Shall we survive the UPE machine?


Unemployment is as endemic as dust in Kampala city. With the streets filled with droves of jobless graduates and the bona basome machine churning out more of its babies, the clouds are getting darker. With an outdated education system, crippled teacher labour union and a corrupt education system. Uganda has navigated the choppy waters of globalization with all but a drowning sailor’s prayer.

As a product of the system, my experiences have to a certain extent influenced my placement in society. From the moment you join school to your graduation day, the song of survival is the only one you hear. How to survive promotion to the next class, surviving the pass mark, escaping the clutches of UNEB (Uganda National Examination Board) and beating that lecturer to his game as the coursework assignments are cunningly eluded. And so this mentality continues even after school. The survival mindset is what you meet among our youth, government officials and business. You could all most tell a Ugandan by the way we think.

Promises have been made with UPE (Uganda Primary Education), USE (Uganda Secondary Education) and of recent university student loans. The curriculum however remains as rigid as Mugabe’s presidency while money is continually pumped in as it is lost to “ghost schools.” Teachers barely live below the minimum wage with cries to have a salary silenced by the government rhetoric of building roads first. As if good roads do any good to a sub-standard educated graduate who cannot even build a road since the Chinese expatriates take the job.

Even Ugandans cannot build their own roads, it is that bad.

Resorting to survival, a large number of youth have resorted to odd jobs, petty crime or manual jobs in the Emirates as security guards and house maids. The youth have lost hope in a life after education to the point of neglecting university after high school. However, as much as university enrollment has increased over the years in Uganda, the trend of dropouts should be worrying us, equally. The cries of unemployment are getting much louder; this was the major campaign issue in the recent 2016 general election. So much so that the president appointed the first lady as minister of education, maybe be to bring “hope” to the institution as a government priority or to sort out the messes of the system, we are keenly watching her tenure.

Youth unemployment is a major issue in Uganda since we “boast” of being the youngest nation with roughly 70% of the population below the age of 18. The education system however is not of much help; STEM subjects are all but theoretical and barely meet global standards. Like a Mexican wave, the outcomes of this “millennial” system have reached as far as being the cause of low industrialization, a measly innovation growth movement and a pool of unskilled youth. By choosing theory over practical skills, Ugandans are rendered disabled in building their nation. Recent discovery of oil has meant expatriates fill up the technical positions as Ugandans fight for United Nations jobs with bachelor’s degree in conflict management. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about survival. “How do I get a job,” not “how do I help build my country.” Vocational institutions are neglected and even mocked by the youth for being a last resort for academic failures.

And so while we remain oblivious to the shortage of skilled labor, so much so as even nurses, the UPE machine continues spitting out its products on the streets of Kampala.

Ingredients to a perfect storm yet to come lest we are not being battered by it already.


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