By David Ssevviiri
The Government of Uganda set out to transform Uganda into a middle-income country by the year 2020. Whereas this target was not realised, it is not too late to rethink the strategies.
Of course, the approach in realising the said target is multi-faceted; ranging from boosting agriculture, education, industrialisation to good governance and combating corruption among others.
In this article, I will focus on one area of education to drive my point home; sustainably raising a critical mass of scientists in the country. It is easy to think that this is a role which must be played by the government only, as is always our tendency. However, this thinking is only true in part; all of us have a role to play. I will use the example of the subject Mathematics which I understand most. Mathematics is a prerequisite to many courses at university.
These courses include: Computer Science, Statistics, Engineering courses, Actuarial Science, Surveying, Architecture, Bachelor of Science (Physical), etc. Even for some courses where it is not a prerequisite, students who enrol to such courses somehow find mathematical content being taught to them. These courses include: Economics, Information Technology, Pharmacy, Psychology, Social sciences, etc.
Going by this only, we can confirm that Mathematics is a very important subject. We also agree that, if it is properly taught right from primary schools, more students will enrol in the science courses mentioned above and this will help in raising the critical mass of scientists the country needs to attain middle-income status.
On the contrary, when you meet an average person on the streets and ask them about Mathematics. Chances are very high that you will get responses such as it is horrible, I get sick when I see numbers, don’t ask me about Mathematics, I hate it and other statements which portray the subject with negativity.
Pupils/students hear similar utterances from their parents, relatives, role models, family members and their friends. I don’t mean to say that everyone should be good at Mathematics. We are different and certainly gifted differently. But I also know that sometimes these statements have affected the performance of some learners – actually the majority of learners.
To reach this desired national goal, we need concerted effort. Teachers, parents, school administrators, District Education Officers (DEOs), Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), pupils, students, family members and the entire community; each has a role to play.
Teachers have to teach Mathematics in a way that makes it interesting. They ought to use a language that motivates rather than demotivates, showing learners how relevant Mathematics is in our day to day lives. Use of ICT is instrumental as is the case with other relevant teaching aids. Teachers of the subject themselves have to be exemplary and a source of inspiration to the learners.
It is in our families that we first learn most of what we know. We subconsciously learn what our parents and relatives say and do while we are we them. It is not surprising therefore that if children who come from homes where English language is spoken join nursery schools when they are already fluent in the English language. Parents and family members therefore have to mind what they say about Mathematics before their children and relatives. Once children join school when they already think Mathematics is a horrible subject, then teachers cannot do much to help them believe otherwise.
Mathematics is a subject that demands continuity of concepts. It is difficult for one to learn to subtract if they don’t know how to add; dividing can be almost impossible to comprehend when one does not know how to multiply, the list goes on. Ensuring therefore that our children attend school regularly is crucial. You and I know that it is at least not for the government to ensure regular attendance of school for our children. We need as parents to plan and pay school fees in time to avoid disruption of learning. Parents ought to inculcate in their children before and during school some skills, e.g., analytical skills and an inquisitive mind. This can be achieved for instance through certain games and reading some books.
School administrators ought to provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning. This may involve paying teachers promptly, clean classrooms, avail the required teaching and learning material in time, etc. The National Curriculum Development Centre needs to ensure that curricular at all levels of learning is revised regularly to meet the current needs of society. Higher institutions of learning also doing their part by training teachers well.
The Government through the Ministry of Education and Sports and through local governments ought to recruit enough teachers; ensuring that there is gender balance as they do so. At the moment, Mathematics teachers are predominantly male, girls do not have enough examples to look up to. Remunerating teachers well so that they don’t quit teaching. To ensure that there are adequate and well facilitated schools. Putting mechanisms in place to have teachers undergo refresher courses so that they are kept up to date with relevant and effective methods of teaching.
If all the above is sustainably done, it will not take too long before Uganda raises the required critical mass of scientists in the areas that were mentioned above. In times like these of COVID19, it can not be so difficult to have a meaningful contribution by Ugandan scientists including manufacturing vaccines by ourselves. At the moment, Uganda is faced with a problem of too few scientists to take care of all Ugandan needs that lie in their speciality. If one is to start a high tech company that requires to employ many scientists, Uganda may not be the country to have it. Doing so, will imply that one has to employ so many expartriates which is a costly venture. You would rather have the company in a place where employees commute from their homes and are relatively cheaper to maintain.
David Ssevviiri, PhD
Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematics, Makerere University