Making Vocational Education Attractive
(Published in New Vision, national newspaper in Uganda – 31 January 2017)
On 16 November 2016 New Vision published the article “Where did 1.2 million pupils go?” giving an alarming statistics on primary school dropouts. The article stated “Only 543,071 pupils sat PLE last year, out of the 1,763,284 who enrolled in 2006; which forms a complete cohort. This implies that in the last seven years forming a primary school education’s cohort, 1,220,213 pupils were lost on the way.”
UNESCO reports that the school dropout rate in Uganda is the highest in East Africa with only 25% of students completing primary education cycle of seven years. At this rate the secondary school dropouts could also be similar. Soon after the release of Senior Four results we will have the statistics of students who will not be admitted in academic institutions for one reason or another. It is important to accompany them in further training that will give them hope in life.
How long can we blame poverty, population explosion, ill-equipped schools, outdated curriculum, geographically unreachable areas and other reasons? The country is producing “square pegs” young people who are trying fit into round holes of employment and service market. School dropouts are certainly a burden to families, society and nation. It should be the responsibility of all stakeholders in the society to help in the reduction of school dropouts in the country. One way is to make the education attractive and interesting for the learner. Only by making the learning process easier we make the learner get interested and inclined to study and stay in school.
Attractive learning can withstand many other challenges. It is important to identity the interest and inclination of the learner early in life. In reality talent/interest inclination starts at the kindergarten and primary level; it is at this time children needs to be identified by their tendencies – able-bodied and physical, musically-inclined, curious and research-oriented, artistic and performance-bent, vocal and linguistic, mathematical and logic-minded.
The stereotyped academic testing that has been in existence for many years now, identifies only a few of these traits and the majority of the others are left out and may even be stigmatized as “too slow”, “disruptive”, “dreamer” and so on. They are the “square pegs”. In time they will fall behind and eventually drop out of the whole educational process. But when the child finds education process interesting and the learner finds success in it, the chances of dropout will be low.
If we work from the premise that every child has a God-given gift then the onus will be on us to provide the means for that child to blossom and be a blessing to society. But often we do not. We simply force our children into a regime where those who cannot embrace it drop out as if they are failures. Right now there are millions of youths without skills. Not only the dropouts, even those who have passed through seven years of primary, four years of Ordinary Level and two years of Advanced Level are also without schools. For a poor family in rural areas keeping a child in school for seven or eleven years is already an uphill task.
This means they have only few options in building a meaningful life. Being redundant as a school dropout leads the unskilled youngster to involve in vices such as early pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse and other petty crimes to make ends meet. There’s just too much despair and that leads to discontent. Discontented youths spell trouble for any society. We need to remember a famous economic wisdom: “In an increasingly interconnected and knowledge-based global economy, today’s disparities in education are tomorrow’s inequalities in income, trade and investment.”
Reading Africa Progress Report 2012 and other subsequent reports we come to know that increasingly it is becoming apparent that it is not about how many youths there are in school. It is more about what they are learning and how they can benefit from it.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is increasingly being seen as a panacea to address the skills-gap that prevents youths from gaining employment. Since the 1940s Uganda has invested in TVET as a solution to unemployment. It is offered in a 3-tier system which comprises of craftsman level through technical schools and institutes, technician level through technical colleges and the polytechnic and graduate engineer level offered through university.
The biggest challenge facing TVET is public perception that it is the final resort for dropouts. To enrol is to condemn oneself as a failure. Additionally it is seen as a domain for men, so women are quite often sidelined into trades such as tailoring, home economics and agriculture. In today’s world where industry gives priority to skills this kind of thinking is outdated and in fact detrimental to national growth. A rethink is required, one that will take into consideration the technological advancement that is creating new industries whilst making some obsolete.
Industry involvement is integral because the on-the-job training overcomes the severe lack of qualified teachers. It is a shame that vocational education is quite often looked down upon by many people. But yet it can be a life saver because it puts food on the table, roof over the head and clothes to cover the body.
Let us showcase vocational training to young people as interesting education to learn, as a shortcut to quick employment and more so economically beneficial to the individuals, families and nation as a whole. Now as the government making effort to set up more and more vocational institutes let them also make effort to show case it as useful, interesting and quick way to succeed in life.
Fr. Lazar Arasu – Priest and School Administrator and Ambi Mathe – Lecturer and Journalist, Malaysia.