(Published in New Vision, national newspaper in Uganda, 23 October 2016)
The world never had so many young people as it does today. The youth population, according to the United Nations is estimated to be at 1.8 billion now. A significant portion of this population is in Africa. And the statistics show that Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world – over 70% of the population is below the age of 30. If the population of Uganda is 39 million, according to World Population Prospects, young people aged between 16 to 30 years would comprise some 33 million. That’s huge! It is also projected that in 2050 the population will rise to over 100 million. Indeed it is an explosion. Now the question is: How prepared are we to enable and empower this young population? The biggest challenge will be to find employment for all of them. And it essentially boils down to the kind of education they are going to receive.
President Museveni and everyone else in the country speak of the need to offer an education that is skill-based—courses in our universities that are practical and career-oriented. Numerous young people who hold university degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences are either unemployed, underemployed or just doing menial jobs. The heart of the problem lies in the fact that we have not updated our curriculum and methods of education from the colonial days. It is a long, long overdue.
World Economic Forum, 2015 puts it very blandly, “Current technological trends are bringing about an unprecedented rate of change in the core curriculum content of many academic fields, with nearly 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree outdated by the time students graduate.” And again a report by Forbes in April 2016 says, “Skills that we learned in formal education are now becoming irrelevant. Employees should be prepared to completely reskill themselves.”
Addressing the situation remains a highly complex situation for the Government because on the one side it has to look at serious weaknesses in conventional educational systems that do not produce the right calibre industry needs. But on the other hand we do not have a big enough industry-base to hire those who return from studies overseas with the right skills. We also need to think of the funds Government has to invest in technical and vocational education, which could be colossal.
The solution lies in giving the right skills and hireable skills. One possible solution could be to pay attention to “talent based” education. With our experience of “Juakali” (informal sector) industries and street-learnt entrepreneurial skills, we can tap the already existing talents among our young people. It could be something that is easy to build on. While we are opening several technical institutions let us also pay attention to informal training of young people through short courses and hands-on training.
Our current situation has taught us that education with imperial background, traditionally delivered, can no longer serve industry needs. A total re-think of what is the purpose of education is needed. However it would be a difficult process to simply dismantle the system as it exists now. However there is the need to act fast so that the young generation, the future of our nation, is not left to suffer by the wayside.
Just as in Uganda, there is a global shortage of skilled talent that companies have relaxed their rules on hiring. The mushrooming industries like the ones in and around Kampala are not really interested in “paper” qualifications, the degrees received in our institutions; they are looking for practical skills and technical knowledge needed to run their machines, increase their production and make money for the company. In the world of survival of the fittest today’s skilled workforce is on the move and many countries are already losing their best skills to companies beyond their borders.
Vocational education that is skill-based and talent-based is gaining currency as the most ideal platform to get youths trained in skills that are relevant and in-demand. Globally, especially in the more advanced economies, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has come to the fore as the answer to industries’ desperate demand for talented, skilled and knowledgeable workforce.
Vocational qualifications at all levels can improve the employment chances of unqualified school leavers. Individuals enjoy benefits from improved earnings, employment chances, mobility, capacity for lifelong learning, measures of working conditions, personal development, improvements in efficiency on the job, networking, improved perspective for better or more interesting employment, chances to move up the career ladder, better earnings and job satisfaction.
We are also happily aware that the Government is already embarked on opening more technical and vocational training centres in every sub-county. But let it not only be satisfied in putting up good structures but also recruit good instructors, supply training materials, put in place internship and job programmes. They must gain the participation of the private sector to advice on the curriculum. They also ought to give training opportunities to school-dropouts, vulnerable young people and the rural population. The best way forward is talent-based hands-on training.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB, Priest and School Administrator
Ms Ambi Mathe, Journalist and Lecturer, Malaysia.