By Tiphana Kawiyo:
Back in the days before school beckoned and before I found myself at a prestigious grammar school in Kasungu District as a pioneer student, I was a goat herder.
In those days fellow goat herders and myself became specialists at killing four-legged creatures called mice. They are a specialty dish in Mangoni land so please do not call them rats. We proudly call them African sausages! There is a variety of mice called kaKota. Very fatty and nice tasting. They like to reside deep in the anthills so they are not easy to kill by digging. Fellow herdboys and me devised a system of getting the kaKota mice out of their hiding holes: Gas warfare. We got some strong periperi peppers and some really obnoxious leaves and flowers (still a trade secret) and fire matches. We lit the fire in front of the deep tunnel and start blowing smoke into the tunnels filling all tunnels and holes with obnoxious choking smoke. We called it “kubemesa”. This often would compel the kaKota mice to force their way out of the tunnel running away from the choking smoke or risk their lives. That my friends is how we forced kaKota mice out of their entrenched anthill holes.
Proposal to interrogate Quota System
What reminded me of this childhood experience was an event that happened at a Chabe-Chabe Mayeso Institution (you know who) somewhere in Chabe-Chabe Republic. My friends and I as public researchers were trying to get historical detailed 12th grade examination results for a research to answer a burning national issue called Quota. The animal called Quota is a strange one for it has come and gone several times in the past only to surface under another name.
It is a way of selecting students into public Chabe-Chabe Universities in the said Chabe-Chabe Republic. Some vocal guys from a certain region (you know where) strongly feel the current system of selecting students into public universities is stacked against them. They vehemently feel that the quota system is rigged to favour a certain region and tribe (you know which one). The issue has been simmering for a number of years and recently came to a boil where a vocal synod (you know which one) was threatening to hold vigils at all schools beginning this term.
In our limited forward-looking research thinking we thought it is time to tame the Quota animal for good based on evidence from research. So far people in this Chabe-Chabe Republic, have been debating emotionally on this issue without the facts, some on top of their lungs without the benefit of research evidence. We wanted to see whether there are differences in 12th grade results by district, by gender, by school type and by subject (mathematics vs sciences vs humanities) across gender and school type. Really, the stuff action research strives on. That was 2017. So we wrote the Chabe-Chabe Institution asking for historical data to look at 12th grade performance trends over the years. We hit a brick wall. Management at that Chabe- Chabe institution (for some strange reason) could not see the value of this research to the nation even though Quota fires are raging all around them.
Request to have research data refused
First they demanded that we pay money for computer time and labour to extract the data. Never mind that these are researchers from another public institution that teaches those students who are selected based on the school results from that Chabe- Chabe Institution.
We complied and produced the money. They changed tune and said they cannot release candidate level data because its confidential. We retorted that the Chabe-Chabe Institution can remove all names and exam numbers from the data we just have the other parameters. They refused saying the timing is not right since the Anti-Quota forces are mobilizing and in the news. We remembered the a kaKota mice of our childhood tunneling deep into the anthill! We almost blew some choking smoke into the tunnels of the Chabe-Chabe Institution but our research team is full of peacemakers and not warlords!
So we p leaded, we begged , tinagudubuka, we engaged some 30 plus senior interlockers to no avail, no research data. Meanwhile the Anti- Quota steam is boiling threatening to explode any time. In fact, all major ndale parties have made concrete statements and commitments on how to tame the Quota animal. Some are calling for its abolishment without offering an acceptable alternative to all while others are calling for refinement. This research could have answered the way out of the Quota quagmire but for some strange reason, the Chabe-Chabe Institution thought we were up to no good. As professional researchers we deal with confidential matters in research and there is simply no way one can release confidential data to the public. We have even done much more sensitive research than this one. Very frustrating.
Chabe-Chabe country loses big time
As we speak, we are keeping the money and they are keeping the public data that could unlock the Quota debate close to their chests. Not that they doing their own parallel research, no. Our research is one of a kind research with a unique methodology we developed in-house. When public officials refuse to release data for public research, as a country we are all losers. The Chabe- Chabe country will be galloping in the dark on issues of national importance without evidence-based policy answers. Hot public issues cannot be solved emotionally without robust comprehensive research on an issue. Time will soon come when the Quota issue will come to the boil. When public pressure mounts on the Quota system issue, politicians (as always) will be rushing to technocrats for policy answers. Without research and data to carry it out, there will be no policy answers.
A good PS or CEO of a Chabe- Chabe Institution would quietly form a taskforce to digest the data for the day policy answers will be urgently required. Of course the animal called Quota is a human rights issue of interest to the Ombudsman and the Malawi Human Rights Commission and it is an education issue of interest to Parliamentary Committee on Education and Civil Society Coalition on Education. Since it is also a poverty levelling issue it should be of interest to the Executive arm of Government where the Chabe-Chabe Institution belongs.
Burying our heads in the sand like ostriches hoping the Quota issue will go away on its own is a sign of wooden-headedness. Folly of the highest degree. Or am I the only mad man in this Chabe-Chabe Republic crying out in the wilderness to public CEOs that are near blind to see the value of research in unlocking the debate on Quota? Or are they waiting for a Payere-Payere warlord to first blow choking smoke into the tunnels of the Chabe-Chabe Institution as we did in our childhood chasing kaKota mice? Myopia. I rest my case.
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