Is the school curriculum to blame for joblessness in Uganda?

Monday August 25 2014

Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 


On Tuesday, January 17, 2012, the Daily Monitor, reported “11,000 graduate to 83% joblessness”.

The headline was striking. It carried two interesting figures which equally presented double emotions. That 11,000 were walking away with degrees and diplomas, given the country’s literacy levels was a great thing. But that they were walking into a dark world staring at them with a grotesque face of a double-digit unemployment percentage was never going to be pleasant. That is the sad reality that Ugandan youth find themselves in.

“Most of us don’t have rich parents to take us to their offices to work as their assistants so we don’t know when we will get jobs,” the Daily Monitor quoted Zaidi Tebazaalwa, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology saying. He hoped to work as a research assistant for his first job.

Just prior to that graduation, the Africa Development Indicators report released by the World Bank placed youth unemployment in Uganda at 83 per cent.

This indicated that Uganda by 2011 had the highest unemployment rate among the young men in Africa although a study, “Lost opportunity? Gaps in youth policy and programming in Uganda”, published by ActionAid put youth unemployment rate at 62 per cent.

Presiding over the graduation, Makerere University Chancellor, Prof Mondo Kagonyera, asked President Museveni to “provide a special desk to help keep on the lookout for and coordinate the funding of students’ innovations”.


Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of people under 30 – 78 per cent – according to the to the 2012 State of Uganda population report by the UN Population Fund.

These figures present a rather gloomy atmosphere with at least 400,000 youth graduating each year yet projects registered by the Uganda Investment Authority indicate a potential to create only 150,000 jobs annually, leaving an estimated 350,000 on the street.

The problem

Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

So why is it the case? Why would a block of more than 350,000 men and women who have studied for more than 15 years remain on the streets after all?

Mr Patrick Kaboyo, an educationist and chief executive Coalition of Uganda Private Schools Teachers Association, says all Ugandans should be rallied to discuss the education status quo.

He says Ugandans should be asked what is relevant to the prevailing conditions such that the curriculum matches the people’s needs. For perspective, curriculum is the total sum of all the experiences that a learner undergoes, whether they are taught in class or outside the classroom environment.

“As long as the status quo remains unchanged, we shall not see much. The current curriculum has served its purpose. It is a high time we overhauled it in order to address the challenges of the common man. The curriculum is not giving the learners the right information,” Mr Kaboyo says.

He adds: “The trend in the current curriculum is that the bright ones proceed to A-Level and subsequently to university yet the relatively slow ones are the ones who are relegated to technical institutions. So we do not get the right people to do actual building, carpentry etc.”

The educationist suggests that for the country to realise better results, there should be talent identification and tapping of skills right from primary level and the learners are accorded the right support.

He cites an example of children who show an interest in baking when still young; such should be supported in that line and in future, they can be able to create their own jobs: And the routine goes for other talents. So is the curriculum the problem?

The Director of National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), which is the epicentre for the school curriculum, Connie Kateeba, does not think so.

“When we are bringing up children, we need to widen their perspective. The child needs to be offered a variety of disciplines in order to establish what their real interest is. There are children who open up with time and when you limit them to particular subjects when they are still young, you might not know exactly what they are good at,” Kateeba says, adding that it is dangerous for one to make a decision when they have not yet fully discovered themselves.

“Other people are late developers. So, one needs to be given the opportunity to explore themselves before being asked to narrow down on a field.

Mr Francis Agula, an educationist and Commissioner Secondary Education at the Ministry of Education and Sports, is also supportive of the current curriculum.

“I see no gap in the current curriculum. Our system is okay. We are currently running a programme called Skilling Uganda which is aimed at improving the curriculum. The current curriculum has served its time. It was designed for what it has already done. But by 2020, Skilling Uganda programme should be able to address any challenges,” Agula says.

The implementation of the Skilling Uganda programme was talked about during the 2014/15 Budget reading on June 12. Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka indicated that the government would enhance access to vocational and entrepreneurial skills training to support young people in making the transition from informal to formal employment.

The development of youth enterprises for self-employment would also be promoted and efforts would be made to overcome barriers related to the cost and access to capital and an inability to identify viable business opportunities, she said.

To that effect, Shs68.7b was earmarked for the implementation of the Skilling Uganda programme.

Gaps that need fixing

Educationists say that every child’s talents

Educationists say that every child’s talents such as music should be explored. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Even Kateeba, who maintains that the current school curriculum gives wide opportunities to meet the needs of the learners, admits that the curriculum is not that perfect and should be more dynamic to suit the changing world. She states however, that even where the curriculum remains relevant, some factors still hinder its capabilities in addressing unemployment.

“The curriculum has very good subjects like Agriculture, Technical Drawing, Wood Work, Music, Dance and Drama, Office Practice, etc. But there are very few schools teaching them.

“There are no teaching materials and equipment to enforce this. Schools are not well resourced. So teachers end up teaching some of these subjects, including sciences, theoretically and the problem continues,” she says.

Kateeba also blames the schools’ culture for focusing on examinations than imparting skills on the learners.

“There are seven subjects in primary but only four are examinable. Nowadays, most schools concentrate on the four subjects, which exclude the vocational ones such as Art and Craft, Physical Education and MDD because of performance reasons. When I was in school, I remember knitting my own uniform. These skills opened our minds to the outside world. Students leave school with hands-on skills, but today, there is nothing as such.”

So what is the way forward? The NCDC boss adds that Skilling Uganda programme hinges on resourcing schools. Teachers should be taken through refresher courses and training, to keep them abreast with the changing times and trends.

Kateeba also suggests that there is need for career guidance teachers and national planners to shift focus on refocusing learners’ attention. They need to emphasise on science and vocational subjects and the government also ought to boost resources in the same direction.

She adds that the government and school authorities must tell learners that not everyone must go to university.

“There is a society norm that anyone who doesn’t make it to university is failure. This is very wrong. The government should raise resources for technical and vocational schools so that many learners after attaining the basic education at O-Level can join the tertiary institutions. These are the institutions which can create jobs,” Kateeba says.

What is clear from the above arguments is that the curriculum the country currently uses must be revised.

It should either be tweaked heavily and the complete process from proposal to implementation done, or it should be changed and the results be executed across the board. If not, many youth will continue to roam the streets looking for jobs that do not exist.

The revised curriculum

Photo by Lubowa Abubaker

Photo by Lubowa Abubaker

Why a new curriculum. The new curriculum for O- Level seeks to shift from a strictly academic list of subjects, to a set of generic skills that are woven across, and acquired through learning areas.

Subjects to be taught. The learning areas include; Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Languages, Life Education, Creative Arts, Religious Education and Technology and Enterprise.

Expected results. The learning areas, Connie Kateeba Director of National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) says, were arrived at after merging and integrating the existing 14 subjects.

According to NCDC, when the new curriculum is adopted, it is expected that its beneficiaries will leave school with integrity and honesty, positive attitude to work and respect for human right, tolerance of difference as well as peaceful and harmonious values.

Skills -set. It is also expected that the new curriculum will encourage learners to be independent, to explore the environment beyond the classroom and to acquire a range of generic skills.

When it will start. Students joining Senior One in the year 2015 should, therefore, expect to learn seven instead of the 43 subjects.
Changes involved. The new curriculum shifts from the academic-based form of learning to life skills education. The move is to ensure students are self-reliant and productive according to NCDC officials.

a whole new syllabus

Mr Fredrick Ssempala, a don at Busitema University, but currently on a study leave in US, holds another view of the curriculum and unemployment puzzle.

“Uganda government must develop her indigenous curriculum basing on the Indigenous National Vision. The current curriculum was based on colonial vision of training elites who can easily communicate with colonialists and also consumers for the products made from western countries.

“It is sad to note that even for the current O-Level curriculum review by NCDC, they hired the consultant from UK who just duplicated the current UK curriculum to be the Uganda reviewed curriculum,” Ssempala says.

He adds: “The curriculum that the consultant gave the NCDC as the best is being reviewed currently in UK due to the gaps identified as it was implemented. We must avoid copying other countries’ vision and curriculum documents because we will not be able to implement them successfully to realise the desired outcome. The curriculum must be developed organically beginning with needs assessment or situation analysis of our society.

“The curriculum has three components; curriculum as a document; the curriculum as process (implementation); and a curriculum as a product (outcome).

In Uganda we just produce a document, but we do not plan to guide ormonitor the curriculum implementation process. Hence we end up with the product different from the one anticipated.”

Everyone must be on board
Therefore, according to Ssempala, the curriculum implementation must be guided by the National Vision and philosophy of education. This means that every educator or parent must be aware of our vision as a country and the philosophy of education. All teachers must be able to relate their lesson plan to the achievement of the national vision.
For example, he says, in the US now they want all learners to be innovative, hence every teacher must link their science lesson to engineering practice andtechnology. But you will be shocked to realise, Ssempala adds, that in Uganda majority of teachers do not know the National Vision for Uganda. Hence, they are just teaching learners to pass exams/tests. Learners, therefore, leave school without any clear values/skills.

“The current youth un-employment we see is the product of that faulty process for the last 30 years. The Ministry of Education and Sports has ignored school inspection which is the vital component in curriculum implementation.

“The evidence obtained from school inspections/classroom observation is the raw data for realistic curriculum review/reform,” Ssempala says.


Mr Fredrick Ssempala, a don at Busitema University, recommends that the government should do the following to solve the problem of youth un-employment in Uganda:
1. Develop a clear Indigenous National Vision based on the Uganda context (avoid the copy and paste visions from developed countries).
2. Sensitise all educators/society/public (teachers/lecturers/parents/learners) about the National Vision.
3. Develop the Indigenous Curricula guided by the National Vision and clear Ugandan educational philosophy using its own resources
4. Mobilise the resources required to implement/ monitor the developed curricula.
5. Monitor and evaluate the implement curricula in schools/ universities.
6. Review/reform the curricula basing on the empirical evidence from classroom observation.
7. Make sure that young people value work and time. This can be done by ensuring that any subjects/course provide learners with knowledge, skills and values. Teachers must provide problem solving skills in every lesson .This approach must be embedded in our philosophy of education.