Malawi, a nation at risk: The imperative for JB to act on Unima dons pay hike dispute

READING the 2000 report of the American President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education titled “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform”, one only gets inspired to look at the impact of the current payhike dispute in the University of Malawi (UNIMA) on Malawi’s education using special lens more or less similar to the ones used by the Reagan Commission.

Like observed the Reagan Commission on American education, this author, having personally suffered the excruciating 8 or so months indefinite holiday thanks to the academic freedom saga, and having directly witnessed the unreported impact the sage had on the students, the education, and the nation at large, asserts that the Malawi university education is failing.

Drawing examples from the academic freedom saga, this author unrepentantly argues that the current payhike dispute, just like the academic freedom saga, needs to be solved as immediately as now otherwise it will only traumatize students, disturb the academic calendar, plunge the nation into a crisis, and ultimately, steal academic excellence.

It is well documented in the media that, undeniably, the academic freedom saga pushed many a student to the never-returning journey of psychological instability as a result of having their destinies shrouded in uncertainties and empty delays all due to the self-serving, mostly misleading political maneuverings.

Education researchers working on learning teaching methodologies have over the years emphasized the need to pay attention both to the learning environment and the learners’ psychological state. Here, they argue that a learner’s state of mind is equally important to ones meaningful learning. And one only wonders here if the academic freedom traumatized students had any meaningful learning. That’s why it is or will be less news to hear of record-high failures in the constituent colleges concerned.

Academic calendar? This might have been useful; but it is doubtful it is useful or ever be. It is now a norm that following academic calendars in public universities is less important than simply following the events that occur in theses universities. That is, events dictate academic calendars in public universities. Consequently, it now takes a non-repeating student 5 or more years to finish a 4 year course, reaching 10 years for those who withdraw and/or repeat to finish a 4 years programme.

Arguably, the Unima payhike dispute is the biggest of all the crises the Joyce Banda administration is facing. And it will be if not soberly and immediately solved.

You would be in for a big surprise if you had expected, like many of us, that the Joyce Banda administration would treat the historic(al) academic freedom impasse as a living reminder of the need for no more strikes lasting as far as a month. This is not the case: and perhaps it will never be.

The Joyce Banda government has, just like the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) before it, left the Unima payhike dispute to solve itself if the unwillingness and the 113-is-unthinkable attitude characterizing it on the dispute is anything to go by.

Sadly, the dispute has already psychologically tortured students at the Malawi Polytechnic, and had probably irrevocably disturbed the academic calendar there. And of course, the Unima pay increment dispute is slowly and surely developing into a fully-fledged national tsunami with potential untold consequences, most so politically; more so educationally and economically.

Most importantly, the Unima pay dispute will surely devour into the academic excellence. To this end, the author observes, as did the Reagan Commission, that the result of this continuing pay dispute will be eroding the meager academic excellence gains so far registered since the dispute will force both students and lecturers into an academic comatose thereby bringing in a rising avalanche of mediocrity that will surely threaten the future of the students in particular, and the nation in general.

The above being one of the reasons why governments fall. Above being the unpalatable truth to the current administration and those to come, it is only hoped that the current leadership will give the Unima pay increment dispute all the necessary attention it deserves otherwise who, this author asks, “who would pat the current leadership on the back having failed to timely act on the Unima payhike dispute?”.

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