Judging by the level of household investment in education relative to income, it is safe to hypothesise that many Ugandans still believe that formal schooling is crucial for success.
Unfortunately, the high level of unemployment proves that post-secondary school education decisions made by the many Ugandans are almost always not linked to work. Many parents are unknowingly preoccupied with sacrificially paying their children through school while assuming the automatic outcome of their investment attaining valuable knowledge and skills they will need to become productive members of society. On the other hand, many students go through school (including university) without career guidance, in what has largely been reduced to a rite of passage.
Considering the overwhelming economic constraints faced by many parents, it is deplorable for their children to go through school unguided as though they were rich men’s children pursing education for the sake of leisure as did ancient aristocratic Greeks taught by Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, or the Chinese by Confucius.
There should be more interest now than ever by parents to engage in providing practical career guidance to their children at the most foundational stages of schooling. While illiterate and semi-illiterate parents may be forgiven for lack of exposure, it is startling that even those that are well exposed continue to display a passing concern.
Their solution is to take their children to the best schools they can afford and leave the rest to fate. Out of naivety, many university students we have suggest the rest will be solved by their parents’ connections. And yes, you guessed right, many mature only to realise the connections were fantasies, who are either unable or unwilling to help.
From your own experience as a naïve student (before life taught you lessons), you certainly remember that you were difficult to advice. Throughout your academic journey, you often viewed academic staff as not necessarily very successful and, therefore, not qualified to advice you.
This phenomenon has not changed and will not change as your children go through school.
It is also true that teachers have generally made their fair share of poor decisions and sometimes feel life has dealt so unfairly with them that they are not inclined to offer unsolicited career guidance.
Similarly, education institutions are preoccupied with the profit motive, often failing to impart basic cultural and moral values, but certainly show up to celebrate only alumni who succeed. As such, buying the most expensive education for your child does not guarantee a better future. More important are the cooperative efforts of teachers, students and most importantly, the parent who is the primary investor.
Consider the case of a well-placed parents who knew about the prospects of oil decades ago. Even with all their connections and power, they insisted and encouraged their child to study sciences at high school, enrolled them for engineering at the university – even if it were at a private university - after which they sent them to Europe for specialised training in oil-related engineering courses.
The reverse is more common. Parents are passively sending their children to school and allowing them to pursue whatever they want because they view education as a rite of passage. Not surprisingly, it is even more disturbing that many adults are pursing postgraduate education that they have later found to be essentially irrelevant. The results are clear: Rampant unemployment, drug and substance abuse, increased crime, sex, etc.
Mr Opio is the founder and executive director, Boundless Change.