nothing more to worry about.

Thinking about the country I come from, I realise that at least four outstanding prime ministers would never have made it to Parliament if such an academic requirement had been in place.

 Johan Nygaardsvold was a sawmill worker, Einar Gerhardsen a roadworker, Oscar Torp a papermill worker, and Trygve Bratteli a roof layer.  None of them had a formal education beyond Primary Seven, but they made a profound imprint on Norwegian society in the years from 1935 to 1976.

Those were the formative years of the modern welfare state of Norway.  The latter part of the period was also the start of the oil age, when foundations were laid for a sensible management of the new resource to maximum benefit of the people, present and future.

It may seem like a contradiction, since I have been associated with Makerere University for more than two decades, but I do not think academic studies prepare one very well for politics and governance.

Robert Mugabe had four bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees, and a host of honorary doctorates, some of which admittedly, were later retracted.  Over his 37 years’ reign he brought Zimbabwe from being a breadbasket down to a starvation hub.  But his English was flawless.

Language is, however, the only reason to demand some kind of “academic qualification” from members of the Ugandan Parliament. 

With more than 50 different languages belonging to two very different language families, and none of them suitable for a national language, English is a reasonable alternative.

 After all, it has been the administrative language for more than 120 years.  So, candidates for Parliament ought to be proficient in English but no “degree” is necessary for that.

It is possible to devise a test measuring the candidate’s aptitude to express themselves in parliamentary English.  All candidates, including A-level and degree holders, should take this test before they start campaigning.

It is not a good idea to make academic degrees a requirement for parliamentary candidates.  That kind of schooling is not the best preparation for parliamentary work.

 The most important qualifications are unfortunately not based on any curriculum: Decency and common sense.

Cato N. Lund

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