If it was an economy, you would say that Uganda’s education sector has recorded a lot of growth without development. This growth has been registered in run-away growth in the number of pupils, number and size of schools, and above all, an escalation in school fees.
But like untransformed economies, Uganda’s education system is largely short of quality! Our products can hardly compete in the global market place, let alone here at home.
A lot has been said on this subject already but without concrete meaningful action coming out of grandiose policy statements of government. To cite but a few; during the reign of former Education Minister Namirembe Bitamazire, the government said it would build a secondary school with a science laboratory in each sub-county across the country to encourage adoption of science subjects.
That plan must be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in the ministry of education. It was succeeded by the Skilling Uganda Programme, launched in 2012 by former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi that promised to invest billions into the development of vocation training schools that impart skills in students.
Some Ushs800m was allocated towards this venture, but was later diverted to cater for teachers’ pay demands last year in order to avert a strike. The latest episode in the boring series, released a few weeks ago, is that the government will now demand that all pupils start their school days in a kindergarten. What we hear on the plan is that the government wants to add Free nursery education on the list of freebies for parents.
The outcome of these ‘innovations’ is a less productive, poorly coordinated, exploitative and increasingly unaffordable education system that is bankrupting parents and the nation as a whole.
Investors in private schools are making a kill out of government failure to deliver on its promises such as delivering meaningful free education, by charging exorbitant fees. One of the greatest failures of Uganda’s privatisation system is that it has not been accompanied with robust regulation and as a result, it has become exploitative on the side of parents.
Besides the cost, Uganda’s education system is contributing rather than solving the unemployment problem. This is because it diverts a lot of resources, human and financial, that would have been invested into businesses that yield jobs and income.
Concerned parents and other patriotic Ugandans need to rise up and demand for changes in our education policies and actions of government that will transform our education from a theoretical to skills-based system.
The history of development across Europe, Asia and the Americas shows that technical education, right from imparting artisan skills up to the more advanced science education was the bedrock of their economic transformation.
Parents must also be encouraged to embrace some mind-set changes and accept that the current system is broken and that they themselves and their children bear the greatest cost of a theoretical system that produces job seekers.
The promises made so far by the government towards transforming the system appear to be cosmetic and intended to win votes from the population. While the forthcoming elections season could be used to put pressure to politicians to mean what they promise, the biggest burden really lies on the shoulders of Ugandans to choose a different path. Uganda will be great if we choose to emphasize skills rather than degrees.