One of the major achievements of the Ugandan government under President Museveni has been in the area of education. As they say, “an uneducated person is as good as dead.” No meaningful development can take place without education.
Singapore is always cited as a model example of the impact of education on development.
Without any natural resources to boast of, Singapore repositioned herself as one of the top countries in the world with the highest living standards and economic success indices of any kind. Education is not just about any education. Good education must be able to empower people to think better and solve common problems. It is the ability to solve people’s problems that creates value. With Uganda’s education system, the first degree is slowly becoming useless. Many of our graduates cannot even express themselves.
They are also not readily employable. The learning bias is on theoretical concepts. Many of them cram, and after the exam they cannot even recall the concepts. That is how tricky our education system has become. Signs that the runaway train is running out off track is clear. Today, a single advert calling for one person attracts thousands of applicants including those with a ‘PhD.’ It is on this basis that critics call for a change of strategy in our education system.
The numbers have increased (since UPE, the number of primary school enrolment has reached about nine million) University and Tertiary grandaunts have also increased to reach about 400,000 annually.
The quality of the people finishing university is wanting. Despite the increase, the country has failed to break away from the shackles of poverty, famine and unemployment. Over 6% of our national budget is spent on education, which is a sizeable amount by all accounts. Something may not be right with the implementation. Our education has been described as a contest for memorizing and reciting facts and figures.
We have graduates who are experts on American and European issues at the expense of exploring ways to grow the local economies. We are not taught to think critically about “how to develop Uganda using local resources.” The education provided is too distant from realities of the Ugandan context. Ideally, education should equip Ugandans with knowledge to optimize resources and tools at their disposal with special focus on the immediate surroundings.
“The approach of relevant education is like a good farmer who focuses on conditions on the ground like overcoming barriers that obstruct high yields” writes Dr. Daniel Kavuma Mecical expert working in UK.
Government should refocus on vocational education as the latter brings immediate value. The success of Germany as the manufacturing superpower of Europe is attributed to its focus on vocational education. Vocational training adds immediate value to the population in terms of new products, innovations and ability to use the resources in the near environment to enrich and benefit mankind.
There is need to restructure primary education. Primary level should be extended by adding two levels, to primary nine (P.9). There should also be mandatory age for starting school say age seven.
The need for money is affecting the education system. Young people start going to school at the age of three. Currently, P.7 candidates are too young for vocational education if compared with other countries with vocational education.
Countries that have successfully implemented vocational education like Germany have mandatory age for starting school so that by the time they finish primary seven, the kids are about 15-16 years. This is good age for someone going to be say a mechanic or engineer.
We have to acknowledge that not all people who go to school must continue to university education. The system should be able to pick those to proceed for university education, and those for vocational.
University is meant for researchers and top brains to make innovations and discoveries that enable improving the way things are done.
Take the example of person who invented the phone, he was alone but phones are now being used by billions across the globe. Our education encourages everyone to go to university to study nothing, waste scarce resource which would be put to better use.
Restructure secondary education
Research has shown that secondary education has little value, especially ours which is considered too theoretical.
Majority of children in secondary and university are misplaced. They are there because of the system, not by choice. Some of them would be footballers or carpenters. But they have no options at P7. In most industrialized countries, few people go for secondary education. Secondary education is biased on academics and exams to prepare people for top positions not as innovators or top researchers who add something to the body of knowledge yet majority of our people fear exams- such people would do better in vocational education.
The current education system offers little value. Take the case of a hand hoe. It has been in use for generations. Unfortunately, no professor has come up to improve the way it is held or used. It is so bad that our over 400, 000 graduates annually cannot think on how to make people productive using the hand hoe.
We have left ‘innovative thinking’ to the Europeans.
Repackage primary education
There is need to repackage the current primary Education.
A research by ministry of education reveals that over 84 per cent of primary teachers in government schools want to retire. Salary has remained the main reason for job dissatisfaction.
No major pay increase has been recorded since 2004/05 among post primary teachers as most civil servants, leaving both Grade V and Graduate teacher wages to steadily decrease in real terms, by about 25 per cent over. Motivating teachers will make education meaningful to pupils and reduce churn rates.
Today, given robust and meaningful vocational education in Germany, China and other countries are moving their car manufacturing to Germany because they have failed to defeat Germans in car manufacturing technology. Germans brought to us vocational education an example on Jinja road, we ignored it. Germany’s focus on vocational education has seen the country withstand economic recession facing the rest of Europe. Small countries like Finland and Switzerland with about five million people are among the top in the world in terms of the standard of living.
They produce high value items like phones, chips and computers which are used globally. You reap what you sow. Uganda has had mixed fortunes in her education harvests. Over the years, we have been scattering seeds of irrelevant education across the field.
Unfortunately the majority of seeds have been falling on rocks, dried off, eaten by birds indeed very few have grown and produced meaningful yields