As the sound of guns resumed in Democratic Republic of Congo down south, Nelson Mandela marked his 95th birthday on his hospital bed. It is clearly not how we would have wanted him to do but I guess it is better than losing him entirely.
My mind was triggered to think more about our attitude towards education in East Africa by a few events happening around the world. Last week I wrote something about the education crisis faced by our Tanzanian brothers and honest many agreed with me in their feedback.
In Kenya, the news that one of their sons will be playing in the English Premier League received almost more coverage than the discovery of oil. The deputy president, William Ruto even mentioned it when he was being asked about the achievements of his government in the first 100 days.
The media was awash with huge headlines dedicated to Victor Wanyama who moved from Scottish club Celtic to Southampton. Details of the huge sums of money he will be earning were there for all to see. Clearly split into what he will get in a year, month and week.
I was rather surprised that many commentators were comfortably saying that Wanyama will be the first East African to play in the English Premier League. Read that line again and befriend Google for the real facts. Anyway a lot of mediocrity appears in our media and that is clearly a sign of the falling education standards.
We have moved from the days when Makerere University was churning out sharp brains to now where we have a university almost at every corner but with students who are basically there to grow. Employers everywhere are complaining about graduates armed with neat degree certificates but with zero skills and despicable work attitudes.
Education has been reduced to a rite of passage especially after the introduction of universal education. This single move gave birth to lovely statistics of so many children joining school yet in reality the standards fled for the hills. One of the key factors that have compounded the situation is that a teacher who was earning little to teach a few is now earning little to teach crowds.
As if that is not enough, the so-called elites and middle-class citizens have moved their children to private schools and schools abroad effectively detaching themselves from the problem. A close look around can easily reveal that in most of East Africa, you will not find a minister’s child attending a public school.
This is why it is very okey for a teacher’s strike to go on for a whole month in Kenya without it ever appearing as a national crisis. The politicians who were calling on the teachers to think about the children and get back to class all have their children in private elite schools. I remember presidential candidate Dida at one of the debates calling out the bluff of other candidates when the issue of education was raised.
In Uganda, there is something that has been happening for a long time now that it is no longer news. I am not talking about the decline of traditional schools, something we also got used to a long time back. It is the now ubiquitous school fires and strikes.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that in the past two weeks, 16 schools experienced strikes with 14 of them eventually closed. For one school in western Uganda, the reason behind the strike was the school’s failure to show the football game between Uganda and Tanzania.
In other words if it is not a fire then it a students’ strike and when all are absent you can expect teachers dodging class to go and look for money elsewhere. Those who stay may then request for a salary increase for which they will be told that there is no money or that there are other things to deal with first as President Yoweri Museveni said recently.
There is a viral video of a Burundian boy counting in English. Many laugh it off not knowing that they are laughing at themselves. These are our brothers and sisters and we need to find solutions other than taking our children to expensive schools. We have to fix education or forget about all those grand development plans we see on PowerPoint slides.