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We must pay attention to the education sector

Uganda’s ministry of Education and Sports, in line with the National Development Plan II, expects at least 20 million children and young adults between the age of three and 24 to pass through the education system. This is informed by the fact that 80 percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30.

The reality on the ground, however, is that school enrollment numbers continue to decline as learners advance through the different education levels. For example, according to the 2017 Education Monograph report released by UBOS in partnership with UNFPA and UKAID, about 11 million children went through primary school.

This represents 54.7% of the number of children expected to go through the education system. About 26% (5.2 million) of this same number went through secondary school while 19.2% were enrolled into tertiary institutions.

These statistics indicate a decline in enrollment (from the number of learners who start their education cycle at primary level to those that advance to secondary and finally reach tertiary level). This begs the question: what is happening to the learners who drop out at the various levels?

Some of the challenges identified include late school-starting age, early marriages, lack of sanitary pads, as well as other unforeseeable challenges such as lack of tuition and death. Aside from the learners, there aren’t enough teachers with one teacher in charge of a class of forty-three students against the ideal ratio of one to twenty-five students per class. In addition, 40% of the said teachers are unqualified, have high salary expectations and, therefore, have no job satisfaction.

Further, of the students who make it through tertiary institutions, many find it difficult to get jobs. This means, the number of unemployed youth continues to grow, yet we all have to co-exist in an economy that simply has the majority as dependants on the small number of jobs available.

Additionally, it also means we have a massive challenge for a country that seeks to attain its Vision 2040 of achieving a ‘transformed Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 20 years.’   

For us to achieve this, we need to supplement our education system. We need all hands on deck to make the learning experience inspirational to the youth. The key focus areas that need to be addressed to solve these challenges at the different levels of education include actual literacy (curriculum), financial literacy, entrepreneurship and life skills.

Certainly, there has been a concerted effort by players both in the public and private sectors to train the youth in a bid to turn them from job seekers to job creators. Case in point is the partnership between government and Enterprise Uganda that seeks to instill entrepreneurship and business development skills among the youth. So far, this program has trained 62,443 youth and households and 4,150 women entrepreneurs.

While private sector players may not be in a position to influence curriculum or teacher qualifications, or their salaries, they can get involved in the entrepreneurship and life skills space. Stanbic bank, for example, through its annual National Schools Championships (NSC), has been working with different schools from around the country to equip young adults with the much-needed life and financial skills that will enable them to start their own businesses and become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Through this program, the students, together with their teachers, have been able to come up with business ideas and execute them into full-fledged small enterprises. Since inception of the NSC, over 180 secondary schools have been involved.

Students have been empowered with confidence to think beyond the classroom and be able to think critically in the various stages of the competition. As a result, social skills have been improved and networks built which are vital for students to find their way in the work environment.

Projects such as these equip students with the ability to be self-reliant, have a financial literacy background and be the job creators of tomorrow.  We need more of these kinds of initiatives to solve some of the problems facing the education sector and see more youth become empowered in the future.

To achieve this, we need strong partnerships and more attention from the private sector to play a role in giving the youth guidance and support where the current curriculum falls short.

We can’t afford to have a future of overzealous unemployed youth if we are to achieve national development.     

The author is the head of Corporate Social Investments at Stanbic bank

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd