MBALE – Cabinet on August 23, 2021, approved the proposed enhancement of pay for scientists in public service including teachers in secondary schools and training institutions.
According to the ICT and national guidance minister Dr Chris Baryomunsi, a cabinet meeting held then agreed to increase pay for health professionals, science teachers, tutors and lecturers in public universities as a strategic intervention to build a knowledge-based economy.
Although the economy is bleeding with soaring high prices of essential commodities across the country, the proposal suggested that the lowest-paid scientist will earn Shs4 million.
Mr Tom Maludye, a teacher of Chemistry and Biology at Bumulo secondary school like other teachers of science was awash with excitement and straight away started planning how he is going to spend the money.
Mr Maludye’s case speaks volume about what will happen when the enhancement of salary will be made for science teachers specifically, it will not translate into improved performance in science subjects but only cause an aggrieved lot of arts teachers (and increase pressure on government) and perhaps bring about some personal changes in life styles of the science teachers – they will improve their feeding and drinking routines.
Although the science teachers are yet to get this enhancement, this revelation has, however, generated a lot of debate in the public domain, especially among the teachers and mainly between those in humanities and those of science subjects.
It is obvious the Cabinet proposal-cum decision to enhance pay for scientists followed recent but also repeated comments by the President; that our scientists deserve better pay if we as a country are to match other countries which have made serious strides in general development and self-reliance due to their scientific innovations and inventions.
And whereas there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that wage stagnation and disparity are the country’s key economic challenge President Museveni still thinks that the salary enhancement for only scientists will help the country can do well in sciences.
True, our target is to motivate scientists and draw more students in taking science but what is not clear though, are the expectations or direct outcomes of the decision and implementation of the rather inequitable salary enhancement for civil servants.
Do we expect more motivated scientists after, and therefore improved performance in their duties or should we expect increased enrollment of students in science subjects and related courses?. But what is our problem, is it inadequate scientists or demotivated scientists, or both?
My grand mum rest [RIP] used to instruct us with a traditional Bugisu proverb that says, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and foolish build dams.” I think our government needs to draw lessons from this.
As a scholar, I know for sure that enhancement of pay as an aspect of employee motivation has quite a number of flaws and limitations and cannot therefore be relied on to deliver science performance in this country.
True, there is a growing concern, both nationally, that there are simply not enough scientists around to sustain the society of the future and we can’t wait, we must act now, in our schools, if we are to change anything.
But note must be made that we won’t persuade youngsters to pursue scientific careers (including teaching) if we don’t inspire them and give them a thorough grounding in the sciences at school.
It is also clear that Uganda like other Africa countries produces less science than it could because its home-grown innovations are not being nurtured by governments, the bottom-up initiatives are needed and we must use new technologies to empower those promoting science.
When I was in a primary in the mid-1980s, the schools then would take children to the gardens to do farming and hold science fairs-I saw children making boreholes from pawpaw stems, I saw wheel barrows made by students from wood, I saw jam made out of tomatoes etc all these inspired us to take on sciences.
Unfortunately, all these stopped when the NRM government came to power and liberalized the economy that saw a spring up of private schools only offering arts subjects.
Our government needs to understand that boosting science in Uganda does not require enhancement of salaries for the few scientists who are there but rather inspiration and attraction of more students to study sciences that must be recognised and rewarded in their academic careers.
It is important to know that science teachers have been earning the “science teachers’ allowances for some years now and has anyone evaluated whether they met their intended objectives or made any impact?
By enhancing scientists’ salaries is government sowing on a fertile ground or on a rock? And does it hope to reap the science fruits for this nation? Our government must learn that a school laboratory is supposed to be given a central and distinctive role in science education, and science educators suggest that there are rich benefits in learning from using laboratory activities.
And at this time, however, as an educator, I have begun to question seriously the effectiveness and the role of salary enhancement when there are many schools across the country that are lacking laboratories to enhance science learning.
Our dear president should have sought wisdom from other professionals across the country before implementing salary enhancement for scientists; my grand mum says in another proverb that –“Other people’s wisdom prevents the king from being called a fool,”
Many a science teacher I have talked to say hands-on laboratory science experiences are critical to the learning process across all areas of study, beginning with kindergarten and continuing through post-secondary education.
But across the country, I know of schools where students graduate to another class when they have only heard about a Bunsen burner but have never seen it because their teachers use stoves for the lucky ones while others use charcoal.
And yet research has shown that students who engage in well-designed laboratory experiences develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, as well as gain exposure to reactions, materials, and equipment in a lab setting.
I want to state that enhancing salaries for scientists in an atmosphere of inadequate scientific infrastructure creates barriers on the path of advancement in science for this country; the size of human resources and infrastructure and amount of investments will illustrate how science has been neglected.
For better government should have concentrated on stimulating and nurturing scientific education in schools and changing the way science is being taught in school not as dogma but as a systematic.
It is also important for our government to know that an essential prerequisite to a country’s science and technological progress is early recognition of a good education system devoid of merely excitement due to high salaries.
Please President know that sustained investments in hands-on experiences help inspire students to further their education and prepare them for high-technology careers by fostering skills sought by potential employers.
And I want to state without question, good teaching requires passion from the teacher without salary enhancement because passionate teachers will inspire a love of their subject in students the reverse is dangerous; a disinterested teacher or one who lacks knowledge or confidence in a subject will have a very negative impact on their students which will probably stay with them for life.
By enhancing salaries for scientists, our dear government is climbing the tree from the top, they should equip the institutions of science learning and research, build and equip laboratories in schools, build and equip modern school libraries with science text books because these constitute the minimum requirements of scientific infrastructure in Uganda and World over.
If we seek to increase performance in science subjects, have more motivated scientists or increase enrollment into the study area, the government would first consider investing in research into new and better teaching methods in schools and other education institutions, equip the laboratories with the required apparatus and models, recruit more scientists (many still remain unemployed yet there is need), provide equipment to medics in health facilities, encourage and fund science-related research and innovations et cetera.
David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer