Things to do when Mr Museveni leaves (Part 5)

From last week, I was to return to education and how we are to handle those behind crimes committed over the three decades and so.

One would wonder why, with all its significance, education would come in the last article in the series. Indeed, last week Prof Jude Ssempebwa, an expert in higher education, casually asked why I had not prioritised education even in the building of integrity.

As someone specialised in ethics (as a sub-discipline of philosophy), I duly understand the importance of education in nurturing behaviour. Many studies in moral psychology have already showed that.

Of course the scope of what one may call education is quite broad. In this case, we were referring to the formal. My view is that, whereas this is important, its effectiveness depends on the extent to which a society is morally broken.

How about the old crooked ones that we shall not take back to school? How do we bring them back to order not to corrupt the young ones that will have been subjected to a new foundation?

Moral formation comes from a wide range of sources. It is not only from what my parents teach me or what I learn at school; it is also what I watch on TV, read in the papers, and observe in society around me. That is why I am convinced that without a higher systemic solution and transitional fear-based morality, the efforts from below will most likely succumb to counter social forces.

This is not to mean that as systems are being tightened to fix the loopholes that have gotten us where we are, other things should be put on hold. My fear, though, is that because we have so many things to put right, if they are all embarked on at once, chances for failure out of being overwhelmed are high. It would be akin to a rescue boat that ends up putting more people on board out of the waters, only to capsize for its own overload.  

That said, no doubt that education is very important for the transformation of any society. Benjamin Franklin would say that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. But to this we must always add, as Clive Staples Lewis said, “education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man [humanity] a more clever devil”.

A large measure of our mess is a product of the education system many of us go through. Having already talked about the integrity question that Lewis raises, I will now address myself to expert and life skills education. I will mostly speak out of my teaching experience that has given me some considerable participant idea about our education system and its effects.

For twelve years, I have taught at three Ugandan universities, both private and public. My own higher education was at four different institutions, in four different countries. This allows me some degree of comparison, though not conclusive.

Uganda’s education system has been praised to be one of the best in East Africa, but UWEZO reports have been producing unflattering results about our lower-level education lately. Though the literacy and numeracy skills they focus on are important, I want to consider a bigger scope of ideal learning.

Many lecturers at universities today will attest to the fact that we are not only increasingly getting more entrants that can hardly write a sensible essay but also more that cannot critically think on their own. You basically have to spend the first year, if at all you do, rehabilitating the damage done by secondary schools – which train crammers looking out for particular answers to particular questions.

The pamphlet culture in secondary schools, plus the examination-oriented system, are wasting brains of leaners. In many of our universities, we add to the damage by dictating notes in class, ‘handouts’, and setting exams that only engage memory! Hence producing more graduates that can hardly innovate for the country. Many debates in our mainstream media and social media platforms mirror how there is little independent thinking, beyond imitation and jest, that goes on in our society.

More than ever before, today’s world is best suited for dynamic people who are quick to think through challenges and innovate solutions. As such, the best that education can do for learners is to teach them how to think critically, not to take things for granted, and to always study societal trends to know how best to position themselves.

Knowledge runs obsolete at a faster rate! A rigid question-and-answer education cannot take us anywhere. So fast is the pace today that by the time one finishes their so many years of cram-work, the world has already moved past the answers they crammed. With such a wrong approach, we may well produce more nominal ‘scientists’ without producing inventors.

We may not have to do away with many of the current disciplines, though we need to strengthen vocational training much more; but teach all in such a way that they can respond to the dynamic diverse needs of the world. Let the emphasis be more on training thinking and imagination than memorisation. Besides, information technologies have made it less important to fill heads with stuff that can be accessed by instant search.

Quickly onto the issue of how we shall handle crimes committed under Museveni’s regime. It is no secret that many regimes become hostage to their misdeeds, often fearing uncertain life outside.

When a thief in your house hears you sharpening a panga outside and calling on him to come out, he would rather die in the house. Yet again, if you pardon them all, you embolden others to repeat the cycle. No matter the plan, for now, it is more strategic not to threaten them with prison. Fortunately, it’s harder to destroy evidence today and easier to collect it.

Originally published on

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Written by Jimmy Spire Ssentongo (0)

The author is a teacher of philosophy

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