The Uganda Education Paradox

Fred Muwema

Fred Muwema

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An article written by Benjamin Rukwengye under the title “Here is how our education is aiding unemployment” which was published in the Monitor Newspaper of January 22nd 2018 at page 15 got me thinking in many directions.

It is intriguing that Uganda has managed to be the most entrepreneurial nation in the world with what might pass for a dingy education system.

Learning is the lifeline of entrepreneurship and yet some assert that our graduates are educated but not learned. Such is the steamy underside of Uganda’s education paradox.

It is also intriguing that we are suffering a human capital flight of our doctors and other professionals to other markets and yet our education is wanting. So who is preparing our graduates to excel in the foreign labour markets?

The author of the article spoke for me when he argued that our exam centered education system has a lot to do with our high levels of unemployment.

I must add that the low levels of economic activity and general business decline are contributing more to the cyclical unemployment than the education is.

For as long as we are not investing in the job creating sectors like Agriculture, Manufacturing and Socio-economic Services, there will be less and less jobs to be worked, whether our graduates acquire more job-related skills or not.

We need more deliberate effort by Government, such as the local content policy which is currently being applied to procurement in public infrastructure projects, to create more jobs for Ugandans as much as we need to equip them with more practical skills on the education menu.

With an entrepreneurship rate of 28%, Uganda ranks first in the world but with unemployment swelling at more than 80%, this impressive statistic counts for little. Entrepreneurship as an examinable subject was introduced not very long ago in our structured secondary school curriculum.

Entrepreneurship has also recently been included as a degree course in our universities. It is therefore doubtful that our education is the one churning out these entrepreneurs.

On the contrary, our education teaches the students to mostly seek for and not to create jobs.

What I see is that the motivation for the Students to excel is mainly external and is not internally generated. I mean few students in Uganda study hard with pleasure and passion for their own sake without the exerting pressure of the schools and parents.

In the end many students study for their parent’s sake or for recognition and fame that they attract when they excel more than they study to nourish their true desires. They take on courses that are supposed to meet the expectations of their parents or society but not their own.

Such is an education which produces graduates with low creativity, ownership and responsibility for themselves and others.

This explains the dearth of labour productivity of our graduates. It is a glaring paradox that our education which is lean on creativity can sit in the same country with a high entrepreneurship spirit spurred by creativity and innovation.

The fact however is that our youth are being driven into entrepreneurship as a last resort and desperate measure to survive the prevalent socio-economic hardships.

Extreme entrepreneurship is driven by extreme hardship. All the top most entrepreneurial countries in the world are drawn from the poor developing nations whose national education systems, infrastructure of schools, colleges and universities are also poor.

The youth in the developed nations are less entrepreneurial not because they have a deficient education but because they can achieve a comfortable lifestyle by working for an established organization in their countries without risking everything to begin their own ventures like we do.

Turning to the human capital flight of our doctors and other professionals to other countries, I say that it is the harsh economic conditions rather than the quality of education which is migrating them.

Brain drain is a persistent problem common to all developing countries but that is by no means a measure of the standard of education in the countries drained.

Ironically, Thailand which is the second most entrepreneur country in the world at 16%, has a less pronounced problem of brain drain because its education system does not produce enough quality graduates for the domestic labour market, let alone, enough to lead to a brain drain.

So how come Uganda with a tawdry education has a pronounced brain drain problem.

Of course other reasons could be responsible but I still don’t understand how Ugandan graduates who are supposedly ill trained by our education, lack adequate problem solving skills and good work habits are attractive in the foreign labour markets which are often times more sophisticated or in some cases, provide harsh working environments like in Darfur, Somalia, Iraq.

Is it because they are adaptable and learn quickly on the job or they are possessed of inherent knowledge and skill developed by our education?

Why is it that the same graduates who remain and are employed in Uganda do not exhibit the same high productivity threshold which they display in the foreign labour markets?

I don’t know of any Ugandan who has been deported from abroad because he failed to work but I know many here who get sacked for incompetence.

I wonder whether Uganda’s education is producing graduates better suited for the foreign labour market instead.

Can good pay alone be the motivating factor for these Ugandan graduates who are performing abroad? That is my paradox of Uganda’s indefatigable education.

Muwema is managing Partner at M/s Muwema & Co. Advocates.

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