Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Two Tambala’s thoughts Quota system and elections for Leader of Opposition

Let me start by apologizing to readers and followers of this blog for the long period of silence. I could not believe it myself to find that my last post was in August – three months back. I have no strong reasons to offer for this silence and can only apologize.

Now to my two topics, starting with the introduction of quota system for University selection.

I must say I agree with President Mutharika on one aspect of this issue: the imbalance in University selection needs to be addressed to malke it more representative. However, I do not agree that the quota system is the way to addressing the root causes of the imbalance.

The solution, in my humble view, rests in the answer to question: why do students in one particular region (the north) fare better in our national exams than those from the other two (and more populous regions)? The fact that our brothers and sisters from the northern region have time and again demonstrated an ability to perform well in national exams is something worth celebrating. To accuse them of cheating – as the President implied in his recent address when he argued that University Lecturers from the north leak exams to northern-students – is not only cheap of the President, but is also demeaning and contemptuous to the professionalism of our esteemed Lecturers from the north – whose dedication and intellect I can personally vouch for any time, any day.

We should look at the strong performance of the students from the northern region as an opportunity, one that we should replicate in the other two regions. In my view, students from the central and southern regions are no less intelligent than those from the north. The question to be addressed by any policy therefore has to be to work towards bringing out this intellect from central and southern students to enable them to stand up on their own with their northern counterparts. The quota system, in my view, merely addresses the superficial aspect of the imbalance, not the root causes.

I do not have solutions to the problem, which needs some deeper research. But I dare say among the issues to be considered are the student-pupil teacher ratios. It is a known fact that there is more congestion in schools in the more populous central and southern districts, with some statistics suggesting that there are twice as many students for every teacher in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. There are also more students sharing a classroom in the central and southern regions than there are in the north. Clearly, these factors contribute to undermining performance of students from the two regions in national exams. A real solution to addressing the imbalance in University selection therefore needs to address these underlying issues - by improving the student-teacher ratio, increasing the number of classroom space and generally making the education system more conducive than is currently the case. Others might argue there is also a need to change the attitude towards education in the central and southern regions, but I am no expert on that.

Otherwise, to the extent that quota system does not address the underlying problems, I would say it is no solution at all.

On elections for Leader of Opposition

I must say I am very saddened to see the turn of events and the direction that our politics is taking. While many celebrated the DPP's landslide victory in the last elections, there were some of us that feared the consequences of such an absolute majority on our young democracy.

There is simply no way I can agree to the view that the ruling party should have a say on who should be the Leader of Opposition. It is a joke and a mockery to our democracy that a Parliament that some had argued had the best brains on the land has chosen to go down this path. The government side should have no say on who should lead those opposing it, much in the same way as the opposition currently has no say on who should be the leader of the government side in the National Assembly.

The recent changes that have allowed the government to have a crucial say in the choice of the Leader of Opposition demeans the value of that office, as the holder now becomes beholden to government and has to answer to them to keep his/her seat. For a government that already has a strong majority in numbers, they could have demonstrated some maturity by keeping out of the infighting among the opposition.

For those who argue that this move serves to teach MCP strongman, John Tembo a lesson – I would say you miss the point. Laws/ rules should not be designed to target a particular individual. They are meant to be timeless. This was the reason some of us strongly objected to the efforts to remove the presidential term limits in 2001/2002. The argument by the UDF at the time that Muluzi was a good leader and a performer (????) was never enough to justify changing a law that applies to all future presidents of the country.

Removing Tembo from the position of the Leader of opposition should have been an internal MCP matter. Those MCP MPs/members not happy with Tembo's leadership should have taken their battle to a party convention. Otherwise, in my view, despite the validity of their protestations about lack of democracy in their party, they are no better than the man they accuse by choosing to take a non-democratic route themselves. Those who celebrate that Tembo's removal is good for democracy, I would: what democracy? The people that have orchestrated Tembo's removal are not democrats themselves. I personally would rather live with people that are democratically elected, even if their democratic credentials are questionable than applaud the removal of a democratically elected leader by non-democrats.

It is a sad day for democracy in Malawi and I for one, am not celebrating.


Acacia said...

thanks for drawing attention to this strange, irregular and illogical election of the leader of the opposition.
i understand matters relating to the election procedure were still being deliberated in court, so parliament were in contempt of court by going ahead...
signs of an arrogant ruling party, or an immature democracy?

M Kasamale said...

My 2cents on the Quota system.
The issue seems to perpetually return to the question of why do students from the North do better than those in the south?...and by extension the other more touchy issue of over-representation in education institutions and industry.

I've also observed that education and its attainment is drilled into a child's head from an early age, insistent that this is the only way to achieve. If you trace the spending habits of the average lower to middle income family between the north and south, it becomes obvious why this debate need not be so touchy. While your average family in the south will match education expenditure up to graduation from secondary school, thereafter northern families spend more of gross income over a lifetime on education than does the equivalent southern family.
The adage that to invest in your own and your child's education always reaps benefits ring true and always will. What I worry about is the recent development of a train of thought suggesting that one 'peoples' are better than another simply because one passes exams more than others. In such a religious country it has, in my observation become too easy to anoint divine destiny to aspects of human nature that with a slight change in behavior, expenditure or policy render such beliefs mute. The educational discrepancy may last forever who knows (but nothing ever does, which makes this issue deeply & only political in nature), but what should lay at the base of the argument or policy implementation should be about the long-term social and moral consequences of having an education system over-represented and run by a minority. Arguing for a system which; by extension, favors its own over everybody else is inherently suspicious as it commits political and economic resources to maintain the status quo. I need not suggest the ludicrous idea that issues of superiority ever rear that ugly head but it is not a stone’s throw away from a warped, class and regional nightmare. This would, and already has bred people who feel and think so differently than the majority of their countrymen and women that beginning to feel 'different' becomes more calcified than I or anyone in support of the Quota system would think is healthy for social cohesion...What worries me is not that an educated mind experiences and observes the world in a wholly different state of mind, it is that with education is thought to follow material and economic wealth which have always fertilized manifested expressions of superiority, as we in the South see every day. With so little development in the north my reading of the issue suggests the emergence of some kind of longing expressed, in this case in 'Education'.

Complicated issue in need of much more debate.

Anonymous said...

Let us think long term what is the benefit of having a "more" or should I say a proportional number of people from the central and south region attaining degrees...will it somehow translate into for example long term economic or social benefit for their areas in which they originate from or will it just mean more Phiris and less Gondwes with better paid this significant, does this matter? 20 years from now what will this divisive system actually have attained? What are the long term practical implications?

Acacia said...

glad to see you nailing your colours to the mast mwai.
thats an interesting path you're walking, from feeling different... to social fragmentation. you may be stopped in your tracks by a million obama quotes!!
but i'm loving this question about whats behind the competition for education... indeed it is not an ends in itself. nicely explored muza, so has your tertiary education benefited the region you were born in?

Alick Mjuma Nyasulu said...

very sober comments Dulani!! Keep it up

Boni Dulani said...

Jess: The election of leader of opposition smacks both of an arrogant ruling party (or ruling clique) and an immature democracy. The DPP are clearly saying we can do it and so we will do it and forget about the courts. A more mature democracy would have mechanisms in place to address such blatant disregard for the rule of law.
Btwn: who really makes decisions for the DPP- better still, who is the DPP?

Boni Dulani said...

Muza: Interesting question. I don't think the quota system makes any long term difference in terms of which region/district develops the most. after all, people from all the three regions are contributing to the betterment of Malawi in their own way. Indeed, I would even speculate that the 'development' we see in the center and south has received a 'disproportional' input from our brothers and sisters from the north.

Anonymous said...

Dulani, your argument on the qouta in selection of students for university space is very logical. We really need to adress the root cause and not otherwise. However, the imbalance of teacher puple ratio in the regions could be one of those symtoms.My take is we need to forget the mentality of yestarday where teachers were posted to thier district of origin( was it to ensure that we have equatable number of teachers in the country). We need to understand that if we say there are more learned people in the north, it means we should also be saying that indeed we have a good quality of teachers who are also in large numbers in the same region. Those who panished northern teachers by senting them back to thier home did not help matters.Their effort was probably similar to quota. Sadly they did not see that these were the same people who could have improved education in these other regions. May be we could have not been talking of the quota today. I pray that we should stop the regionalistic methality.