Ndinawe Byekwaso


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Is theoretical education responsible for unemployment in Uganda?

Posted by Ndinawe Byekwaso on March 13, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By Ndinawe Byekwaso (2014)

Uganda is one of the countries with the highest youth unemployment in the world (63 per cent and 83 percent for the educated. Every year, 400, 000 youths join the labour market searching for jobs and only 90, 000 of them get absorbed while the rest ‘find themselves on the proverbial streets without jobs’. There is an ‘outcry of lack of jobs for both educated and uneducated’ (Uganda NGO Forum, 2010 p. 22). Getting a job in Uganda is nightmare (Oluka, 2010 p. 22-23) and the workers employed in flowers are underpaid; for example paid as low as Uganda Shillings (Ugsh) 52,000/= a month (about US $20) (Miti, 2009 p. 18). Parents make sacrifices to ensure that their children get education up to the university with a hope that those children will live better lives after school, as well as paying back in form of looking after them (parents) in old age. Alas! The children fail to get employment and as a result, some of them now are committing suicide as reported in the press (Atuhaire, 2012 p. 22).

The high unemployment rate, especially the educated is attributed to education system. To most people in Uganda, the problem with current education is theoretical rather than being practically orientated. According to Dora Byamukama, a columnist in The New Vision, “The key constraints to proper performance of the labour and employment sector are outlined as inappropriate education and training system, which create job seekers, rather job makers”. “In the current system, little emphasis is placed on entrepreneurship development or vocational training and skills development at all levels” (New Vision, 2011, 27 October p. 16), she further submits.

Apparently, most people in Uganda talk about practical skills as well as entrepreneurship without bothering to understand how a market economic system, which has largely penetrated our society under the commercialisation campaign of the so-called Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture, works to create employment and promote development generally. Under a market economy, capital in form of equipments as well as money to acquire them and most importantly the market for the goods produced as well as for the trained labour to produce the goods, are crucial factors in employment creation. Unfortunately, a large number of Ugandans, who it seems are not used to pondering over development processes from a historical perspective, think in terms of only training the people to produce goods for consumption, without considering the mentioned factors. One morning, on a radio-talk-back show, one haughty caller asserted that if one has skills, he or she cannot fail to get work as well as what to eat. Apparently, the assertion made is not borne by empirical evidence. The assertion only applied in a pre-capitalist society that is no longer in existence.

Although it may be argued that they are not enough technical colleges in Uganda, there are for sure some that have existed for a long time but are less popular than senior secondary schools, which are accused of imparting theoretical knowledge. The technical schools mainly attract students from poor families who cannot afford school fees of senior secondary schools or, in the past, those who could fail to gain admission in senior secondary schools.

Why are technical schools, assumed to equip students with practical knowledge and skills, less attractive than senior secondary schools that are accused of imparting irrelevant knowledge? Even at a higher level, why do students prefer university theoretical knowledge to practical knowledge from tertiary technical colleges or institutes? The usually answer to the above questions is that the education system, which was inherited from colonialism, promotes a mindset of hankering after white-collar jobs. Could the mindset be still in existence if the trades from technical schools and colleges were amply gainful? It seems the graduates from technical schools and colleges do not give a gainful experience from which other prospective students would draw a lesson. Students from technical schools in rural areas, having trained in building (masons), carpentry and electrical wiring fail to get employment within their community let alone experience until they migrate to towns in search for jobs. Although it is claimed that technical schools and colleges equip their students with practical knowledge and skills, their training is incomplete until they get hands on experience. As an illustration, one cannot be a good driver from a driving school only unless the person gets a vehicle for practice.

For that matter the graduates from technical schools and colleges are also job-seekers rather job-creators. Even if they can create jobs for themselves, they have to get experience first. Moreover, and most importantly, job-creation is not only a matter of acquiring skills. One has to have capital and the market for the goods produced or the services to be provided. Currently, people from rural areas, who train in building from technical schools, rot in villages because they are few people who build permanent houses to hire them for most of the time. Therefore, the graduates of technical schools in rural areas end by being part-time peasant farmers, living a life not very different from other villagers. Those who train in carpentry, usually find it difficult to make furniture unless they have money to establish a workshop. Even those who establish workshops find it very difficult to sell their furniture because of rampant poverty in rural areas. To be successful carpenters, they have to migrate to urban areas where there is acute competition for costumers. The competition for costumers is worsened by the liberal economic policy of the government, whereby Indian traders freely import furniture and in the process out-compete local producers.

From the views of many Ugandans, it is imagined, without proof, that the education system of the developed countries is more practically-oriented than ours, when actually our education system is blamed for being irrelevant because it was and is still copied from developed countries. Moreover, the problem of unemployment also exists in the developed countries; unemployment is common in most, if not all, capitalistic economies. For instance more than 25 percent of the youth in Spain are unemployed.

Apparently, the education system of the developed countries is not fundamentally different from ours except their technical education is market-oriented while their economies have many industries. For example, in the US, there is Lake Washington Technical College, which is a community and technical institution in Washington State. It offers “professional and technical training for today’s job market” (emphasis mine www.learnt4good.com/tech_colleges/washington_vocational_schools). As illustrated, technical schools in the US are not established to train job-creators but trainees who can fit within the job market. Unfortunately, unlike the US, in Uganda, there are limited employment opportunities even for those who train in practically oriented treads.