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Minister’s ban on ‘list from above’ admissions laudable

The minister of education and sports, Janet Museveni, last week moved to end an established tradition of the ministry indirectly coercing schools to admit children of well-connected officials.

As The Observer reported, the minister said there would be no lists from herself or her commissioners and other bureaucrats (See Janet bans ministry-backdoor admissions, The Observer, February 10).

It was instructive that the minister’s pronouncement attracted applause from head teachers who had assembled for selection of students for admission to senior five. This showed that head teachers had been suffering silently, feeling that they could ill-afford to reject a ‘special request’ from their supervisors at the ministry headquarters.

Obviously, admissions are also a matter for schools, which would have various community-based and other considerations; but this should be a matter for the school management bodies to decide.

We do not think the education minister would want to stop schools, for instance, from admitting children on the basis of sporting talent or other consideration in their traditions.

The lists from the ministry came with their own complications, and literally bordered on misuse of office: for many head teachers, it was always going to be a thin line between a ‘special request’ and a ‘veiled order’.

The ministry lists seemed to fit into a wider and unfortunate narrative in this country, where orders (in this case requests) from ‘above’ can only be ignored at the officer’s peril.

Chances are that schools will still admit outside the strict selection exercise, not least because of the practicalities of offers and acceptances of places. But the big people in the ministry will now go to schools simply as parents seeking places for their children. That is a natural thing for any parent to do.

The education minister should also remember that the government she serves has a chequered reputation of making grand policy pronouncements but lacking the resolve to enforce them.

It would be a shame if the head teachers who applauded Ms Museveni were to look back on the clapping as energy in vain.

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