Education is an important cog in the machinery of a nation’s citizenry, regardless of gender and social status, by virtue of being a human right.
In the reality of human development, some have benefitted more from education on account of their gender or social status. Affirmative action was introduced to adjust for such advantages.
In the case of Uganda, women were allocated 1.5 extra points so that more could enrol at a university in 1990. The extra points have allowed higher number of women to enroll in universities, but the question needs to be asked if the allocation of these points is fair.
It can be argued that it has also prevented the enrolment of potentially deserving male candidates from joining university.
Many men who sit for the same exams as women are unable to reach the required enrolment cut-off to enrol for their desired courses because they score 1.5 points less than some of their female counterparts.
Before the introduction of this noble cause, many women competed on equal terms with men and they went far in their careers without favours, and this was at a time when fewer women were going to school than today.
What is the relevance of these extra points when the quality of the education system has declined and the authorities place an emphasis on quantity and not quality.
Is it all about politics of winning votes or altruism? It would be interesting to know the general position of civil society, which is supposed to advocate for fairness and improvement in the quality of life.
In my view, the 1.5 extra points for women discriminates against both men and women. Yes, I included women in this assertion.
With current trends, enrolling at a good university is just as much a function of studying at a “good” school, which in turn can be determined by one’s economic status, privilege or geography, including region of origin (often times unfortunately, these parameters are part of the same condition and can be considered interchangeably): economic status if they have money; geography depending on the area one resides or hails from.
Women who study in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts have an advantage over men and women who study in the remaining 109 districts.
Why? Because the schools in the former are better equipped, have better teachers, and also train students to pass exams, which is not the case in the latter category.
So do women who study in poorly equipped schools benefit from these 1.5 extra points? Not really, if at all.
Can men who go to these poorly equipped schools compete with women who go to well equipped schools? Again, not really, if at all. It would appear that these 1.5 extra points have not addressed disadvantaged people at all.
The education authorities need to revisit this policy. It may not be the politically correct thing to do but it is the socially right thing to do. Such a revision will obviously require a lot of funding, in particular to ensure the quality of teachers available.
The recruitment of better teachers and teaching facilities would address many of these issues discussed here.
While the social advancement of women to overturn historical disadvantages is to be encouraged, it is not enough to simply encourage more women to go to school and vie for many positions.
The authorities should make the environment more conducive for women to compete against men, but this should not be done by reserving positions or awarding them extra points. Investing in better teaching facilities and girl child education is a crucial first step.
Mr Barungi is a social scientist