When we read about the newly industrialised countries of the Far East (the Four Tigers), we learn that they pay extra attention to education. This education is in the form of wide or universal literacy and high scientific as well as business education.
Their people acquire higher education not only in domestic institutions, but also abroad. Some of those who have taken degrees in home universities go to universities in Western Europe, North America and Japan. To a certain extent, we Africans do the same. But whereas such home and foreign education has enabled the Asians to achieve miraculous developments, it has had meagre effects on the development of many African countries. Besides education, the elite of a nation must acquire something else.
The pioneer missionary in Malawi Dr Robert Laws of Livingstonia used to quote a German maxim: what you want to see in the country first put it in the schools. What do we want to see in Malawi? Development of resources, patriotic and progressive citizens.
Higher institutions of learning called universities in Malawi have multiplied beyond expectations. So far so good. Are they giving instructions in subjects that are relevant to our needs? At the beginning of his career, the late president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania gave a speech before a gathering representing all African countries south of the Sahara.
He said: “It may be of scientific interest to find out why a fish that is grey in the water turns blue when brought onto the shore. But what has that to do with the problem that we are facing; ignorance, poverty and diseases. In other words, some of the learning our youth acquire in school will be of no use to them or the nation. It is a waste of time and resources.”
The first country to have multiplied its universities was the United States of America. This was in keeping with its democratic philosophy of according everyone an equal opportunity to acquire education and wealth.
Many of its universities fell short in quality as compared with those of Britain and continental Europe. Americans themselves knew this. They could not turn every university into an Oxford, Heidelberg or Sorbonne of America, so they selected a few of them for extra funding to achieve higher quality. Thus came about Ivy Leagues (highest quality) universities such as Harvard, Columbian, Chicago and Yale.
Out of a plethora of the universities that the country has let us pick a few, concentrate on teaching those subjects that can enable some of our young men and women to become inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. University admission should be strictly on merit. The quota system leads to mediocrity.
Britain had always had public schools with a mission to nurture men and women who were to man key positions in the civil services and the empire. The public schools in question were Eton, Harrow and Rughy, among others. Universities were Oxford and Cambridge. France has Sorbonne and now we hear of the Ecole Normale.
To these institutions, we should attract the best brains in the country and preferably visiting professors from the East and West to obviate the danger of inbreeding.
Apart from teaching substantive subjects such as science, mathematics, technology, business management and entrepreneurship, these should be taught character building and motivation. The reading of biographies should be compulsory and students taking science subjects should be required to read biographies of great scientists, including applied scientists. Those studying business management should read biographies of great industrialists such as Henry Ford, Toyoda, Siemen, Iacocca, Alfred Sloan, Jack Welch and Aliko Dangote.
Our libraries should be regularly refilled with the most recent publications, magazines and books from abroad. Research and development should be well funded Those who make discoveries or invention should be generously honoured. Though ours is a small country, we can attain international standards in education if we are determined. Small countries like Singapore, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Switzerland have excelled in international quizzes on science and mathematics. Is it not the small country Greece that educated and civilised Europe while Israel and Saudi Arabia produced supermen and world religions.
For too long, we have heard from other people that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and some like an Oxford economist have asserted that Malawi can never become a wealthy country. Why not? Almost all great investors were told by the omniscient that they were wasting effort trying to fly to the moon and so on.