Skills Matter, Papers Don’t [editorial]

An estimated 137,000 students are reportedly unable to find S.5 vacancies in secondary schools, primary teachers’ colleges and technical institutions that participated in the just-ended selection exercise. Ministry of Education and Sports officials say the affected students are likely to find vacancies in private schools if not other post-O-level institutions that didn’t participate in the selection exercise. That may well be the case, but nevertheless these students’ fate should remind us of the flaws in our education system, which is one-dimensional – nursery to primary to secondary to university – thus exacerbating competition for a few available vacancies.

Yet even if available schools were to absorb all the 137,000 children, majority of them would either fail to join universities two years from now because they would have not passed their A-level examinations, or having failed to raise the required tuition fees.

Those “lucky” to go past S.6 will leave universities after three years, having spent a big chunk of their parents’ fortune and even incurred debt to obtain tuition, but majority of them will not find a meaningful job for many years to come. Therefore, it’s not enough for the ministry of Education to find vacancies for students in secondary schools. It must lead the debate regarding what next after Senior Four, Senior Six or university level.

In today’s harshly competitive world, what matters more than your qualifications are your skills. It is not the papers you hold but what you can do, that will determine whether you get a job or start your own business.

The government has been trumpeting its Skilling Uganda project, which is a good idea as it emphasises vocational training. However, like most things government, there is more talking than acting. Let the government put its money where its mouth is by equipping the existing vocational institutions and building even more.

What will be left after that is for parents, students and society at large to change their mindset and realise that joining a technical institute after S4 or S6 might be a much better option than going all the way to university only to be jobless.

Source : The Observer

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