Vocational education: Change negative mindset

Allen Nanyonga

What you need to know:

This type of education has often been categorised as an option for intellectually inferior students.

There is a narrative that has been around for a while tagging technical/vocational education as a last resort after one fails to advance in formal education. The other was that it’s the cheaper option if one failed to raise the tuition for instance to finish high school or to join university or if one had dropped out of school.  This type of education has often been categorised as an option for intellectually inferior students and associated with “unpopular” blue-collar employment. The perception has been deeply ingrained in people that parents regarded their children as failures and in disappointment ‘dumped’ them into the technical/vocational schools.

This kind of mindset despite the small but notable changes lately is unfortunately still maintained by some people.

The state of the Youth Report (2019) published by Centre for Policy Analysis indicated that the majority of the youth demanded more practical subjects. It further highlighted that over 50 per cent of youth revealed that the education they had received had not prepared them for the available opportunities in the labour market.

As a result, the market is flooded with “white collar” job seekers.  The excitement of school completion thereafter meets frustration after the university graduate applies to several opportunities seen in the local press and online in vain. The few lucky ones with start-up capital have joined the informal sector and have thriving businesses while the not so lucky have got into very exploitative jobs that have left them struggling with occupational-related hazards. To change people’s outlook toward vocational skilling and combat the negative narrative about it that doesn’t serve today’s progressive culture, there is an urgent need to sensitise and market vocational skilling better to Ugandans. Once the mindset changes from “skills for failures” to “skills for entrepreneurs”, we will have many children demand these skills and more parents will invest in this education as a highly viable path for their children.

This is already a promising venture with the government roll out of the new lower secondary education curriculum in February 2020 aiming to meet the learners’ needs, especially in skills training and enhancement. The limitations of the old curriculum were that it could not equip the learners with thorough practical skills and knowledge to become innovative enough in order to create jobs. It rather focused more on theoretical work than practical skills. The new curriculum however is not a magic bullet, this needs to be backed by sensitisation of the masses so that they support, appreciate, and embrace the need for skilled young people. Young people are very innovative in the sense those  who have undergone training in the right skills where their passion lies, have been seen training others within their communities, especially those that cannot afford institutional training. Other young girls that had lost hope , especially after having their own children at a young age have revived their lives with a livelihood that has enabled them to take care of themselves and their babies. Others have managed to make lucrative connections and have received contractual work with companies and individuals to supply them with items, hence boosting their income.

We need to embrace the vocational skilling of young people, now that the new secondary school curriculum has incorporated skilling as a priority area.  This will enable many young people to utilise the skills not only to make themselves better but to uplift those around them and lessen the dependency burden. As we ponder around youth unemployment as a national challenge, vocational skilling of young people will address this since beneficiaries of this training can ably create their own employment instead of seeking it.

Ms Allen Nanyonga, Program Manager, Community Efforts for Child Empowerment