5 February 2013

Uganda: Our Education System a Ticking Time Bomb


Every year, the release of PLE results by Uneb is greeted with joyful excitement by primary schools and pupils named to have scored the highest points.

The top marks raise the leverage of the pupils to gain admission to coveted senior secondary schools. Primary schools, especially privately-owned ones, in turn, also enhance their reputation of attracting clientele of wealthy parents, if they can demonstrate the churning out of excellent grades. Uneb's analysis of the 2012 PLE results has recorded some improvement in performance.

Yet the said improvement will not be offering comfort to most of the successful PLE candidates.

The threshold for admission to designated top-ranked senior secondary schools has been re-hinged, limiting the score-line to the bracket of five aggregates and above. Despite the acknowledged excellence in grades, many pupils are destined to crawl for admissions in schools they have been made to know are inferior.

Our country's politics is largely unbothered by the entrenchment of categorization by government of its own schools between "good" and "poor" ones, despite the obligation by all to offer tuition on the same curriculum. The education system grades performance from proven ability in cram-work and the answering of exam questions by rote.

The ignoring of discussion of the fundamental premises of our country's educational direction is persistently confounding the already existing disproportions in our society. Most young people who are in search of climbing to apex rungs of the educational hierarchy for space in prestigious accomplishments are sieved out by being locked out from the acclaimed top schools.

Yet the famed schools which produce the best pupils eligible to be admitted to the top secondary schools are located mainly in Kampala and its environs or a few areas in Western Uganda. The worst-performing schools these days proliferate in Eastern Uganda, the Karamoja sub-region, Northern Uganda, extending to the West Nile shoulder-line as well as in the Bunyoro, Bundibugyo, Tooro and Kasese areas.

The effect of this is that large numbers of Uganda's young, inhabiting whole regions are condemned to rebound at the lowest levels of the ladder. This implies that despite our solemn avowal in the NRM to build national unity, the cleavage of our country in regional disparity is being glaringly systematized by the very education principles in operation.

No one should underrate the desperation that this course ingrains in its hapless victims. It rouses bitterness that can presage the making of dangerous roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices). An education system which waylays the country with IEDs and risks inflicting the maiming of Uganda cannot be innocent of crime.

Right from our early days in politics, we saw the perils of an unreformed education system. Even though the British had introduced colonial education in the name of enlightenment of primitive natives, the basic thrust had been to induce in our society a social trance so that it could yield to colonial domination and control.

In applauding the struggle of our people against colonial rule, we viewed that the decolonization process could not be complete without the retooling of the education system to serve the needs of self-improvement of all elements of our society in all fields of life. Because of failure to handle the many factors of this issue cogently and consistently, we are now stuck in peddling an education framework that aggravates the old divisions by colonial officials.

The very old divisions are explained away by some of our NRM officials in vulgar and superficial manner. It is purported that the British left a legacy of a north-south divide wherein the southerners were endowed with schools and more educated people while the north lapsed into military service and menial labour. The sordid misrepresentation of the meaning of colonial uneven development of the country fortifies such NRM officials to deduce and propagate patronizing notions.

There is cool satisfaction that any existence of some nature of schools in the north is after all the enlightened NRM effort to "start" bringing to northerners hitherto absent education. Any such kindly-offered education is supposed to draw the northerners away from their previous preoccupation with the military as educated and intellectual people from the south are injected in the army to democratize it.

This is why the main focus is limited to barren administration to induce cram-work for passing set examinations in some privileged areas. Our country's task remains to build an education system that cares for the whole people.

The author is a member of NEC (NRM) representing historicals.

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