There are no failures in Uganda’s education system

Saturday February 24 2018

Makerere University students jubilate after

Makerere University students jubilate after being awarded a bachelor’s degree in Education during the second day of the 65th graduation ceremony PHOTO BY DOMINIC BUKENYA 

By Milly B Babalanda

On February 11, 2018, columnist Allan Tacca tackled a central subject of UPE albeit in critical light. As a regular columnist of many years, Tacca has addressed so many subjects and is a respected commentator on national affairs. I wish to congratulate him for his consistency and keeping abreast with current affairs. He penned the column titled, ‘NRM needs UPE failures for tomorrow’s slaves’ just days after the release of PLE results for 2017. Without engaging in contention, I think it helps us to first look at the reality of education today as well as back in the day. And not just primary education.
We should appreciate the fact that there are more schools (and higher institutions) of learning than ever before. How many classrooms exist? How many school-goers are there? I need not produce the figures here because there is no doubt about the non-stop growth in enrolment (and completion) rates since NRM ascended to power.
The rise in enrolment and education infrastructure has not been by accident, but through a deliberate scheme to empower Ugandans. Apart from universal education at primary and secondary levels, establishment of more universities under the government scheme, liberalisation of the sector introduced private players, who have completely revolutionalised academics and provided numerous options to choose from depending on affordability, proximity and career choice.
The presence of many schools has increased competitiveness, with each school vying to bring out the best in learners, including establishing a learning environment that makes learning enjoyable, but “serious”. Some school campuses can be mistaken for resorts. The NRM government, has beyond encouraging expansion and access to education, is committed to ensuring stability to secure these investments.
In the past, there were a handful of reputable schools that rolled out youngsters who were ‘likely to become the next line of administrators, lawyers, doctors and other professionals’, as Tacca writes, adding that these schools dominance is “more or less broken” and rightly so.
Today, these reputable schools no longer have the monopoly of admitting the best. Students “likely to become professionals” have so many schools to choose from. This trend has taken away the shine from such traditional schools whose dominance was partly responsible for shortages of the work force at a time when staffing issues compromised service delivery. If enrolment and qualification for higher education weren’t simpler, new universities and other tertiary institutions would not have been required and established. Even the nature of professions is not as it used to be. One need not be a graduate as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, district commissioner or teacher in order to be recognised as academically successful. Uganda runs on the contribution of professionals in all fields, which I need not mention. Today, 90 per cent of the leadership in civil service are NRM products.
In the past, if one missed the mark of admission to the then few available institutions of learning, that learner would be considered a failure and their academic journey would instantly end. Now failing to be admitted in one school does not stop you from seeking admission elsewhere and going on to graduate as a government-sponsored or private student. Grades at completion cannot be the same. Some learners are better at theory while others excel in practical fields. That is why vocational studies are being encouraged. A pupil who does not perform “well” at PLE can head to a technical school.
Predictions that the number of students heading to the practical skill institutions are set to spike. NRM already has a plan to make this happen and tap into the human resource to spur industrial development and job creation. In developed nations, there are no academic failures and this what the NRM is aspiring to achieve although Uganda is not yet fully industrialised. Ugandans are talented.
Those who do menial, and “dirty” work as alleged, sometimes earn more than the professionals and they serve where “office workers” cannot do without. Services such as cleaning and grooming are essential for the survival and image of those serving in “white collar” placements.
Regarding the education system as a mark of failure is a vestige of the colonial mentality which cannot apply in a liberated and liberalised economy. Education is not about the papers one has, but what he or she can do to help themselves and others. Success can find you anywhere no matter the circumstances. What keeps NRM in power is its ability to leave nobody behind.
Ms Babalanda is the personal assistant to NRM national chairman and Senior
Presidential Advisor.