Not just education but quality education

Category: Commentary
Published on Tuesday, 03 March 2009 20:21
Written by Zecharia Manyok Biar, The New Sudan Vision (NSV), www.newsudanvision.com
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Zecharia Manyok Biar is a regular contributor to NSV
Zecharia Manyok Biar is a regular contributor to New Sudan Vision
Last year I wrote an article about the importance of education in South Sudan and I promised that I was going to write the second part of the article, but I could not do it quickly because I was very busy and new issues kept coming up, pushing old issues on the back seat of my mind. Now since Dr. John Akech has revived the topic in his article “Why the university education still excites Sudanese?”, published by Sudan Tribune on February 14, 2009, in which he argued about the importance of education, I can now write my long awaited article about the importance of quality education in South Sudan. Dr. Akech has actually covered a lot of the things that I was about to mention in my article. I will just contribute to his ideas.

 

When I was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with Education at Kampala International University (KIU) in Kampala, Uganda, my concern was the declining standard of education in East Africa. Makerere University used to be one of the leading universities in Africa, but it lost its quality because of overcrowding. In my Literature class, I measured in Literature and English Language, we used to talk about how weird it was for people who did degrees in Literature at our time and could not write even a single book. We had discovered that education in Africa had become examination based, which forced students to cram class materials rather than learning from the materials.

In 2004, my friend Muhindo from Democratic Republic of Congo (who was a computer major) and I founded what we initially call “Philosophical Discussion Club,” later renamed as “Renaissance Alliance of African University Students Outlook Philosophical Discussion Club” (RAAUS Outlook Philosophical Discussion Club). We founded that club in oder to let students and their professors look into difficult questions about life generally, including political and religious questions. We used to invite renowned professors from all over Uganda (after the club had grown), especially if we had access to them. One time, we invited the then Director of Admission at KIU because he was a very controversial professor of Social Work and Social Administration at KIU. We asked him questions about the declining quality of education in Uganda. I put it to him that the reason for the declining of the quality of education in Uganda was because schools paid attention on performances in examinations more than helping students understand learning contents. He replied by saying that education had failed to find the alternative of motivating students to study. Therefore, examinations were the only tools schools had in their possessions to force students into reading.

When I came to the United States, where the universities are leading in the world, for my graduate studies, I found out that schools here in the USA also put emphasis on examinations and performances. This means that African universities are not different from Western Universities when it comes to examinations. I was forced to ask different question: What is wrong with our educational system then?

When you ask such a question in Africa, some people brush it aside by saying that the grading of universities in the world is bias because it is done by Westerners who put their universities on top so that they can attract students all over the world to their universities. There is reality to this argument, but this reality might cover forty percent only. Sixty percent would remain clear that universities in the West are better than universities in Africa. Of course, most of universities here in the West are centuries older than most of our universities in Africa. But this is not good excuse. We have very old universities like the University of Karaouine in Morocco that Dr. Akech mentioned in his article, but they are not leading. The point that might not be disputed is that most of the leading universities here in the West are very wealthy. Harvard, which was established on September 8, 1636, for example, now has 28.8 billion US Dollars. But how do these universities get their money? This is where you cannot deny the power of competition among the universities here in the West. The competition that attracts students is not based on the name of the university only; it is based on the effectiveness of the products of the university in real life situation. What matters is what one does, not what kind of degree one has.

Dr. Akech mentioned the important point in his article about inadequate allocation of funds to universities in Africa by African governments. When the university lacks enough funds, it becomes a lecture-based institution rather than a research-based institution, which lowers the standard of the institution.

However, the leading universities in the West are private universities. Harvard and Yale were founded by Puritan. In fact, Rev. John Harvard who founded Harvard University used his personal library as the library of the college which was then called “New College.” Now the library of Harvard University is the second largest after the Library of Congress in the USA. Columbia University was established by the Church of England. Princeton University belongs to Presbyterian Church. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University were founded by individuals. These individuals are William Barton Rogers for MIT and Leland Stanford for Stanford University. These are the leading universities in the world and they are all private universities. How do they get their funding for their research? The government might contribute, but not too much. This means that there is no excuse for not making our universities research-based institutions because research is what universities are meant to do.

Here in America, a university may lose it license if it has nothing to contribute to a community around it. A university may also lose it license if it has nothing to contribute to academic world. That means that professors from a university must publish something every year in order for them to remain teachers in the university. This means that it does not matter whether the research is funded or not, one must do it. Major researches are funded by either the university or the government. First of all, the university must demonstrate its ability to do quality research in order to qualify for government funding or for philanthropists’ money. This means that a university does not have to wait to get money in order to do a research. The university has to do a research in order to get money.

Students at the university must contribute to the community around them in many ways. They should be given community based assignment, as it is here in the West, so that they discover community problems and how they are or should be solved. This is where performance-based education becomes useful for both the community and students. Getting an “A” means a lot of work on the side of students here in the USA. Cramming of materials does not help much. Practice is combined with a lot of readings. There is no excuse that books that professors want students to read cannot be found in the library. You must find them and read them at specified time. Failure to meet due dates means failure to graduate from the university.

Graduate students get involved in need assessment, program evaluation and many other community based activities and research here in the USA. This is the way that universities contribute to communities around them here in the United States and other Western countries.

In Africa, students go to class to listen to a lecturer who just preaches because classes are too big for discussion. Then students come out and read very little. When examination period comes, students cram class materials to pass their examinations. When they graduate and get into a real life situation, the theories that they learned from the university do not connect with the world of work. Therefore, students become less effective in the field for many years before they learn how to do the job better. This is the reason why our universities in Africa can barely make it to top universities in the world. What many people care about in the world of work is what university graduates do in the field, not how smart they were in class. Smartness that does not connect to real life situation cannot contribute to the effectiveness of a company or government departments. So nobody needs it.

There is real concern for declining of the standard of education in South Sudan because the University of Juba that used to be among the top 100 universities in Africa has now disappeared from the list. If nothing is done about the quality of education in South Sudan, then we are soon going to have government offices as well as businesses full of graduates who do not know how to solve problems. That will be the collapse of our system. The ministry of education has a good chance to make our educational system one of the best in Africa because the system is fresh and can easily be manipulated. What the ministry needs to have are excellent planners who can establish the unchangeable quality system of education. It is better to have few graduates who know how to solve problems in real life situation than to have millions of graduates who can let the system collapse in their own eyes. The ministry of education must pay attention to what university graduates and their professors can contribute to our communities more than paying attention to class performances that do not connect to real life situations. Above all, university professors and graduate students must know that research is a must for them, not a choice.

The writer of this article is a Graduate Student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.