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Education has gone to rot

By Onghwens Kisangala

About three weeks ago, President Museveni on a local TV talk show strongly defended the quality of government services as he whipped out the growth of health sector from a few hundred hospitals in the 1980s to thousands of them today. However in an interview with The Independents Onghwens Kisangala, veteran academician and Chancellor of University of the Moon, Prof. Edward Rugumayo, explains how the education sector has deteriorated today. Below are excerpts.

There is an increasing decline in the performing of education institutions in Uganda. What explains this?

The declining standards and conditions of education in Uganda are predicated on one major tenet of globalisation: privatisation of all government-run and managed institutions. The World Bank and IMF programme of restructuring was intended to commercialise every aspect of life, leaving government to provide what they term as an enabling environment for the private sector to operate. Because of Uganda’s acceptance of wholesale privatisation, the first casualty was the parastatal bodies, which were bought for a song, mostly by foreign companies. So foreigners own Uganda as a country. The second casualty was the public sector. The civil service was reduced and civil servants retrenched in the name of a mean and lean workforce. The third casualty was education.

Why do you think the education sector is the most open to private investment where any one can open up a school anywhere?

Because of the low priority attached to it, education became the easier sector for the local elite to privatise. Currently there are more private educational institutions than those owned by government at all levels. The standards vary enormously, ranging from the elite owned and managed where fees are as high as those one pays at universities in developed countries, to the lowest where children live like animals.

Why do you say that the education sector is a low priority case?

The rampant fires and failure to arrest the culprits are a case in point. The ADF terrorist woman who started the (Uganda Technical College) Kicwamba fire was detained in prison, but when her case came before the magistrate, the case file was missing! She is alive and kicking, bearing children. What has happened to the Fort Portal Islamic School case? Nothing! No news about the Budo Junior fire, neither any inquiry report about scores of others. What a tragedy!

Cost sharing was introduced at Makerere University to ensure an effective funding system but this has not worked, why?

Limited funds were allocated to Makerere University. In order to supplement these meagre funds, the Ministry of Education introduced the programme of private students paying fees to supplement government grants. What started as an interim measure has now become permanent, with private students outnumbering government sponsored students. Even the accountability for these funds has come under public scrutiny. To fill in the demand gap for tertiary education, the private sector stepped in.Â

Is this a symptom of a bigger problem or the problem itself?

The crisis in our educational institutions is symptomatic of the malaise eating at the marrow of Ugandan society. Greed for money and riches which was and is taught at the top American institutions for MBA degrees has percolated down to the lowest level of our society. Head-teachers steal fees and defile their students. University students sleep with their dons for grades and money. Priests and politicians preach that the poor will not go to heaven and fleece their flocks and voters of the little they own and their entitlements. Public resources are looted with easy abandon, with the IGG catching small minnows and letting the big fish go uncharged. Students smoke, drink, take drugs, riot and burn down their own institutions. Responsible men and women forge certificates to get lucrative jobs. Women sleep with their bosses to get or retain their jobs, bank employees steal from their clients, people are taught to get rich without working, and so on.

What dangers does society face in a mismanaged education system?

Over crowded schools; Students living on top of each other’s heads, so to speak; Three-level beds; Overfilled toilets; barely adequate food, poor sanitation. Compromised safety standards. In some of these schools, the proprietors are simply interested in numbers: the more students, the bigger the profits. So discipline and moral standards are ignored. In the absence of a good educational environment that fosters self-discipline, such students tend to indulge in drug taking, alcohol, sex and other destructive activities.

You paint a bleak picture of the situation, what should be done?

The current global crisis has shown that unregulated privatisation has failed. Governments have had to step in to bail out banks, mortgage houses and other large private corporations. The entire educational system needs urgent overhaul, from kindergarten to university. There should be a consolidation of the gains so far made, without unnecessary expansion. Teachers’ salaries need to be improved. Set up a strong centralised school inspectorate with high professional, ethical standards and well facilitated. Sports and other extra-curricular activities must be given due attention. Reduce the number of subjects taken in forms One and Two, and the rest to be reduced to between eight and ten in forms Three and Four, depending on the students’ abilities. Integrate disciplines and weed out old materials; put less emphasis on exams and more on all-round education.Â

Do you really see the business minded education providers taking this on?

Government should resume its role as the principal provider of education at all levels. It should not abandon our educational system and its stakeholders to the unrelenting harshness and whims of market forces. It is the duty of government to regulate market forces otherwise the law of the jungle will take over, as is the case today. Uganda did not invent capitalism. Even its inventors intervene when market forces go berserk. The latest government interventions in UK and USA are a case in point. This is the home of seasoned capitalism. Please learn from them. Let me hope that as food prices escalate, our government will not leave all this chaos to market forces. This is a wake up call. Our leaders should muddy their boots, roll up their sleeves, face the crisis head on and reclaim the moral high ground which they have lost.

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