When Janeth Akello reported for her studies at National Teachers’ College, Unyama, in early 2013, she found a rundown institution whose buildings were crumbling.
“We joined the school when the old buildings were in bad shape; it was not impressive. Others doubted whether this one is NTC Unyama,” recalls Akello.
Despite their doubts, Akello and some of her freshly-enrolled colleagues persisted and stayed in the college. In fact, bluntly put, those who stayed did so because they did not have any other viable option. Some who had an option did not.
When lectures started, Akello and her colleagues realised that they had to undertake some of them under trees since the classrooms could not accommodate all the students. The situation in NTC Unyama may have been extreme largely due to the two-decade war in northern Uganda that left many of the institution’s facilities in ruins.
However, that situation is not a far cry from what prevails in many other colleges across the country, where years without maintenance of facilities left many institutions in a state of disrepair.
At Uganda Technical College, Elgon, the school administration had to improvise by using some classrooms and staff houses to accommodate some students due to inadequate accommodation facilities. In other technical institutions, school administrators were complaining of obsolete training equipment, and dilapidated housing structures.
In an effort to arrest that decline, the government secured $80m (about Shs 200bn) for the construction and renovation of 25 technical vocational institutions. Unyama, a national teachers’ college, was roped into the project because of the effects of the war.
Dubbed the Vocational Education (VE) project, the government set out to use the multi-billion initiative to construct new technical institutions in the districts of Kamuli (Nawanyago Technical Institute), Bukedea, Mukono, Namutumba (Basoga Nsadhu Memorial Technical Institute), Nakasongola, Hoima, Lwengo, Amuria, Pader, Yumbe, Adjumani, Lyantonde, Kiboga and Kyenjojo.
Technical schools that were earmarked for rehabilitation included Elgon Technical School-Mbale, Uganda Technical College-Lira, Ogolai Technical Institute-Amuria, and Buhimba Technical Institute-Hoima. Others are Lwengo Technical Institute, Namataba Technical Institute-Mukono, Sasiira Technical Institute-Nakasongola, Kilak Corner Technical Institute-Pader and Lokopio Technical Institute-Yumbe.
The project, which is jointly funded by OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), Islamic Development Bank, Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) and Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, was launched on November 12, 2013 by First Deputy Prime Minister Gen (rtd) Moses Ali, on behalf of President Museveni.
At the launch, which took place at UTC-Lira, President Museveni, whose speech was read by Gen Ali, described the rehabilitation project as one of the baby steps of his government’s vision to “transform Ugandan society from a peasantry-based to a modern, industrialised, self-sustaining and prosperous country within the next 30 years.”
Six months into the implementation of the project, the minister of Education and Sports, Maj (rtd) Jessica Alupo, and a team of ministry officials, recently moved across the country to assess the ongoing construction work. Alupo said the onsite visits were part of their efforts to ensure that all 25 projects are finished by the scheduled completion time of December 2014.
The technical schools that the ministry officials inspected are in the districts of Kamuli, Mbale, Lira, Gulu, Lyantonde, Lwengo, Kyenjojo and Hoima. The government is constructing classroom blocks, classrooms, laboratories, dormitories, dispensaries, lecturers’ houses, and multi-purpose halls in the schools. Other associated works include construction of rainwater- harvesting plants, fencing, and improvement of existing internal road networks.
After inspecting the first project, Richard Mugulusi, project manager of Arch Design, the consultants supervising the works on behalf of government, said the works include building (or reconstructing) the structures and equipping them with furniture, equipment and books.
At completion of the works in Nawanyago, students will be able to undertake studies in courses such as plumbing and pipe fitting, welding and metal fabrication, building and concrete practice. However, Mugulusi lamented the limited accommodation and dining facilities in all the institutions under construction.
“The biggest challenge on all our sites is that we are providing only one dormitory [for boys] and the end-users at the districts are raising the question: ‘what about the other sex?’” he said. Mugulusi added that locals have also lamented the limited number of courses at the technical institutes.
Kamuli District LC-V Chairperson Salaamu Musumba, said the construction of the institute in her district was “long overdue,” adding that she was happy it was finally under construction, the limitations notwithstanding.
“For a long time we kept complaining that we are a neglected community – we the people of Kamuli, the people of Busoga – and I can only say ‘thank you’ that we are now part of the country that is being served to meet the many, many needs of the young people here,” she said.
Musumba, however, says the 120-student dormitory did not have the capacity to serve the entire Kamuli district “if each sub-county supplied just two children.” The school was designed for 480 students, but financial constraints mean it can only accommodate 360 students.
“This should be providing a solution to the community to get skills, but what can two people do in a sub-county?” she asked.
In her comments, minister Alupo said the new and refurbished institutions were part of a government programme, dubbed Skilling Uganda, to increase access to vocational skills. Alupo acknowledged that the capacity of the institutions, whose completion is slated for December 2014, was limited, but advised the leaders to devise a programme where students can study in shifts.
More progress, more problems
“Government is committed to investing more and more resources into the Skilling Uganda programme,” she said. “In terms of training instructors, we are establishing a centre of excellence in Abiloneno in Kole district to train instructors who are adequate for all our vocational institutions.”
Listening to chairpersons of the governing councils at the different vocational institutes, one realises that the rehabilitation of the institutions will put a strain on the resources at the existing institutions. At Uganda Technical College, Elgon, Jane Bella Magombe, the chairperson of the institute’s governing council, said that in order to bridge the staffing gap, the governing council has to hire and pay an additional number of teaching and non-teaching staff.
“The college has a total of 89 staff members; 45 are on the government payroll while 44 are on the college governing council payroll.
In Lira, the chairperson of the governing council of Lira Technical Institute, Dr Grace Okiror, described the problem of under-staffing as “a perennial one.” He said the school would need to hire more staff, not just to match existing demand, but also to cater for the anticipated increase in enrolment. There is also a growing clamour by different vocational institutions across the country for elevation to the status of a polytechnic.
“Uganda lacks a polytechnic after its only polytechnic in Kyambogo was elevated to a university. It is high time the ministry of Education and Sports elevated one of its UTCs to a polytechnic,” said Magombe, before predictably rooting for Elgon such elevation. A similar request was made by Lira district leaders.
In Lira, Dr Okiror said the government also needed to upgrade the electricity transmission capacity to technical colleges due to the higher electricity demands that the new equipment would impose. In her assessment of the project, Education Minister Alupo described it as “doing very well” since the progress of the contract work was above average at most of the sites.
“That means that the project will be complete at the desired time,” she told The Observer.
Asked about the challenges that are likely to be visited on the schools due to the expansion of the infrastructure, Alupo said the government has put in place contingency plans to ensure that the schools can overcome any challenges that arise.