On Friday, November 18, 2016, President Peter Mutharika was burying his DPP secretary general Eckelen Kudontoni. The president is still in a ‘mourning mood’, no doubt about that.
In his eulogy at the funeral in Salima, APM could not hide his sadness following the passing of the man he described as a “gifted orator”. The president immediately announced that in memory of the late politician, he had decided to set up the ‘Eckelen Kudontoni Fellowship’ intended for exceptional university students “who would be attached to the DPP” on research-related assignments. Quite ‘progressive’, isn’t it? May the soul of Hon. Kudontoni rest in peace.
But as our Lord Jesus Christ once said, “Let the dead bury their dead”. Despite being in mourning mood, wewill not forget to attend to some of the most pressing challenges of our times and work out workable solutions to these challenges. Your Excellency, your recent position on the problems facing our public universities, where you are seen to openly run away from responsibility, being a case in point, is dangerously unfortunate.
It is true, Mr. President, that as Chancellor of all public universities in Malawi, your role is more ceremonial than substantive. But I dare say that in the current scenario, where the situation in our universities has become extremely dire, the president is missing the point about his expected role in addressing the various operational and administrative bottlenecks that our universities are currently facing.
Instead of burying his head in the sand, the Chancellor, ceremonial or not, must, as a matter of urgency, be engaging all education stakeholders to explore means for redressal of students and university staff grievances on a sustainable basis.
Grievances on academic and non-academic matters, including high fees and politicization of university education, are matters that must be given adequate attention by the president because failure to do so can result in long lasting negative repercussions on this generation and generations to come.
Education is a right and not a privilege. President Mutharika, a professor at law, should be well aware that education is the basis of everything for any nation.
Various research has proved that countries that have educated their citizenry are vastly developed. Countries that have long been the wealthiest in the world reached, or have maintained, that status by having universal pre-college education, along with a strong commitment to higher education.
There is a case study of Japan that we ought to seriously learn from. Japan, which consists of a handful of densely-populated islands, possesses few natural resourcesand came out of the Second World War with its industrial base all but destroyed. Even so, the Japanese people committed themselves to building a first-class education system.
The result was decades of impressive economic growth, during which Japan became an economic power and the world’s second-largest economy until recently when Japan was surpassed by China.
Other countries have wisely followed Japan’s lead. Taiwan, for example, is another resource-poor nation that has become an economic powerhouse all because of education, science and technology. Indeed, a Taiwanese diplomat recently wrote that, “Taiwan’s economic achievement is based on education. We believe that education is the bedrock of a nation’s competitiveness.”
In our desperate quest in Malawi to graduate into a middle class nation, we cannot afford to continuously shy away from creating a system of high-quality education.
Malawi’s economy is right on its knees. The nation is grappling with economic collapse. We must find a way out this economic mess both on short and long term basis. Mr. President, education is, undeniably, one of the surest ways to attaining sustainable social and economic development and stability.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Goal 4 calls on governments to“Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.
Goal 4 provides that obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Under this goal, governments, by 2030, must “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.” From the foregoing, education is all encompassing in its influence on human and national development. That’s a fact.
Therefore, it is surprising to hear a professor at law, let alone a Head of State and University Chancellor, to speak and act recklessly on matters of education.
The president cannot hide behind the “principle of good governance” to avoid his moral and constitutional duty and responsibility to assert his influence on the education system in Malawi. That’s pure scapegoating.
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“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”- Kofi Annan