Ignore the misguided saboteurs, malicious propaganda, misguided business interests, and gallery politics
COMMENT | FREDERICK DONGO- SHEMA | The government’s proclamation to enhance salaries of scientists in the next financial year has sparked unnecessary objection from businessmen and arts-focused groups camouflaging as moralists.
Hailed by science education experts as the best boost to science education in Uganda under the current circumstances, the policy targets all scientists, including Science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers, who are key enablers of innovation and technology. From government’s pronouncement on August 24, 2021, STEM teachers were singled out to pilot the pay raise among teachers of basic education, pushing their earnings above Shs4 million monthly, while arts and primary school teachers will wait for subsequent budgets.
In all government ministries, departments and agencies, degree and diploma holders with high concentration of STEM course units earn as scientists.
Resistance sets in
Whereas opponents of the policy are comfortable with the current salary discrepancies between “scientists” and “non-scientists” in all sectors (police, army, prisons, higher education, civil service etc.), they fiercely oppose secondary science teachers, on grounds of equality. The argument is, “pay all the same or give none, if the budget is insufficient.”
Ridiculous as it sounds, equality is not the true reason. Unaware that the science pay policy greatly benefits rural and hard-to-reach schools, some members of parliament, misguided by business interests and gallery politics embarked on malicious propaganda and blackmail. Owners of private schools, who are mostly ministers, MPs, business people, civil servants and NGOs are terrified of losing profits as STEM teachers in private schools demand for government pay standard.
Fearing to contradict President Museveni’s well-thought vision on science education, some people are clandestinely inciting elements in Uganda National teachers Union (UNATU) – one of the teachers’ unions under the grip of primary teachers.
Ignorance on Uganda’s Science Education
Clueless columnists, writers and talk-show guests projecting themselves as “experts” regularly misinform the public on science education, using old experiences as students. Some people in academia, foreign service, business or retirement; clearly outside secondary science teaching and without carrying out or reading any recent research on science education in Uganda, shamelessly spew assumptions.
Burying heads in sand, falsely expecting a spontaneous improvement in sciences without special attention are the envious or ignorant fellas. Averagely, 45% of O- and A-level candidates fail sciences, compared to about 15% failure rate for Arts. Only 10% of A-level learners are science-oriented versus 90% for arts. In the near future, Uganda might import physicists; including teachers because A-level learners, even in top schools abandoned physics.
Everyone agrees that sciences are not hard but the hectic lesson preparations, execution, follow-up and handling the poor learners’ attitudes towards sciences consume much more time and energy compared to arts.
Accordingly, more than anything else (laboratory and teachers’ numbers), teachers’ dedication is negatively impacting science performance in Uganda, especially upcountry. Much as all new government schools have science equipment, chemicals, textbooks and teachers, science learners still fail massively but pass arts because teachers abandoned the practical approach. In many schools, learners stare at unused kits as science teachers conduct lessons the easier way – like arts.