The dilemma of promoting Science and technology in Uganda

November 3, 2020 by Moses M. Mwebaze

At the beginning of the year 2020, a local paper published a story that pointed to the collapse of the science dream resulting from the released poor O’Level science results. Exams are generally used as an indicator of the progress made in advancing knowledge and skills in a given period. Even then, Exams are not a perfect indicator of abilities. The country is still resolute with the idea of promoting science as one of the priority development agendas. This is a good initiative even when I am convinced that diversity of abilities supersedes.

Today, western museums are battling the idea of repatriating African artifacts placed in European museums. These artifacts have collected millions of Euros for museums and many scholars have qualified in studying these thousands of unique pieces of art. BBC recently featured a kid piano maestro at 6 years of age exposing the mastery of music. Uganda has produced international athletes we are all proud of. The point is that all abilities, whether found in science or arts can spur a nation to greatness if identified and developed aptly. Long ago, African education was hinged on the skills the parents excelled in. The blacksmith, creative artists, traditional doctor, poet, clothing maker, musician, and village administrators all educated their children in a vocation they practiced and understood. This learning strategy had both highlights and challenges but was not void of promoting what is obtainable within the society.

The leadership in Uganda has a conviction to promote science and technology which idea is applaudable. However, the conviction seems to emanate from the assumption that we do not have scientists because they are not motivated. For long, our society has appreciated studying a science-related subject,s and parents are fulfilled when their children graduate as a doctor, engineers, programmers, and pilots among others. We can also agree that there is an influx of students wanting to join science-related courses but notably, entry is to a larger extent determined by the “A”s one acquires in specific examined subjects and not abilities. The Uganda Science Education Policy dictates that science subjects are compulsory throughout lower secondary (O’Level) and government sponsorship is up to 70% tagged to sciences. Haven’t we done yet enough for science to produce something tangible?

Who are scientists? A definition by Indeed Career Guide which is corroborated with one from Science Council-UK (Royal Charter) defines a scientist as a professional who conducts and gathers research to further the knowledge in a particular area. Scientists may make hypotheses, test them through various means such as statistics and data, and formulate conclusions based on the evidence. There are several types of scientists and nearly every industry requires the knowledge and research performed by these professionals (Sic).

Concerning the definition, It is important at this point to understand the difference between scientists and science practitioners. If we have difficulty understanding the difference, then we are bound to make grave errors of interpretation and focus. Some civil society advocates have argued that if there is any science or industrialization Uganda needs to promote, it should be agriculture-related. They are right and possibly they are convinced that this is the area we understand and have control. Though, if you are a convert of diverse abilities you could proportionally disagree. How about if Uganda wishes to promote, organic chemistry, crypto-analysis, DNA research, electric car battery engineering, data science, medicine, and vaccine research? Do we have these scientists and why not profile them? By the way, data science a popular branch in the 21st century is built on the knowledge of humanities fussed in technology to spur social media giants to greatness.

How should science be promoted? So far, the salaries of scientists have been echoed to improve. Frankly, I am conflicted to understand what Uganda intends to promote. Nonetheless, salary improvement may not be a byproduct of science or scientist. However, scientists ought to have a fair payout and the best approach would be to define the minimum wage. The idea of selective promotional packages is typical politicking and will only bring about chaos. It is the promotional packages attracting a sizeable population to politics in parliament where the focus is the power and money in packages and not the functions of legislation.  

Scientists are by default researchers involved in studying and recommending new knowledge and methods of doing or understanding things. Research is the lifeline of scientists and facilitating research is the means of promoting science and scientists. In Africa, governments do not seem interested in promoting science and scientists, and evidently, we present nothing threatening on the market of research and development. Therefore, apart from ‘politics of pseudo peace’, Africa hardly features in the science category nominations for a Nobel Prize.

The problem is not necessarily the lack of scientists or funding for science but rather our priority list always looks politically full and that is why even good intentions lack honest support. Again the challenge is not what we do not know or have but rather what we are not doing to advance science.

How should science be promoted? The second line of focus to promote science is starting with young learners as a preparatory ground. Our forerunners, the ones advanced in research and innovation have programs dedicated to promoting and motivating science among children. Identifying and developing talented children (Not exams and grades) is critical to promoting science. Adopting programs such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in primary and secondary teaching and learning is the means of achieving the goal.  

In conclusion, persons gifted and empowered to take science subjects will always do so because they are attached and empowered and not because they are influenced by non-related causes. The law degree is today the catch for many students who are convinced they should study law and end up in parliament and not in court. Equally the present motivation for many children’s attraction to science is primarily the parent’s desire for their child to become someone valuable in society. This is common among all learners but the affluent kids with the potential to easily push their way through often have the upper hand in pursuing a science subject. They end up as qualifying candidates for scholarships. This is not because they present the best abilities to study a science subject but because they are facilitated well to pass the required exam with higher grades. We have this far promoted a misconstrued concept that predominantly presents the financially abled students though less attached or even attracted to pursuing scholarly science beyond graduation. When learners are attached to science but not empowered we lose them and end up with those empowered but not attached.    

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  1. Interesting article. It is unfortunate that the teachers teaching children at primary and secondary levels are teaching old material that is the same old content every year. The teachers are not providing new content that inspires or enhances research in children. Without nurturing children from the lower class into research a country can’t have healthy scientists.

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