Focus on Science Suitable?

Focus on Science Suitable?

The Ugandan government has decided to actively focus on Science students by sponsoring fewer Arts students. Do you agree with this move?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 26, 2005

The government, through the Ministry of Education, recently announced that it had stopped sponsoring students to most Arts (humanity) courses in all public universities and that it is now mainly targeting students studying science based courses.

According to the Ministry of Education, beginning with this year’s intake, 75 percent of all government Scholarships will be going to science students while the remaining 25 percent will go to other university courses the government considers ‘critical for national development’.

This means that, unless reviewed, of the 4000 government Scholarships to Makerere University, 3000 will be going to science students while the remaining 1000 will go to selected courses in other disciplines.

The government’s argument is that in the era of globalization and technological advancement, the country needs people who have the knowledge of science if it is to develop. In addition to ‘selective sponsorship’, the government also intends to increase the number of people with the knowledge of science by making it compulsory to all students in their first year at the university.

The Executive Director of the National Council for Higher Education, Prof. Abdu Kasozi says that the council is developing a curriculum that will include both sciences and “liberal arts concepts” following the recommendations by delegates in the 2003-2015 Strategic Plan for Higher Education. Prof. Kasozi reveals that Uganda has about 100,000 science students, whom he says are too few, if Uganda is to meet its development plans.

Despite public skepticism on whether the policy is good or can be implemented, some top academics in the universities in Uganda support the government emphasis on sciences, only warning that government has to go beyond words and do what is necessary to make the policy succeed and benefit Ugandans. Others find it hard to enforce at this time.

The Vice Chancellor of Kampala University, Prof. Badru Katerega says that the policy that emphasizes sciences is good and necessary but that government can’t effectively enforce it if the majority of the students joining the Universities have not been studying science subjects. Only about 10 percent of all students in senior six are doing Science combinations.

That is why Prof. Katerega proposes that the government makes sciences compulsory in all secondary schools, if it is to effectively implement the new policy. Many secondary schools either have fewer facilities for sciences or don’t have any (including laboratories).

This, according to vice chancellor of Ndejje University, Rev. Dr. Michael Senyimba, is because the biggest percentages of secondary schools in Uganda claim that teaching sciences is expensive. As a result of this and the fact that there are fewer science teachers in the country, few students sit for science papers in their Advance levels.

“Don’t start from universities, start from secondary where science was lost. The lack of interest in science is because there are no teachers to teach science. Even in old schools like Buddo, because of the lab facility they can only take 30 science students against 200 arts,” he argues.

Dr. Senyimba says that the government must be ready to put in large sums of money to build laboratories, equip them, then get some teachers from may be Kenya, where the country, he says, has had colleges for science teachers for the last 20 years.

That aside, there are fears that government may find it difficult sponsoring even those science students whom they select to pay for at the university for the same reason that sponsoring science students is more expensive than Arts students. The choice of science students is also likely to affect the enrollment of female students at universities.

The Head of Women and Gender Studies Department of Makerere University, Dr. Grace Bantebya-Kyomuhendo says that as the government moves to implement its new policy, fewer and fewer females will be funded by government to study at Makerere University.

Bantebya says that there are still few girls coming to study science programs at Makerere University and that, even in secondary schools, there are few girls doing sciences. She says that what makes it even worse is the fact that the cut-off points, especially at Makerere University do not favor most girls to qualify for science based courses. “The implication of the policy will be fewer girls sponsored and thus fewer female graduates,” she says.

According to the 1.5 Points Scheme Review report for Makerere University, although the number of female students being admitted for science programs has increased, only 31.9% of those admitted for science programs in 2003/2004 academic year were females.

In addition to the constraints of implementing the policy, some people are questioning the criterion used to choose the courses the government is going to sponsor while leaving out others. To them both Arts and Sciences are as important.

Prof. Frederick Juuko from the faculty of law, who also lectures in the Department of Mass Communication, was particularly concerned about red listing Mass Communication among those courses government will not sponsor.

Prof. Juuko says that since the government is looking at courses critical to national development, it should not have red listed the course because Uganda needs people who would help produce local programs that match with Ugandan values for Uganda Television, which he says is being dominated by German productions.

In addition, other people fear that red listing Arts courses as those that government would not sponsor would look like government has abolished the studying of Arts courses which, according to them, are also vital for national development.

They also argue that the fewer scientists already trained have found their way outside the country to look for greener pastures. They particularly point out the doctors and nurses, who have left the country while Ugandans continue facing death from simple illnesses because of a shortage of trained medical professionals. And that the trend is even affecting the economy.

During a recent conference on science and technology for economic transformation, the Executive Director of the Uganda Investment Authority, Maggie Kigozi warned that the flight of scientists and other professionals for better terms is hurting the economy. This is despite the fact that the country is training more scientists for the country’s development and under looking the role of Arts courses. Arts students are left looking at themselves as useless, with nothing to contribute to the country.

But the Minister of Education and Sports, Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire insists that the policy is good for the future of the country. She however says that government will continue reviewing the policy to meet the country’s needs from time to time. What remains unclear is whether the government, and particularly her ministry, will revisit the policy and continue sponsoring more students doing humanities or whether it can sustain the sponsoring the science students. People have even gone ahead to put the government to task to change the policy even during church congregations and on burials.

The Prime Minister, Prof. Apollo Nsibambi recently told a church congregation that he was going to take on the matter of the new government policy to the relevant authorities to see what the government can do.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 26, 2005