By Aaron Kirunda
Following the comments made by the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, on education, I find the Government’s plans to tackle the issues of unequal education and less competent graduates lacking.
The Prime Minister makes passing comments on how the Government is planning to set up seed schools.
He talks about skilling efforts for graduates as well as the provision of computers in rural secondary schools without linking these initiatives to quality of education (the underlying cause of incompetent graduates) or indeed how these initiatives will reform the colonial education system that was inherited.
It should be noted that the problems of education in Uganda cannot be solved merely by distributing more computers to schools or simply increasing teachers’ salaries with small margins or even creating skilling programmes for graduates.
I think it is high time the Government gives serious consideration to education reform to reflect the needs and demands of the economy as the Prime Minister points out rather than creating disconnected education initiatives that merely address symptoms. The problems of education are systemic and multi-faceted.
To tackle them we need to holistically consider serious measures albeit radical ones. Some of these measures are obvious and have been debated in the public domain for years, like improving teachers working conditions among which are increasing their salaries.
On the other hand, we can take some lessons from countries praised to have the best education system in the world like Finland and from those that have reaped the benefits of education, like South Korea.
Both countries have prioritised the education sector by making significant investments to it every year. This has raised the status of teachers as valued experts and made the profession competitive. In Finland, for example, it is harder to become a teacher than it is to become a surgeon.
As a country we could borrow a leaf by firstly improving and perhaps changing the status of teachers and the teaching profession.
As everyone familiar with this sector knows, most people who get into teaching are either very passionate about it or it was a last resort. Considering how important education is to national development efforts from the angle of human capital development and socialisation, it is important that the status of teachers improves significantly.
To make this to happen, we need to hold teachers to higher standards, pay them a much higher salary than what they get right now, and require them to upgrade their education to minimum of a degree for primary school teachers.
These efforts would make the education sector attractive and, therefore, would attract our brightest students and the cycle would continue.
The second area of reform is the learning environment. We need to improve the curriculum to make it relevant to the 21st Century needs of Uganda and beyond.
Our curriculum needs to focus more on critical thinking skills, as they are very essential in problem solving; interaction skills, expressive skills and such other skills as enable participation and initiative. These will be fundamental in spurring innovation and creativity and improving workforce productivity.
In classes, it is important for the curriculum to be brought alive, igniting the learner’s imagination beyond their villages and encouraging them to dream and imagine the possibilities of a better world.
The teachers will need to take more time to prepare for classes and this means that class sizes must be small, to encourage participation as well as individual support and guidance from teachers.
For these to be achieved, the Government will need to build more classroom blocks, competitively hire more teachers, and stop the policy of teacher transfer to increase stability for teachers and learners.
Programmes like seed schools do not need to see the light of day and the distribution of computers should come when the education system is more focused so that they are more useful rather than a distraction.
The writer is a Commonwealth Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK