Often it is attributed that the British, our former colonial masters have created an education system that is geared to ‘white collar’ jobs. Following the same tradition, the current education has come to mean, preparing the learners for office work, managerial work and paper work. It promises quick and easy way of making money without much sweat and dirtying one’s hands. Such jobs are considered “decent” and “respectable” work. Of course, in the current situation those jobs are scarce. Eventually this education system has come to mean manual work and technical work of every kind even those involving complex expertise is considered cheap and disrepute.
Surely vocational education in Uganda suffers from an image problem. Who choose vocational education in Uganda? Those who have been branded “failures” in academic schools; who cannot meet the high cost of Advanced Level secondary education and university education, who do not have any aptitude or gifted in science and mathematics subjects. Majority of the trainees come to Vocational Institutes come out of desperation and often times go through training unwillingly. Eventually the results of such training too is as poor as the attitude.
Often Ordinary Level secondary school (UCE – Senior Four) leavers with failures in Mathematics and all the sciences choose technical education. Technical institutes end up struggling to offer skills in technology to those who have failed in basic arithmetic skills and basic knowledge of science. The pertinent question is, “How can a student who failed to make calculation in a paper can make complex calculations in a sheet metal, timber or cloth? “You never know… he will learn something in a technical school,” is mere lie or unrealistic.”
Unfortunately there are numerous schools in Uganda today are passing out students with miserable results in Ordinary Level (UCE) examinations. An informal enquiry among many rural and semi-rural schools in and around Kamuli town reveal that about 30% of Senior Four Leavers have failed in maths and sciences. They become potential students for technical education. Skill training institutions are burdened with teaching basic maths and sciences to students so as to make them competent for complex technical skills.
Already existing poor attitude to vocational education is coupled with lack of investment, limited quality management and “dead ends” in terms of progression pathways continue to contribute negative view of this educational sector. Adjectives such as job-creators and employment providers often remain rhetoric failing to convince potential learners. A commissioner of BTVET confesses that the national educational budget of Uganda allots mere 4% of to technical education.
Due to the increase of population, scarcity of educational opportunity, high cost of academic education, unemployable educational qualifications and ever increasing unemployment makes it necessary for many young people to choose vocational and technical education. But how can we make this education attractive? Unless this education is made attractive, trainees are not going to learn with interest and keenness. It is important to make potential learners to believe that technical education is in par with academic learning, it is respectable, employable, and more so beneficial.
To make vocational education attractive, some of the following matters should be looked into:
- Fix minimum wages for jobs given to the skilled trainees.
- Ministry of Labour and other employment bodies recruit formally skilled labourers.
- Give scholarships and incentives to bright students who choose technical education.
- Improve the existing curriculum and offer attractive degrees and possibilities for furthering education.
- Offer different levels of technical education suited to the interest and abilities of trainees.
- Some skills and trainings can already be introduced in primary and secondary school curriculum that can build interest among students for technical education.
- Build good image among young people by giving adequate publicity to technical results and excellence as done for Primary and Secondary education.
- Government should identify worthy partners to support this education sector such as faith-based and non-profit institution.
- Offer adequate and good quality teacher education to technical instructors and offer updating courses regularly.
- Connect the technical institutions to factories and companies to supplement the training already given.
- And above all Ministry of Education should promote technical education by adequately funding technical education and opening more centres of learning.
(Published in New Vision, National newspaper in Uganda, 4 March 2016)
Themes: Salesian VTC, Don Bosco, Salesians of Don Bosco