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

Do you know that in Uganda, over 64% of the youth are unemployed and that 75% of the population is below the age of 30?  The official definition for youth in Uganda: 18-30 years – and this makes the unemployment problem a much more complicated matter

                                                                                               Th!nk

Uganda, for better or worse, is a unique country. Its uniqueness extends to issues to do with employment:

“[in Uganda]….unemployment increases with the level of education attained: Unemployment is lower among persons with no education and primary education, and higher among those with secondary education and above.”

What type of education do we get in Uganda, that creates more unemployment than employment? An education where the illiterate of Nakabugu village earn more than the literate and perhaps live a happier blissful life. The illiterate don’t have to live with the burden and frustration of carrying a degree that doesn’t significantly lead to a change in fortunes; a degree that brings ridicule upon the individual; a degree that leaves one feeling stupid and incompetent. In Uganda, the illiterate leave on cloud-nine as the educated are frustrated on City streets looking for the ever elusive job and failing to earn even one dollar a day.

The above is tantamount to throwing in the bin, education’s raison d’etre: yet, we know that hundreds of our Nakabugu village kindred work so hard to take their children to quality schools – and the sole purpose of doing the latter is to break or avoid the poverty-trap, as it’s believed that education leads one to a job, and a pretty good one at that.

So if education can no longer guarantee a job, what should Ugandans do? What should our Nakabugu village kindred do? Abandon school and go back to their 19th century rural and agrarian lifestyle? Perhaps it’s the right thing to do. After all, back then, the typical Nakabugu citizenry didn’t t have to deal with all the inapplicability and ineptitude the educated suffer today, high-blood-pressure, depression, enduring-poverty, social media poisoning, etc.

Do you want to call the current education system in Uganda anything other than a poverty factory?

Why the status quo?

Why are such vast numbers of the youth in Uganda unemployed? There is a long list of probable answers:

  • The government has failed to create jobs – this is reducing the problem to a mere supply-side challenge
  • Tribalism and the fact that available jobs are given to a few of the youth born in ‘deserving’ regions/tribes – well, it still doesn’t address the fact that Uganda can’t create enough viable jobs for all its youth.
  • Corruption and the fact that government coffers are empty, and as a result, the economy has ground to a halt, and job creation has stopped – maybe, but, why not create your own job?
  • The recent collapse of the South-Sudan economy – well, it’s a new country, and we wonder what happened before it was
  • etc

In our opinion, the above are mere symptoms of a more significant problem. Two underlying causes need addressing:

1. A fatally flawed national curriculum
2. A defective and static education policy

Uganda’s national curriculum is broken. The country needs to shift from a content and exams based curriculum to one that focuses on individual student competencies and ‘thinking’. Moreover, competencies that are relevant and applicable to the economic realities in Uganda. Yes, we need historians and sociologists in Uganda and always will. But, Uganda’s GDP will get a fillip from training more professional artisans, computer programmers, mechanists than historians and sociologists.

The ‘thinking’ piece is a critical part of this relevant-education jigsaw. Indeed, it may not be a big problem being a historian or socialist – but the nation would rather have the ‘thinking’ type historian and sociologist. A historian that has to the genius of thinking about and implementing a plan to partner with a computer programmer to create a mobile app that gives at the press of a button, key historical events and dates on Uganda. This type of thinking-historian is more relevant to Uganda’s current needs than a historian that seeks employment at a school or Uganda Museum like many do.

So, what will it take for Uganda is to train more ‘thinking’-historians as well as artisans, computer scientists? Straight answer: change its education policy. It’s with the right levers at the macro policy level that the micro tools that drive effective education delivery like the curriculum, teacher education, student and teacher education funding mechanisms work best to attain effective educational outcomes.

Sadly, Uganda’s education macro policy environment hasn’t shifted in tandem with the changing economic realities both in Uganda and the world. Without a policy re-think, Uganda may forever groom irrelevant Coca-Cola graduates

Is a solution in sight?

The Effectiveness Lab recommends three foundational steps:

  1. In the immediate – Uganda should do two things: improve the quality of teaching and learning by providing better classroom experience for the student and teacher. Also, education should become student and not teacher centred. Essential teaching and learning outcomes should be: students that can ‘think’ and have attained relevant regional/global skills
  2. In the short term – reduce the obsession with summative assessment (tests and exams at the end of a unit of instruction) and place more emphasis on formative assessment instead (not for grading). Can the government consider administering national summative assessments only once or twice during the K-12 cycle? Also, change the ratio of summative vs formative assessment from the current near 100%:0 to 50%:50%.
  3. In the long-term, fundamental changes should be made to Uganda’s education policy – emphasise STEM and techno-vocational offers, entrepreneurialism, and teaching ‘thinking’ should be taken more seriously

Time to change – parents, you don’t have to wait; you can do something about this. Speak up in disdain of Uganda’s obsession with exam grades and take your child to a school that will help them improve and grow their individual competencies. Would you instead have an unemployed lawyer than an employed nurse, dancer, physiotherapist or professional factory work?

Ugandan parents should demand and lobby for a type of education that doesn’t ask for answers from their children but encourages them to both ask questions and provide the solutions. An education system that looks at the individual child – children aren’t a generic Coca-Cola beverage. An education system where exam grades are secondary, and instead, the search for evidence of creativity/critical thinking skills show-cased via class-based projects is the order of the day. The age of summative assessment is coming to an end – formative assessment will become the primary means to assess student learning progress

It’s never too soon/late to act. Don’t allow your child to become another statistic of the poverty-factory



Categories: Strategy

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  1. The new skills dilemma – the 4th revolution Series 2 of 2 – Gabazira's blog

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