10 January 2013

Uganda: Science Good, but We Need Arts to Progress


The Uganda government has declared that scientists shall be accorded preferential treatment in remuneration in the education sector.

At the same time, approaches to education and syllabi are under review. Both matters are crucial and merit critical comment, but it is the preferential treatment of scientists that I will address here. The government's stated aim is to motivate scientists to pursue their calling and, hence, contribute to the country's quest for a breakthrough in technology.

I will not delve into the difference between science and technology, but technology can be described as the application or creation of devices for man's use, utilizing scientific ideas. Needless to emphasize, the word science has acquired so much aura that at times we lay people accord it a sacrosanct status, forgetting that it can be abused for man's destruction instead of harnessing it to serve humankind.

Lest we forget, the word science derives from Latin "Scio" which translates into "I know", in English and scare (Latin) which in English means to know.

For comparison, it is instructive to have a look at circumstances that led to scientific and technological revolutions in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom which until recently was the workshop of the world. As students of history will recall, the industrial revolution in England took place in 1750-1850, which period was the epoch of democratization following the English Civil War (1642-1651), leading to supremacy of Parliament and beginnings of elements of extension of the voting rights to ordinary people.

It is significant that the English revolution was led by puritans under Oliver Cromwell. They advocated freedom of thought and worship without interference from the crown or the clergy and preferred universities in which mathematics and science were freely taught. The ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge restricted admission to members of the then establishment. These puritans lived simple lives, avoided alcohol, smoking, ostentation and extravagance in dress.

The important lesson to learn is that what favours development of science is a democratic way of life, freedom of thought and sobriety in behaviour, which entails frugality in consumption and purposeful investment for production. Incidentally, the rise of Islamic science and mathematics were a result of freedom of thought and relative equality among believers in Allah.

During the Dark and Medieval ages in Europe, there was no freedom of thought and the church and state punished dissent, even in science, as heresy and blasphemy (then capital offences). But in the early stages of Islam after Muhammad (570-632AD), the study of science, mathematics and philosophy were encouraged. Above all, there was no hierarchy of priests in Islam; and there was relative equality among believers.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first states in Europe, to apply science, Astronomy and Mathematics were in southern Europe, for example Portugal and Spain, which, until 1492, had been occupied by Moors (Moslem black people from North Africa). It is crucial to emphasize that the advanced learned people of Greece and Egypt made no distinction between Arts and Sciences.

The classical Greek scholars whose names are fairly familiar to ordinary readers such as Pythagoras and Aristotle were mathematicians, scientists and philosophers. In ancient Egypt, among the most learned people were priests - an educated expert leader expected to master the liberal arts, astronomy, technology, philosophy, music, medicine, etc. Of course one cannot too easily generalize, because not all individuals can master both Arts and Sciences.

But it is doubtful whether a society that has little regard for ethics, management, philosophy of life, law, sociology, and other arts, can survive, let alone progress. Threats to life such as genocide, enslavement, wars of aggression, prejudice, racism, religious bigotry etc, cannot be cured by mathematical calculations or technology however advanced they may be.

It is only an objective, impartial and humane dose of philosophy, which holds that all human beings are interdependent and survive better when they cooperate, that can enable us live in harmony with one another. I hope, subsequently, to address the question of distortion of Darwin's theories and demonstrate, from available authorities, that Darwin's teachings were distorted to support pseudo-science so as to justify oppression in society.

The story of Nazism is too well-known to require repetition or emphasis here. What must be grasped is that the Nazis were highly advanced in science and technology but became a tragic nuisance due to lack of objective grasp of ethics and humane philosophy, which only the arts can avail to humankind. From the above observation, therefore, it is quite legitimate to propose an alternative policy to what is currently envisaged by government.

The proposal is to adapt a scientific approach to arts in education. This is not a contradiction or an absurdity in logic. Already society is studied as a science- political science, sociology, archaeology and anthropology etc., all attempt a scientific approach based on enquiry, observation, inferences and generalized laws arising from empirical data.

Though this approach is dubbed soft science, it nevertheless is an endeavour to study people and society scientifically. If this approach is adopted, teachers would spend time more usefully, for example, explaining factors which favour religiosity, why and how particular re1igions arose at particular times. This would promote mutual respect for differences in religion.

If there is general policy of teaching all subjects scientifically without discrimination in salaries against arts teachers or preferential treatment for science teachers, motivation for good performance can still be achieved. This can be done by establishing ladders of promotion in schools such as junior teachers, senior teachers and principal teachers, which grades would attract different salaries depending on one's cadre.

Junior teachers would be beginners and thereafter entry into the next cadre would depend on qualifications and performance as in mainstream civil service. Considering that politicians and managers tend to be recruited, currently, from arts graduates, favouring scientists is likely to be undermined and frustrated, either consciously or subconsciously by these society managers (the politicians, accountants, lawyers and others adversely affected).

The author is a retired High Court judge.

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