By Enock Jjumba, 2018 Cohort President & Fellow 

“That education is one the few sure roads to economic progress is a contemporary creed. But there are too few facts with which to support this faith and stated in the usual way it is far too vague.”

It is public secret that the contribution of our education to the employment world is quite questionable. Public dialogue across the country has suggested skill mismatch as one of the leading factors for youth unemployment. Are the highly prized Universities prescribing the right doze for tens of thousands churned out every year? Youth unemployment in Uganda is an old song despite the various initiatives intended to alleviate it and almost all stakeholders seem to be in chorus agreement that there’s need for an overhaul of the education system to suit the needs of the labor market.

Now the real cause of the job mismatch that perpetuates employment problems among youth graduates is that those who qualify to join Technical and Vocational training (TVET) also qualify to attend Universities and obviously prefer the latter because of better wages and status.

What is more dramatic is the paradox that the surplus of highly qualified professionals (whose skills are by the way seldom used effectively) is what causes the shortage of persons with critical skills that are badly needed in Uganda like all other developing worlds. A medical specialist, for example, may not be comfortable doing the most routine medical check-ups that a nurse would very easily do notwithstanding that we may need more community health workers. We graduate more MBAs and Economists and force them into entrepreneurship that is more necessity driven than opportunity driven; which explains why many of our start-ups don’t live to celebrate their second anniversary.

Statistics suggest that the population of the Ugandan youth is bulging (with more than 70% below 30 years) and so employment is largely a supply problem. However, this seems to be a misdiagnosis of the actual challenge; the Asian tigers for instance have leveraged their population to succeed economically. I don’t mean to discount the need to harness a demographic dividend, but how we increase the productivity of this enormously growing labor force is the whole point.  Policy makers assert that what we need is a systemic transformation of education from training professional clerks, teachers and lawyers to skilling more sub-professional (through vocational training &apprenticeship) personnel like draughtsman, technicians and nurses. This path should however be walked cautiously; such vocational training should be focused on sectors that will spur production and increase jobs. This is at least what the commonly referenced Singapore and Malysia have done and evidence shows that it works.

How do we make the education system conformist and not rely solely on benchmarking from alien economies?

My proposition is to incentivize TVET to attract the brilliant minds that flow into universities to vocational schools.  In Germany for instance, students attend a dual education system enabling them to receive high quality vocational training and entering the job market at a young age and with the right skill.

Unfortunately, there has been inadequate dialogue about the already existing group of graduates who are already out of training institutions as well as those past the age of entering leaning halls. What is the plan for them?

The bottom-line is that we need to restructure the old colonial system. Thirty years back we needed it to fill gaps in administration and sectors left by our departing colonizers. We now need a more robust system that fosters innovation and enterprise; the only challenge is to specify the right sectors and training needed. Like Gerald Meier says, it’s a “Jigsaw puzzle the only problem being that the old puzzle has to been torn down and the new puzzle has not been constructed”

Until we take serious strides about this kind of transformation, we shall continue to struggle with the symptoms of unemployment- urban crime, political violence name it. And all efforts adopted will not yield, we shall only be chasing after a white elephant.

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