(Article published in Education Focus, “Daily Monitor”, 30 November 2015, p.45)

Learning a skill can employ youth quickly

Learning a skill can employ youth quickly

Population statistics tell us that over 70% of Ugandan population are below the age of 30. Now the question is how much attention is given to this section of citizens. This section of population are in Primary and Secondary Schools. Through this basic education learners are not only prepared for higher education but they are taught  values for daily living, personality development and basic life skills. Missing out on these matters is putting young people’s life in jeopardy and society in danger. Government has a big share in this responsibility.

Through Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education government has tried to offer education to millions of children. But these government programmes are largely underfunded and often mismanaged. How much of education is imparted through these education offer is a question to be answered. When desired results are not attained in this level of education we are churning out school leavers who have failed to grasp basic language skills and much needed arithmetic and rudiments of science and civic education.

Statistics also tell us that several thousands of children dropout of primary schools in every district of Uganda. The same happens in secondary schools as well. A person who has not completed primary school in this century is not only a burden to the society, he or she is a burden to oneself. It is not uncommon to see numerous people failing to do make simple financial transaction in village markets and failing to read basic information in health centres.

Let us particularly pay attention to Advanced Level (HSC) of Secondary Education offered in Uganda today. Having worked in secondary schools in Uganda for several years, I understand that this level of education is the most challenging part of education in Uganda. A young person if passed well in “A” Level secondary education can easily go through education and training in higher institution. Time available for teaching and learning this course is very limited. While the syllabus in various subjects are very vast, hardly 15 months of teaching takes place.

Most secondary schools in the country have many challenges in managing this course. Schools do not have sufficiently qualified teachers to handle them. Every subject that is taught in a particular school should have at least one or two teachers specializing in them. It is challenging for a teacher to handle both “O” level and “A” level together. School also should have library with at least minimum number of text books and reference materials for both teachers and students.

I believe that it is almost impossible to satisfactorily cover the syllabus; about 70% syllabus can be covered and the rest left to the students to study. Subjects such as Biology and Economics are too vast for 15 months of teaching. Literature classes do not have sufficient number of compulsory reading texts, chemistry laboratories do not have the minimum needed chemicals and apparatus. The woes are endless. The good secondary schools with the minimum standards are found only in Kampala and few other towns of Uganda. Though there may be many secondary schools in a small town, none of them can satisfactorily teach “A” level studies. Kamuli town with its many schools can be given as example.

The best equipped and well staffed schools, both government sponsored and private schools charge over 800,000 fees. They also demand good results from UCE – Senior Four examinations. Hence those who are admitted to such schools also come from good UCE schools. A student who went through a good primary school goes to good “O” level school, then later goes to a good “A” level school. And only such a student gets government sponsorship for university education.  Thus a vicious circle is created; good education remains for the rich. All the opportunity for the government sponsorship is taken by first 100 schools.

Besides, most students coming after Senior Four class do not have ability to personally organise themselves in personal study and research. Our education system is classroom oriented and students largely depend on class notes that are dictated by teachers or even written on black boards. While “A” level is challenging even for bright students who passed in Division I in Senior Four examinations, everyone wants to go for HSC, including the third graders. Teachers often make statements such as, “You never know, he will catch up in Senior Five”. This is almost impossible.

I often say to the students, “when you have failed to climb mango tree, don’t try to climb muvule tree.” A serious guidance and counselling should be given to students in choice of going for HSC and the choice of subjects they choose to study. It is wise to admit brighter and committed students to HSC study, rather than admitting anyone and everyone. Often many Senior Five students when reach second term they regret choosing to study “A” level and many wish to change their subject combination. But it is already late. They often end up securing poor results at the end of the course.

We all know the cost of university education today. Only a small percentage of people in the country are able to meet this cost. There is no degree course that charge less than one million a semester in any university. This cost is only for tuition, other costs such as feeding, boarding, transport and academic expenses are extra.  Honestly, how many families in Uganda can afford this expense?

With the high level of competition, students who have scored even 16 points in UACE – Senior Six examinations cannot get admission to courses that lead to employment. After obtaining degrees in Humanities, Education and other Social Sciences it is very hard to get decent employment. Largely our HSC courses and university courses are recipe for unemployment. Unless our curriculum is revised and made practical, technical schools are funded and promoted, good career guidance is given to students, and secondary schools are better supervised, our post primary education will bring poor results.

Fr. Lazar Arasu

Director: St. Joseph Vocational Training Centre, Kamuli.

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