Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Science for all," is not the right strategy for Uganda

By William Kituuka
This article follows the one by Reverend Aaron Mwesigye in the New Vision newspaper of Friday, April 13, 2007: “Is Uganda’s education suited to cause development?” In his opening paragraph he writes, “Education theory and practice in Uganda and some parts in Africa today is a combination of relics of colonial and distorted neo-colonial education theories and practices that are so poverty – ridden and so ideologically bankrupt that they merely produce and reproduce more material poverty and ideological bankruptcy. The system denies students access to relevant and productive learning that can enable them meet social, economic, political, environmental and ideological challenges.” Unlike Reverend Mwesigye, my concentration is simply on Uganda because when we bring in the Africa picture, the focus gets very wide and at the end we may not get anywhere, hence the need to call a spade a spade in the Uganda setting.
I am concerned with one policy of the Government of Uganda, “Science for all at secondary school.” In “Building Science, Technology, and Innovative Capacity: Turning Ideas into Action,” a Guest Editorial by Alfred Watkins, Egde Osifo-Dawodu, Michael Ehst and Boubou Cisse in the World Bank Institute Development Outreach Magazine – January 2007, I quote: “With increasing frequency, officials in low and middle income countries are coming to the conclusion that they must build up their Science, technology and Innovation (STI) capacity in order to make demonstratable progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): raise productivity, wealth, and standards of living by developing new, competitive economic activities to serve local, regional, and global markets; and address social, economic, and ecological problems specific to each country.” They further say, “For countries, rich or poor, to build and maintain their productive sectors in the face of global – competition, local enterprises must be able to continuously improve their products and services – that is, to innovate. Governments must therefore promote the skilled human capital, competitive environment, and supporting institutions – Universities, technical and vocational schools, research laboratories, standards bodies, and information and communication infrastructure to name just a few that make this enterprise innovation possible.”
These Guest Editorial authors further say, “The east Asian experiences over the last 40 years serve as an example. A new widely told story, the East Asian ‘Tigers,’ including Korea, Singapore, and now China, took a much different approach to building STI capacity than did countries in most other regions. While each country’s approach in East Asia was necessarily unique, they shared the distinction of not focusing initially on frontier Science, instead focusing on building labour force skills through education at all levels, creating incentives and public institutions for discovering and adapting needed foreign technologies, effectively using foreign investment to create technological spillovers, and building focused projects for supporting the technology needs of industry.” “Some Latin American countries, in contrast, spent heavily on building up advanced scientific institutions and research, but were largely unable to translate this spending into the types of innovations and new businesses in the private sector which lead to economic growth. Nor were these Scientific undertakings often aimed at solving the problems associated with poverty in these countries.”
Our Guest Editorial writers say, “Countries should build capacity by tackling problems. One approach being to develop STI capacity around specific problems. Educational institutions for example must be designed to be responsive to the research and human capital needs of the private sector, rather than have course offerings, curriculum, and research programs imposed on them by Government planners. To this end, an important capacity to build is that of policy makers. Science and Technology (S & T) is a complex area for Governments to support. It often cuts across ministerial jurisdictions and responsibilities and calls for sophisticated policies and programmes with complex incentives that must change as the country itself changes.”
During the 1960’s when Mr. Basil Paul Kiwanuka was at the Ministry of Education as Assistant Examination Secretary, and thereafter Chief Inspector of Schools in Uganda, Mathematics was made a compulsory subject for all students for the Ordinary Level Certificate in Uganda. It was logical as this move was absolutely necessary on the grounds that in practical day life, at least some knowledge of Mathematics is crucial, and for a fact, it may not be possible to do business successfully when one cannot internalize a few operations in Mathematics.
Today, the focus of Uganda Government as implemented by the Ministry of Education and Sports is “Science for all.” However, one thing the politicians in Uganda must understand is that Uganda will lag behind as long as it continues with blanket policies that can be equated to, “A jack of all trades, but a master of none!” We don’t need a Jack of all trades, what the country needs are specialists in whatever field of innovation.
When you for instance leave the Researchers, Medical doctors, etc to first make a strike or put down their tools hence forcing you (government) to look into their monetary and other job fringe benefits, it is logical conclusion that the whole infrastructure is built on a sand foundation.
The way forward for Uganda is simple: First, there are already so many Ugandan Scientists trained who are in employment locally and other abroad and also a good number unemployed or employed in areas that are not their professional training; like in markets stall keeping, etc. The Government of Uganda should boost capacity into the infrastructure where it has a hand. If it is hospitals, let equipment be in place, drugs and then also look into the welfare of this skilled labour. This will be incentive enough to ensure that at least many currently leaving the Science based training institutions are locally employed instead of seeking greener pastures.
Second, as capacity is improved in various Science utilizing sectors, government of Uganda should send the skilled manpower for re – fresher courses locally if training resources are available or outside the country, after which this manpower may be assigned contracts to serve prior to going into private undertakings so as to boost the skill requirement at home.
Third, Government must respond positively to the administrative expenditures it makes which are politically driven but don’t make economic sense; one reason why we are having so many youth with skill but unemployed. It is a fact that in 1962, Uganda had a Parliament of 81 members, given Uganda’s problems today, at least 120 – 150 member Parliament would suffice but not one which is over 300!
Talking about the billions Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is able to collect, when much of this goes into what is better termed duplication and administrative expenditures will leave Uganda more of a limping country with the scars not easy to repair. Policies which don’t boost disposable income while people toil a lot and the money is instead spent in political buy off of opponents, rewards, and ensuring that NRM holds to power for many more decades will leave the country a laughing stock!
Even if investments are made in Science, industry, whatever you may call it, the products/services must be bought/paid for, however, purchasing power seems to be diminishing with time as more often than not, Government policies are milking the people the more hence leaving them with peanuts though many struggle for the income whose purchasing power has greatly diminished as most goods and services have so much in form of taxes which form a big percentage of the final prices of goods and services. It is no surprise that in Uganda today, many people live beyond their means. Many have the small capital in their business largely microfinance loans out of which they seem to make money for the enterprises from where cash is borrowed but find themselves hardly able to make ends meet, and each day is simply a nightmare for them!
Uganda is an agriculturally endowed country; and any sound policies for the betterment of the people should have some agricultural basis. Agro – processing for example should have gone far today and produce would enter world markets, but politic has suffocated this where a few interests are in this area and have not created such impact where a number of Ugandans can be induced to produce for the agro-processing industries with sure returns to make a living.

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