I was in primary seven at Bright Grammar Boarding primary school in Masaka when the government of Uganda began the implementation of Universal Primary Education (UPE).
This was a step in the right direction since research from donors had showed that investment in lower education produced more returns to the economy than investment in higher education. Besides, no community can develop without focusing on human resource development.
In the Far-East, it is believed that if a community wants prosperity within a year, such society should invest in grains; if the need is to prosper in ten years, the investment should be in trees; but if the community desires prosperity for centuries, the investment should be in people.
This explains the rapid developments in some Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan and others with little or no natural resources compared to African or Middle East countries. The only resource these countries have is their education systems that have produced the human resource that they desire.
I, therefore, find the talk of achieving the middle-income status in the near future as wishful thinking with this kind of education. As we celebrate 20 years of UPE, we need, as a country, to have a sober analysis of its successes and challenges, no matter our political inclinations.
The enrolment has increased, but does quantity build bridges and perform heart surgeries?
Because some of our leaders come from cattle-keeping communities, they spend most time celebrating quantity, increase in enrolment, buildings constructed while the opposition criticizes everything without giving relevant alternatives.
The government is more interested in physical parameters for purely political reasons. Most of the public schools in my native Masaka are dead and so are those that were in Kampala.
The same people who attended these schools have pre- sided over their death. Can a pupil in Luweero C/U primary school qualify to attend Buddo or Ndejje secondary schools? Can these officials send their children to the schools they attended?
Just because you can afford private education, don’t dare think you or your children are safe. The biggest challenge to all African governments is not their respective opposition leaders, but youth unemployment and underemployment, and lack of equal opportunity for all.
The 20 years of UPE have killed the public education sector in this country. The private sector that sprung up to fill the gap left by the decaying public schools is so exploitive and naïve. The proprietors, most of who have no background in education, are training our children into robots.
These children have no life skills at all. Their main concern is to make as much money from parents as possible. The media has helped them.
Every time examination results are released, schools and ignorant parents rush to media houses to have their children published so that the schools are praised; and more children are bound to join such schools the next term with increased tuition!
Our children have become grade-producing machines that are unable to live their lives after school. Most learners from these private institutions cannot communicate orally and in written form; they cannot think critically, can never collaborate or work together and are not creative.
Children of the rich will attend ‘good’ primary schools where they are coached for seven years, examined in a poor manner and join another system that is only favourable to them.
After six years, they join university and thereafter they are expected to steer this country to greater heights! What a joke! How can people who can’t manage themselves manage others? No wonder we are experiencing scandals both in public and private sector week in, week out.
A bank is audited by a reputable company but it turns out the audit report was fake or faked. The higher number of secondary school graduates prompted the liberalisation of university education and it is now an unwritten law that each family must have a university graduate, no matter what course they have undertaken and from which university.
In Uganda, it is common to find a university smaller than a secondary school and each student must graduate as long as they have paid tuition. No wonder politicians prefer attending such.
And our government officials are proud to tell us the number of universities, and not the number of discoveries and type of research these institutions are carrying out.
Instead of focusing on knowledge accumulation and use, we spend time discussing quantity. In my experience, not many countries, if any, have ever developed because of quantity; it is always about quality.
Lecturer, International University of East Africa, Kampala.