The Uganda Vice Chancellors' Forum says two years is a short time for students to decide their career paths, leading to the high levels of unemployment, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.
As thousands of graduates comb streets in search of jobs with little success, university leaders have placed the blame squarely on A-level training.
They argue that it is so early for A-level students to determine their career paths based on their performance at O-level. United under their Uganda Vice Chancellors’ Forum (VCF), university dons said employees continue to blame them for lack of practical training, transferable skills and value-based content.
The VCF raised the concern while discussing this year’s conference theme: Training University Students for National, Regional and International Employability at Silver Springs hotel in Bugolobi.
Prof Charles Kwesiga, the executive director of Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI), contended that students make premature career path choices at this level.
“One of the educational reforms needed is examining the efficacy and relevance of A-level training. One discernible flaw is that 18-year-olds are making decisions that impact their careers based on one-off O-level exams,” he said.
He added that the three or four course combinations at A-level exclude students from the wider spectrum of career options at the university. His views were backed by David Bakibinga, a professor of Commercial law at Makerere University.
“In my case, I did my O-level at 16 years at King’s College Budo and it would be too early for someone to make up their mind at that time,” he said.
He told The Observer that he understands government wants to do away with A-level and have a holistic education covering both sciences and art subjects. From there, Bakibinga believes, a student will decide whether they want to specialise in arts or sciences. Kwesiga said countries like Kenya have done away with A-level education.
Back in 2003, Prof AB Kasozi, the then executive director of National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), questioned the early specialization of students at A-level.
In his proposal to the ministry of education, Kasozi said students need both arts and science subjects as they plan to join the university in order to address unemployment and imbalance of graduates.
He proposed that a student takes three science subjects and also pick one arts subject and vice versa for arts combinations, but specialise while at the university. However, his proposal was not considered by the ministry as Alfred Kyaka, the assistant commissioner secondary department, explained.
“We did not buy the proposal at that time because the pressures to move away from our current curriculum that has been around for the last 50 years. It was a darling for everyone and we could not change it,” he noted.
Kyaka added the current curriculum is good because it eliminates many people and a few manage to survive through. He, however, agreed that the curriculum is also too much examination-driven with limited provision for hands-on skills needed by employers.
Uneb chairperson Prof Mary Okwakol, also the vice chancellor of Busitema University, said A-level would be relevant if students were guided right from O-level about their career ambitions.
“Certainly, students drop many essential subjects at O-level yet they would have helped them pursue certain courses at the university,” she said.
IS A-LEVEL RELEVANT?
As university dons continue to question the relevance of A-level, Kyaka said concern should not be on the number of years in school, but the skills they get from the education system.
He said the revised lower secondary curriculum that is set to be piloted in 2018 will focus on the three Hs; the Head, Heart and Hands.
“We are now focusing on the much-desired skills called generic skills that employers are looking for in a graduate,” he said, adding that the assessment of learners will also be changed.
He explained that the current curriculum emphasizes a lot of reading material and exams yet the two-and-half-hour exam assessment is very short.
“This business of studying for 12 terms, and being told you have failed, must stop. We are looking at other forms of assessment like continuous assessment and project assessment, among others. By 2018, we shall be able to produce relevant graduates for the job market,” Kyaka said.
On forcing students into certain combinations at A-level, Kyaka said the ministry is also facing some resistance from head teachers of ‘good’ schools because they aim at passing exams.
HEAD TEACHERS SPEAK
Gerald Muguluma, the head teacher, Namilyango College, said once they admit students at A-level, they are given two weeks to determine whether they will handle a particular combination.
“If one decides to change from Arts to Sciences after this period, the career guidance office is there to guide them,” he said. “We talk to our students right from senior one on their career choices and by the time a student gets to A-level, they know what combinations to offer.”
For students joining Namilyango College at A-level, they are also issued minimum requirements for each combination. Muguluma said, for instance, that a student who intends to offer mathematics at A-level must have a distinction one.
For Gordon Katimbo, the head teacher at Hilton High School in Mukono, students are given combinations at A-level based on one’s ability and performance at O-level.