By Tumusiime K. Deo
Days ago, Makerere University lecturers unanimously voted to have the university closed down until they are guaranteed 100% salary increase.
In response to their demand, the President is reported to have rebuffed them, suggesting that they should go and rear goats, a suggestion that has been largely downplayed as an insult. An insult it certainly is on face value, but I think that President Museveni’s comments are not exactly far removed from the kinds of words that often came from the mouth of our Lord Jesus during his time on earth.
Jesus, by far the greatest teacher of all times, did not follow band wagons and often told the people not what they wanted to hear, but what in his mighty wisdom he considered sensible. He used a lot of parables in his teachings, many of which only made sense to the people much later after deep reflection. So how much did Jesus, son of a carpenter earn for his service? Jesus’ payment was complete whenever he watched converted souls growing his father’s mission on earth and dancing their way to heaven.
And true, in contemporary terms, teachers ought to be the highest paid workers anywhere in the world; but done as a business or avenue to get rich, teaching loses its flavour and we must be careful about this. I have heard some lecturers lament that the children they have taught are earning twice their salary and others are driving Hummers while the lecturers continue to cruise in the AMC Hornet of the 1970s (Interestingly these are far stronger than the fancy versions of our generation!). But careful- this must never be the spirit of teaching, because there’s no direct red line to verify that a lecturer’s contribution is necessarily what makes the professionals we see in town today. If anything, then the same lecturer should equally be blamed for the quack professionals being churned out every day.
I recently heard that in Sudan, if one visits a doctor, gets treatment and does not recover, they will come back to the clinic and demand a refund of their money. Could we also begin to see students who fail exams coming back to demand their school fees! So while indeed the role of a teacher on student’s education journey is pivotal, teachers must never seek self-glorification, because there’s so much along the way that ultimately determines whether someone is merely educated or learned. Up to this point, lecturers can only demand salary increment as part of a national demand for a decent salary scheme and not because of their specially distinct status in society.
President Museveni, as a person, for example, may not have pursued academic excellence to the level of PhD like some of the university lecturers; but this has not deterred him from leading the country for 27 years. Call him a herdsman, if you like, and I am sure he would take no offence, after all, he must be one of the richest Ugandan farmers, owning several heads of cattle and I guess goats too. He did not require a PhD to achieve this. Therefore, in his estimation, he must be thinking that Ugandans who have had a chance to excel in the academia, should equally be able to utilise their brain power to do wonders on the farm for example, as Goat herders. Unfortunately though, our white collar education system has made our generation to consider jobs in the likes of goat herding to be a preserve of the low class citizens; itis the dirty stuff! And, by the way, President Museveni himself also inadvertently happens to be one of great teachers Uganda has had.
Uganda, as a country, has over the years had a serious problem in terms of qualifying and appreciating individuals’ intellectual, especially when a growing number of graduates cannot translate their academic accolades into tangible innovations and growth in the economy and other fields. It is possibly for this very reason that someone is finding difficulty attending to teachers’ cries for pay rise, if the end products of their efforts cannot be visibly seen to exceptionally contribute to the growth of the country in figurative terms. That is why the current government seems quite obsessed about Science subjects as products of these are more likely to be measurable compared to the arts.
Of course one may argue that the whole country cannot study sciences in order to prove that people are learned; and indeed not everyone must become a Goat herder or businessman in order to be counted. True, but while some folks are busy burning the midnight candle revising for UNEB exams, others are watching their goats pop several kids to increase on the number of farm animals and mint far more money than the lecturers are demanding! At the end of the day, some of today’s graduates are queuing up for jobs at the ‘offices’ of senior goat herders, many of whom may have never seen the colour of a blackboard. To such goat herders, 18 or so years spent on formal education in Uganda, is seen as wasted time that could have made some millionaires before their 20th Birthday!
So the lecturers are striking, the university is closed- where are their students? The university today has been turned into some sort of continuation of high school, where students rely mostly on class lessons and examinations in order to secure academic papers-but are the students learning? The role of a teacher or a lecturer should not be to pass knowledge onto the student per se, but to facilitate the student to generate new knowledge; and based on the amount of knowledge and new ideas generated, one may comfortably say that students have been educated. For example, since Makerere University students are not directly responsible for the lecturers’ troubles, they mustn’t be on the losing end when their classrooms are closed. Students at university level, should by now be busy in the field doing research on a wide range of topics, so that by the time classes resume, they will not be at a loss. If any lecturer has given his students practical assignments to undertake during this off season, it is such that deserves some pay rise.
Again, I am not suggesting that Makerere lecturers are not justified to claim decent pay for their efforts, but as long as university education in Uganda cannot generate tangible results evidenced by the quality of graduates churned out every year; then we have a big problem. It is true a lot of blame ought to go to our education system, and here President Museveni’s government shares responsibility, but our educationists have a moral duty to propose and demand for deliberate changes in the practice of events for a better Uganda.
So if President Museveni suggested that the lecturers should go and rear goats, I could add that once they start their farms, they should recruit some of their students and graduates as herds boys and herds girls. Yes, it is possible that some students currently at the university today may not even be good enough to look after goats in the field.
While in practical terms, lecturers may not switch to Goat herding, they must use their strike period to their benefit by reflecting on the way education business is being conducted in Uganda. A graduation ceremony conducted at Makerere or any other university should be a moment filled with warmth for a brighter Uganda and not mourning over yet another bunch of unemployed and unemployable dudes. This way, lecturers will have inalienable basis to demand better pay.