Lately, Ugandan universities have been hogging quite a number of newspaper columns although not for the very best of intentions.
As I wrote this, riot police in Uganda was having running battles with students of Makerere University Business School who were striking because they had been denied to sit test before paying their tuition fees.
A few other officers were still stationed at Kyambogo University to try and contain another interesting strike. I call it interesting because it is based on the fact that a court ruled that the university’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Isaiah Omolo Ndiege, a Kenyan, had been wrongly dismissed and was free to return to his job—a ruling contested by fellow lecturers.
The lecturers went on a sit down strike soon after the court verdict. The professor was warmly welcomed by the students who later got angry that their lecturers were not teaching and decided to do what university students do best these days, strike.
None of these seem to have gained as much bad publicity like the leaked and viral sex video involving students of Uganda Christian University. I know parents and moralists will be freaked out by this ‘digital’ development.
Away from universities, I landed on something interesting on a Tanzanian news site. The story was about how the primary leaving exams had registered an improvement as far as performance was concerned.
However as in now often the case, the real story was in the comments section. One reader pointed out the fact that chasing Ugandan and Kenyan teachers (those without proper papers) from Tanzania was not a wise decision since Tanzania really needs them.
Another argued that this decision only served to increase the number of Tanzanian children who will be sent to Uganda and Kenya for what is assumed to be a better education. But these of course will be the children of those who are well off, including the political leaders.
This got me thinking about how the harmonisation of education seems to have gone off the EAC radar for now. From the time the community was reinstated, there were talks of harmonising education. At several summits the delegates waxed lyrical about this but very little else.
Instead we have seen EAC countries carrying out reforms in their education sectors without necessarily harmonising them with their neighbours. The little I have heard of has been harmonising of calendars (by Rwanda) but very little on curriculum. How for example do we explain the fact that the educations systems in the EAC are all very different? While Kenya continues with its 8-4-4, Uganda and Tanzania still have the 7-6-3.
Rwanda has three years for ‘O’ level and three for ‘A’ level. This has made it impossible for Rwandans studying in Uganda to seamlessly switch when they return to Rwanda because one can no longer sit for ‘A ‘level finals without an ‘O’ level certificate.
I love the fact that our leaders have seen the value of infrastructure in driving the development agenda of the region. I wish the same attention could be accorded to education.
It is great to hear our leaders proclaiming the beauty of a single visa or use of IDs to cross borders. When shall we see them saying that EAC students will no longer incur an extra expenses to study outside their country of origin?
By the way what many do not know is that this cross border education has a huge potential of driving the integration agenda even faster that many other strategies that may appear in the minutes of the EAC summits.
For example, Uganda has often talked about how it is seriously going to teach Swahili but little action has followed this talk. Many Ugandans still view Swahili as a language for security forces and thugs and are thus not willing to learn or even speak it.
Yet if you have been to a Ugandan school that has a population of Kenyans or Tanzanians soon Swahili becomes a ‘cool’ language that Ugandan students make an effort to learn so they can fit in with their new Bongo friends or the guys from Nairobi.
It is quite sad that the largest cross border education movement in the region has been at the university level. If we are to achieve education harmonisation we have to build it from bottom up and not top down. It is urgent that we harmonise education and also improve it if the region’s future development is to materialise and hold.