How Ugandans Became Masters Of Lament

There has been a sporadic debate on social media about the lack of creativity amongst Ugandans.

A primary school teacher in Singapore gets her pupils to line up on the first day of the school term
A primary school teacher in Singapore gets her pupils to line up on the first day of the school term

The latest comes barely days after the teachers ended their strike and returned to work after failing to force government to grant them the promised 20% increment.

Many Ugandans do not value the contribution teachers have on society despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

It is because as a country, we don’t value the contribution of teachers that we pay them the least salary and we train them the least.

Teacher training institutions take in the students who have scored the worst in UNEB exams and as such teachers don’t inspire confidence even amongst their pupils.

As a result you will not find many students whose desire is to be teachers when they grow up. Instead many want to be lawyers and doctors and engineers. Why? Simply because pupils see lawyers and doctors as better off than the men and women they spend much of their time interacting with, the teachers.

In human development there is an age at which failure and mediocrity becomes permanent.

That age falls around the time kids are in Primary School, this according to respected research firm McKinsey.

We should be paying a lot of attention to kids before and during primary school.

Sadly, in Uganda we subject our next generation, the kids, to the least inspiring people around, the teachers.

And as a result, we have the least inspired, the least creative population in Africa. Well, maybe we aren’t the worst in Africa but the President this week, lambasted Ugandans for focusing on negatively stereotyping wealthy Asians instead of learning from them.

And hours after Museveni lambasted us, we took to social media to lament how uncreative we are as a people.

But there is a reason why we have become masters of lament. And I don’t think we can heap all the blame on the government and the teachers and the education system and colonialism.

I think we need to blame ourselves as much as we blame other factors. We are responsible for stunting ourselves and because we are stunted, we stunt the kids and stunt the country as a whole.

We read these informative research papers but we don’t learn and we don’t implement, instead we lament.

We marvel at how brilliant Barcelona is as a football club but we don’t put in any effort to make our clubs as brilliant as the Barcelona we watch on TV, then we turn around and blame the government and FUFA and colonialists who put Barcelona on TV to make us love Barcelona more than we love our own clubs.

We read lots of brilliant things in school but never act, never implement instead we go back to school to get more qualifications on paper.

We have many educated people in ministries formulating policy and they know how important a teacher is to a child’s development. Why then do we insist on paying them peanuts? A teacher earns about USD4 a day. How is this justifiable?

I will reproduce one of my favorite articles from Newsweek of 2010, below. It was titled: How to Close the Achievement Gap; The world’s best schools offer important lessons about what works.’

I’ll add my comments but don’t worry. I will put a link to the full article at the bottom.

‘Your chances of success in school and life depend more on your family circumstances than on any other factor. By age three, kids with professional parents are already a full year ahead of their poorer peers. They know twice as many words and score 40 points higher on IQ tests. By age 10, the gap is three years. By then, some poor children have not mastered basic reading and math skills, and many never will: this is the age at which failure starts to become irreversible.’

So how do countries groom better pupils into better citizens?

First, get children into school early. High-quality pre-schooling does more for a child’s chances in school and life than any other educational intervention. One study, which began in the 1960s, tracked two groups of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some were given the opportunity to attend a high-quality preschool; others were not. Thirty-five years later, the kids who went to preschool were earning more, had better jobs, and were less likely to have been in prison or divorced.

The key words here are ‘early’ and ‘high-quality’. Maybe it doesn’t help Uganda in the long run to have most of the schools under UPE, where standards are taken to the same level as in the villages.

Second, recognize that the average kid spends about half his waking hours up until the age of 18 outside of school—don’t ignore that time.

The more time spent at school, the better for the students. Pupils should arrive at school earlier and leave later than normally. In Uganda in Kampala we spend more time in traffic congestion than at school.

Third, pour lots of effort into training teachers. Studies in the United States have shown that kids with the most effective teachers learn three times as much as those with the least effective.

How do we expect our teachers, unmotivated and untrained, as they are to deliver us super kids?

Systems such as Singapore’s are choosy about recruiting (teachers); they invest in training and continuing education; they evaluate teachers regularly; and they award bonuses only to the top performers.

In Uganda, like I have already noted, teacher training institutions don’t take the top performers at UNEB exams, they take in the worst performers. Those who have failed to make A-level get into Primary Training Colleges. We do the exact opposite of what they do in Singapore and yet the president talks about Singapore a lot.

Finally, recognize the value of individualized attention. In Finland, kids who start to struggle receive one-on-one support from their teachers. Roughly one in three Finnish students also gets extra help from a tutor each year.

Now we know what is done by the best, am sure this is not news to policy formulators at the Ministry of Education and they curriculum development centre. Why then are we not implementing?

Why then do we have almost all kids passing PLE and UCE and UACE with flying colors, why do we have record numbers of students achieving First Class at University, why do we have all these students with Masters degrees and so many universities and yet certifiably, we aren’t very imaginative, we aren’t creative, we don’t read more books and we don’t create much knowledge?

What is the problem in Uganda?

Now here is the full article abridged above

Subscribe for notification