Is Uganda’s education system – a poverty factory? Series 1 of 2

If it weren’t for the want of human socialisation and relationship building, parents in Uganda could educate their children at home using Google – Siri and Alexa digital assistants.

What is the purpose of going to school daily in a digital era where you can get, in the comfort of your home, all the information needed to answer exam questions? Urban planners may have a solution to the terrible traffic congestion caused by school going children – keep the kids at home and only ensure they have access to a fibre optic internet cable in their homes.

Is the education system akin to a parrot, causing poverty?

Education in Uganda, and perhaps the wider East Africa – public and in some instances private, is mainly about teaching students how to answer questions and pass their final exams at primary, secondary and university level. Apparently, students don’t have to think hard during their time at school – the main task is to store and reproduce content at exam time. The more a child can regurgitate information at examination time, the more intelligent they are considered to be.

At all the stages in school, students aren’t judged by their thinking ability or how analytical they are, but their position on the grading continuum. The higher up, the better. Attaining high marks is a sign of a student’s super intellect. Parents, want their children to attain the highest grades. It’s the rubric that defines personal intelligence and a good job and life, post-school. Driven by the urge to get the highest exam grades, parents move students from schools that have scored low marks in final exams to the so-called high achieving schools. How the so-called high achieving schools get the super grades, is not relevant. All that matters is high-marks.

Let us use the analogy of two computer hardware products to put Uganda’s education in the proper context – the ‘external hard disk’ and the ‘CPU.’ A typical Ugandan student is the computer’s external hard disk, and the rare thinking-type student is the CPU with all its processing power. The two hardware pieces serve different purposes in the computer’s eco-system. The hard disk simply stores information while the CPU is the computer’s brain running its entire operation. Ugandan education doesn’t require too much processing but storage and retrieval power – a black and white matter, indeed. It’s education akin to a parrot! Education that considers students a standardised Coca-Cola beverage – all students are the same!

The fallacy:

Well – there is more to education than good exam grades. We have witnessed individuals that attained outstanding marks in exams at the primary and senior level but are facing a life of under or unemployment. Unemployment in Uganda may soon become the leading cause of enduring poverty and vulnerability. It’s ironic that Uganda’s education, once a guarantee of escaping poverty and desperation, is fast turning into the leading cause of unemployment and ultimately enduring poverty

As long as we think critically, something we aren’t always taught in Ugandan schools, we should get plausible answers to the question: why is Uganda’s education system failing and fast turning into a poverty-factory?

When an education system encourages teachers to ask questions and expects students to answer the questions robotically, the students tend to think the same. Homogeneity develops amongst the student ranks. We get what the Effectiveness lab calls the Coca-Cola student. The assumption is that all students are the same – with the same capability and interests. We forget that when students join school between five-six years old, they are all different and we treat them as such. The latter is the reason teaching and learning in the inception class emphasises differentiated approaches.

Yet, by the time the same students that joined in inception class sit their primary leaving exams, they will have been turned into a generic Coca-Cola beverage by the education system. It’s a slow process that changes the kids’ employment opportunities from great to nothing. The system forces talented artisans, musicians, dancers to become arm-chair lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, etc

Sadly, the time for standardised education products is long gone. Instead, the world is longing for critical thinkers that can ask the right questions for different problem domains. Questioning allows students to grow their unique mental strengths and to become comfortable in ever-changing environments. Critical thinkers that are comfortable exploring complex question-domains never stop learning. They tame the world instead of the world taming them

No wonder – in our Uganda, 64%+ of the youth are apparently unemployed. They are Coca-Cola graduates and unemployable. They are ‘designed’ to provide standard answers to standard questions. They have been trained to be given a job – asked standardised questions by the bosses – to which they have graded answers.

When employers and specific problem-domains demand both ‘questions and answers’, the Coca-Cola graduates become disoriented. They lose their bearing. Asking the Coca-Cola graduate to conceptualize, ask relevant questions, challenge the status-quo, create jobs and run sole proprietorships does not always yield much.  It’s not their thing. They are trained in the white-collar job world

Where is the problem? See you next week



Categories: Strategy

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  1. Is Uganda’s education system – a poverty factory? Series 2 of 2 – Gabazira's blog
  2. The new skills dilemma – the 4th revolution Series 2 of 2 – Gabazira's blog

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