Science-Arts debate is diversionary let’s put logic back to all disciplines

Speaking at Ndejje University last month, President Museveni reportedly said when one asks Arts graduates what problems they solve, they reply that they only think. Actually, the real problem, which cuts across both the Arts and the Science disciplines, isn’t that students and graduates merely think, but that they merely cram.

It is unfortunate that the President, while making a case for practical skills, appeared to belittle the relevance of thinking when, in fact, experience indicates that the deficiency of logic in our country has largely contributed to the deficiency of skills.

The budgetary figures recently published in the media indicate that government is devoting huge chunks of taxpayers’ money to the skills development sub-sectors in the Ministry of Education. The intention is understandable and laudable.

But, although I am no prophet of doom, I see programmes such as the Business, Technical, Vocational Education Training (BTVET) strategic plan achieving little or nothing in the way of skills development due to corruption and the deficiency or neglect of logic amongst the bureaucrats charged with planning and implementation. If there was more exercise of logic in government departments, Uganda would already be a middle class country.

The most important aantage that first world countries have over African countries isn’t that they have more skilled people, but that they have more thinkers, and a long tradition of employing intellectual rigor in the approach to solutions. President Museveni castigated the thinking that’s not geared towards solutions, but the more glaring problem in our country is that of supposed solutions that have no foundation in logic and intellectual rigor.

In the BTVET strategic plan, or Skilling Uganda, it’s stated that the low pass rates in BTVET examinations are an indicator of the current poor quality of skills provision, which is attributed to the dearth of workshops in institutions.

But the framers of the plan seem not to have considered the results released by Uneb and UBTEB, researches on which have unequivocally indicated that even if 10 workshops were to be built in every institution, there wouldn’t be appreciable improvement in pass-rates, since the subjects that are failed are Mathematics, Mechanics, etc. Almost every candidate, according to the research on results, passes the practice-intensive course units, such as real-life projects.

Whereas it is important that government invests more in workshops, the bigger challenges in BTVET seem to be that of imparting foundational principles to learners, and that of understanding why the absence of workshops isn’t reflected in results from national assessments.

And if the foundational principles can’t be imparted, then the BTVET graduates are not really different from the practitioners in the world of work that wholly learned on job, and BTVET is, therefore, a waste of taxpayers’ money. In the rapidly changing world, innovation is extremely important, but when there is no appreciation of foundational principles, there can be no serious innovation.

If the problem of mathematics education in technical institutions isn’t addressed, we may increasingly have technicians that have practical skills but no logic, in other words, that are not significantly different from the machines they operate.

Such graduates, being at the same intellectual level as the machines they operate, cannot develop more efficient machines.

The BTVET strategic plan, while silent on performance in the foundational subjects, sets the target of 90 per cent pass-rates.

It prescribes solutions and sets targets before making a thorough diagnosis of the problem. And that, sadly, is a snapshot of how government departments generally work.

The Arts-Sciences debate is diversionary we should be discussing how to put logic back into education across the disciplines. If we focus on that, we will soon realise that the disciplines are interdependent, and the most eminent scientists in history, such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, had a deep sense of humanities.

Mr Twinamatsiko is a civil engineer and novelist.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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