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‘Skilling Uganda initiative finally takes big strides’

In November, ALEX KAKOOZA will mark one year in the job of permanent secretary, ministry of Education and Sports. He talked to Yudaya Nangonzi about his view of the sector.

You are almost a year in this office. What have you achieved so far?

We have made some modest achievements. First, we are moving as a team together with the political leadership headed by our minister, state ministers and technical staff – all focused on delivering quality education.

Alex Kakooza

One of our main achievements is filling positions at the ministry headquarters. A number of positions for heads of departments and directors were not filled and people were in acting positions. Most, if not all, have now been substantively filled.

By the time I came in, we did not have a sector plan but we have got the education sector strategic plan that has been approved by the National Planning Authority. This framework is guiding whatever we are doing.

When I joined, we had a few projects with challenges like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) support to the Uganda Teacher and School Effectiveness Project (UTSEP).

Then, we had a deadline of December 21, 2016 to sign contracts for 55 schools or cancel the entire project but we managed to achieve that. At least 83 more schools were also constructed on schedule. Other projects funded by the World Bank also had challenges but through teamwork, we achieved this. I am glad to say that World Bank is ready to give us other projects that they had halted.

What are these projects?

These halted projects are so crucial to the success of the sector that we cannot afford to lose them again. Among them is construction of more secondary schools and ensuring that delivery in those schools is much better. We have started the discussions and they are willing to give us more funds.

What pressing issues in your office would you have wanted addressed in your first year?

One of the things we have not realized this year is recruitment of teachers in secondary schools; instructors both in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and teacher training colleges. This will now form part of our priority for next financial year.

You know the challenges of the sector are so many. We would love to reach all schools through inspections to see whether our teachers are teaching, and with the right content.

Recently, a report came out that we are doing poorly in terms of teacher presence. We still have issues of infrastructure yet learners need classrooms that are much better.

We also need to sensitise parents that education is a shared responsibility most especially when it comes to feeding children. There are so many things that I would want to do but you can’t do them immediately. For now, we have built a foundation to get us started next year.

Your entry came at a time when championing the Skilling Uganda initiative was at its peak. What has been your contribution? Any challenges?

Skilling Uganda was launched in 2012 to address the skills gap in the country. However, a few things were implemented though it had some major outlook of restructuring TVET. Donors were saying this initiative had stalled while other people thought it should not take off.

So, we have gone through a lot of discussions, waiting, and negotiations. We had our last consultative meeting recently about the creation of the TVET council and managed to convince everybody because government is rethinking creation of authorities.

The council will be demand-driven and led by the private sector but below it, we shall have skills councils for each subsector that will determine the hands-on skills required for the various fields like agriculture, manufacturing and oil and gas. At the end of it all, we want people who will go out immediately and start working both in the formal and informal sectors.

Will the education ministry have funds to run the skills subsector councils?

The TVET council will be affiliated to the ministry although we want it to be a semi-autonomous body because that is how the private sector wants it.

Under the council, there will be a skills development fund in the secretariat that manages accreditation and standards. That fund will be contributed to by the private sector, donors and government. So, these subsector skills councils, based on their annual plans, will advise on how the money should be utilised. This issue has gone through a very long process but we are finally there.

There were plans to construct an early childhood development (ECD) center at every government school. How far with this project?

Government supports ECD but for now, we decided that delivery will be by the private sector. Our work is to set policies now and ensure that caregivers in these centres are trained, a programme also supported under GPE.

Government is not yet ready to construct the ECD centres because we are still focusing on primary and secondary education.

You instituted a committee to investigate school fees charges in various education institutions. Any progress made by the committee?

The ministry has taken some time working on fees guidelines but we are doing our best to have everything done this year. The school fees review committee led by Prof Frederick Kayanja submitted its report and made several recommendations.

We have put in place a team headed by the director, Basic and Secondary Education, Robinson Nsumba-Lyazi, to ease out the implementation plan and guidelines of their recommendations so that we publicise this report before schools break off for third term holidays. Parents and schools will get a comprehensive report that will give clear guidelines on school fees.

Several schools have complained of delays in remitting capitation grants to Universal Primary Education schools. Is there any provision to increase on the current Shs 10,000 given per child, per year?

Those delays are basically on local governments because the ministry of Finance normally sends this money to their accounts in time.

Sometimes, accounting officers also delay to prepare warrants for the grants. On the other hand, if a school has been in one jurisdiction and in the next financial year it is in another location with the creation of new districts, it also creates a lot of confusion in transferring the money.

We have talked to our counterparts in the local government to ensure that they always send the money in time. On increasing the grants, you know the budget of the sector is still very low; currently at Shs 2.5 trillion.

We also understand that the capitation grants sent to these schools are inadequate but they will increase over time. At one time, we thought the grants would go to Shs 12,000 per child per year but it has not yet been possible because of budget constraints.

Recently, parliament backed the ministry’s move to close illegal schools. What is being done to ensure local government leaders implement this directive – some of them are still open.

We have written reminders to local governments and again requested them to ensure that schools that do not comply get closed. We were happy with the decision of parliament to back us because initially, they had stopped us.

We will continue to close all illegal schools but as well encourage people who do the certification of schools to do their work faster and give responses to proprietors. When one applies and they are not given feedback, it forces people to open unlicensed structures. Next year, we promise to have much better inspectorate services.

What should we expect in your second year of office?

Now that we shall have completed the institutional framework for skilling Uganda, we intend to move faster and implement this initiative. Our focus will strictly be on skilling people.

Also, in May this year, 14 African countries met in Nairobi to ensure that all children in the same generation get the same quality of education. We are going to ensure that whatever was discussed is followed like delivering education under different methodologies that give big results now. This calls for prioritization, commitment and accountability from the sector in order to get maximum outputs.

nangonzi@observer.ug

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd