Science and technology is key for sustainable development [Daily Monitor, The (Uganda)]
(Daily Monitor, The (Uganda) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The African Development Bank recently inked a $103million (about Shs258 billion) loan to Uganda to support higher education, science and technology (Hest). With it, government seeks to bolster capacity in science and technology innovation at tertiary level in an effort to spur industrialisation. Accordingly, improvements will target specific developments in six public universities and two degree-awarding tertiary institutions. Collectively, the advances aim to enhance equitable access, quality and enable higher education serve the economy's needs.
The five-year intervention grew out of the recognition that Uganda's investment in science, technology and innovation had been outpaced by other economies in East Africa. Trends indicate that out of more than 30,000 students who graduate annually from university, only less than 30 per cent have pursued science and technology oriented studies. For a country slouching towards an industrialised economy by 2025, this capacity enervates the impetus for transformation within the remaining time frame. As we lament about low enrolment rates to science programmes at universities, conditions at pre-university warrant a critical look.
A 2012 Uganda National Council for Science and Technology study which assessed quality of science education in Uganda found that performance in sciences has consistently been very poor at different levels. Statistics from Uneb, the study noted, reveal that most pupils were clustered around the 'pass' grade between 2005-2009.
At O-Level, majority of students who took exams between 2005-2008 reaped failures in core sciences with chemistry and physics being worst performed. Overall, the study found that students were mainly failing lab-based subjects of biology, chemistry and physics.
This, the study attributed to poor science infrastructure in schools and the largely theoretical teaching and learning methods, among others. Enrolments in sciences at upper secondary were reported at only about 20 per of the total enrollment and this was blamed on high failure rates in sciences at O-Level.
Reports indicate that in 2009, 50 per cent of students in urban schools passed sciences while 80 per cent of their rural counterparts had low grades or failed sciences altogether. Schools in rural areas reportedly had inadequate science teaching capacity, equipment and exposure, with some students interacting with laboratory glassware for the first time during national examinations.
In Eastern Uganda, reports go on to show that Amolatar District did not have any student studying sciences. From Amuria, no student was admitted to university to study sciences. In Northern Uganda, Pader had no single science candidate. In Karamoja, Kaabong District hardly had a student for sciences or Arts. Kotido had no student in sciences just like Abim and Nakapiripirit.
The introduction of ICT as an A-Level subject recently hit a brutal reality when the pioneer candidates could not take their exams due to lack of equipment punctuated by lack of power, computers and teachers in most schools. Besides classrooms and sanitary facilities, school census projected a deficiency of over 500 libraries and 400 multi-purpose science rooms over the 2008-2018 decade. Visibly, the environment at lower schooling is harshly uneven for learners to nurture ambitions of becoming scientists.
At Makerere and Kyambogo, engineering students are tutored to construct roads, wire electricity, erect telecommunication masts. The future doctors at Mbarara identify with specimen to understand how the human body works.
Budding crop and animal breeders investigate high yielding maize, soya varieties and healthier breeds of chicken at Busitema. University professors, however, are unable to groom engineers, doctors, architects, agriculturalists if secondary school graduates are ill-prepared to advance their knowledge in those fields.
Uplifting higher level science and technology capacity to promote innovation rhymes with the country's industrialisation drumbeat. Basic schooling, however, is the starting point, for nurturing creativity, the foundation of innovation.
Appropriate instructional capacity, living libraries, functional laboratories make a louder case for an enabling basic education, not in lieu of strengthening Hest but as its strategic complement. Mr Kaheru is a commentator on national and regional development issues. email@example.com
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