From time to time young men and women call upon me to collect information for their MA or PhD theses and dissertations. They impress me with their intelligence and whenever they depart, I keep on asking myself if there are such clever members of the younger generation, why is Malawi at the bottom of the development ladder?
There are many reasons, not just one. I will leave out either reasons and dwell on the type and quality of education that we need.
Science subjects are justly given prominence in our school curriculum. They are believed to be the foundation of economic prominence and social development. Indeed, in the present age with kaleidoscopic technological changes, economic development and survival is next to impossible without the background of science subjects.
That said, they are not observant and realistic those who ignore the role of subjects which go by the name of humanities such as language, history, philosophy, government and polices, also social science subjects such as economics, sociology and psychology.
Lately, I have come across an American book titled Against Mediocrity, subtitled Humanities in American Schools. Here and there, I have come across ideas worth borrowing in as much as a nation grows in wisdom and technology through willingness to borrow from others.
The following are some of the axioms that deserve attention;
1. In every society, elites have always understood that to be master of one’s own affairs and those of others require rigorous education in the humanities.
2. Well taught, well learned, the humanities are the strongest democratisation force that formal education can offer.
3. The phrase ‘social studies’ should be banished from the school curriculum. What should be taught is history and this must consist fundamentally of the history of the United States, history of western civilisation and parallel histories of non western civilisation.
4. Should teachers be paid more? Of course, but not if their occupation remains unchanged. More generous salaries come hand in hand with heightened professionalism.
5. If policymakers could do only one thing to improve a school they would be well advised to hire the best principal they could lay their hands on to direct that school and then give him sweeping authority.
6. A good teacher must be a serious student of his own subject. A good teacher keeps on educating himself so as to educate others.
We can tell whether someone is tall or short if he stands among several other people; we can tell whether our national football team is strong or weak after it has played against other teams.
There is no disputing that in mass literacy and education standards, Malawi lags behind most of the countries which formerly it led. If we are to improve ourselves, we must adopt methods used by other nations to nurture elite. The British set up public schools such as Eton and Harrow in which they educated men who are to man the public services both at home and the empire. In France, soon after World War II, government established the world famous Ecola Normale in which exceptionally bright students are trained for leadership in the civil service, business and politics.
Universal education there must be, but we do not have enough resources to make every secondary school, every university top notch. We need institutions in which future inventors and innovators should be nurtured. They should be imbued with ambition by having access to libraries containing biographies of great achievers, thinkers as well as books which preach the language of success. People without ambition have never contributed to civilisation.
At the moment, many students came out of school with only one aim to secure a well paying job. We need those who can say I must add to what has been invented or discovered. I must be my country’s Alexander Flemings, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Tolstoy and Heredotus.
There are people who think doctorate degrees earned through these are superior to honorary one. Not always. A degree by thesis tell us what someone is capable of doing but if after obtaining a PhD he contributes nothing original such as invention, innovation, a classic book, his PhD is inferior to the one who is given an honorary degree because of his performance in the university of hard knocks. It is how you make use of the knowledge you that will determine whether one day you will be person that the nation will remember or not.