The Observer (Kampala)

26 January 2014

Uganda: Are There Computers That Use Charcoal?

analysis

Stories from UNEB certainly don't bode well for parents and students who are anxiously waiting for their results.

First, examination marking had to be halted because of lack of resources. The results for PLE and UCE would ordinarily by now have come out but it seems we have to wait a little longer.

As the waiting continues, more news comes in about computers crashing even when Mr Matthew Bukenya, the Uneb executive secretary, has come out to dispel the fears.

Of course, it is foolhardy to expect things to run smoothly at Uneb given the immense challenges facing the education sector. The problems at Uneb are just symptomatic of the bigger problems.

Very soon, the teachers will again be up in arms protesting government failure to honour its pledge to increase their pay. We have not forgotten the recent Uwezo report that indicted UPE (it revealed that majority primary seven pupils could hardly read a primary two passage with ease).

Apart from the financial and managerial issues, the bigger problems in education lie in the ever changing policy designs; at one time, a policy is issued about emphasis of physical education and Kiswahili, before the learners are acclimatized, there is swing to a thematic curriculum, etc.

A few years ago, in an effort to promote sciences, Uneb changed the criteria for attaining a first division by UCE students.

Today, if students do not pass English, Math and one science, they do not qualify for first division. This policy has widened performance gaps between urban schools and their counterparts in disadvantaged schools in rural areas. Just last year, another directive came compelling senior fives to offer either sub-mathematics or computer studies as subsidiaries at A-level.

On paper, these are very good strides being taken by government but in reality, they fall short of good policies. A good policy should be one that addresses the current needs but it should also be financially feasible. While Uganda and Ugandans need to be up to date with the rest of the world in terms of technology, it is unreasonable to issue a policy directive without envisaging the required resources.

Last year, the first lot under this policy sat but many in rural schools sat without knowing how to save a document or even what a delete key, on the computer keyboard, is used for. Where government has made efforts to give computers to schools, many of these computers are kept somewhere in head teachers' offices for lack of adequate space or they do not have electricity to run them.

During the dialogues to reflect on Uganda at 50 organised by the Centre for Basic Research (CBR), an old man from Kabale questioned government policy of making computer compulsory well knowing there was no electricity to run the computers in the rural areas. He asked whether there are computers that run on charcoal!

Before Christmas, Parliament passed the Financing of Higher Education Bill. Apart from financial and managerial issues, the students legible for education loans will be those offering sciences.

Question, therefore, is: How many of the children from the disadvantaged rural schools will likely benefit from these loans?

I envisage a bigger disparity where a child from an advantaged home goes to a relatively good school, passes the sciences and qualifies for the higher education loan while another from the poor family will go to USE school, just not take up the sciences at all or desperately attempt them but fail because of the poor infrastructure. In both scenarios, this rural child who is even in more need has no opportunity to access the higher education loan.

If Uneb pulls out of its current hitches, soon we shall be getting PLE, UCE and UACE results. As expected, the narrative will be the same. Leading schools will be from central followed by western and a few shooting candidates from north and east regions.

In ten or so many years, if the current trend continues, then we should have all intellectuals coming from one or two regions. Then the undiscerning minds will say people from some regions are naturally not intellectually gifted like it is said now about poor people being lazy! The author is a policy analyst.

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