Uganda’s education is the death point of imaginative minds

The writer, Opwonya Nokrach

By Opwonya Nokrach

The deficiency in the education sector in Africa is not students reading wrong SUBJECTS at university. The problem in the education sector in Africa is failure of the education sector to inculcate an INNOVATIVE MIND – set in learners as early as possible in their lives.

The failure is therefore in Primary School not University.

An innovative mind – set is nurtured in Primary Schools and Secondary Schools by provoking questions in the minds of the learners. The most complex of these questions will then require the learner to go all the way to university to find answers to them.

Answers to simpler questions that the learner has, will be found without having to go to university.

The bottom line is that ideally, a learner goes to university to find answers to questions that exist in their heads already. In this way learners are driven to find solutions needed to IMPROVE existing solutions in their environments and find new solutions where non – exists.

The key here is that IMPROVEMENT is what drives DEVELOPMENT. Instead of using the word ‘‘Development’’ like parrots we should instead be using the word Improvement i.e. the grass thatched hut needs improvement; farming methods need improvement; the environment in our towns need improvement; garbage collection needs improvement; medical services need improvement; rural water supply needs improvement and solar  power generation needs improvement etc.

Improving the above does not necessarily require one to go to University or to study sciences at University level. Andyet these improvements automatically bring about “Development”.

The education system in Africa actively kills innovation in Primary School. In Uganda pupils in primary five or six are discouraged from “playing” and instead forced to start studying for their primary leaving exams.

Discouraging of “playing” is the death point of the innovative mind of the African child. The child who was imaginatively building “wire cars” or “mutoka kabir” is forced to abandon that mind – set and the nascent questions in his mind about the automotive industry, the internal combustion engine, motor vehicle suspensions, etc and instead is tuned to a system intended to produce “Karani” for the civil service and for a life searching for jobs that don’t exist.

In Sweden where I live, children never stop playing. The result is that adults have their garages full of projects. People are building vintage cars, boats, even submarines in their garages.

These garage projects have of course been made famous by some world class companies like Microsoft by Bill Gates and his friends and Apple Computers by Steve Jobs and friends, all reportedly started in garages and not by University graduates.

In Sweden, Koenigsegg, the super car manufacturer was founded, and is run by its CEO Christian von Koenigsegg who only went to High School but, has several patents on subsystems in his cars in his own names. This is remarkable in that the vast majority of engineers, even the most educated, go through their entire careers without any patents to their names.

Von Koenigsegg just never let go of his childhood dream and continued playing, his toys just got bigger and bigger.

When I joined engineering school in Sweden, I was shocked during our initial solid mechanics classes to discover that many of my fellow students already knew what they wanted to learn. They had already experience metal elongation (töjning) i.e a grade of deformation and shearing (skjuvning) i.e deformation in solid materials without a change in volume.

My young colleagues had already encountered these phenomena while playing and toying with their mopeds, small motorcycles. They had already experienced shearing and elongation in bolts and screws while playing and were now at University ready to know how to calculate the limits and how to dimension bolts and screws to avoid or enable elongation and shearing.

They had the questions, they were at university to get the answers. This made engineering school much easier for my young fellow students than it was for me who was encountering these phenomena for the first time. I am sure this gave them a better shot at becoming better engineers than me who was looking for both the questions and the answers.

So how do we increase the level of innovation in Acoli society?

That should be the question that keeps us awake at night and not “how to bring development”, or Sugar factories, or science subjects.

If we had a trusted institution that caters for Acoli interests only, one of its departments could encourage Acoli to make this change in attitude without the need to involve the Uganda ministry of education and turn Acoli society into a very competitive and innovative society.

The Indian community in Uganda is not involved in the cut – throat exams oriented education system in Uganda and their children are doing fine.

It is time to withdraw Acoli children from that worthless education system by premiering that which matters , INNOVATION.

Opwonya Nokrach is a member of the Acoli Community resident in Sweden. The views expressed are his own and were triggered by a recent report in the online newspaper, Oyengyeng, in which president Museveni was quoted as calling for the teaching of more science courses at Gulu University.