By: AL-MAHDI SSENKABIRWA
KAMPALA: Christine Nabuuma was an average pupil during her primary education. Her parents ensured that her class performance improves. But when Nabuuma sat her Primary Leaving Examinations in 2000, she scored aggregate 20.
Her parents enrolled her to Tina International School of Beauty, Art & Fashion Design in Kampala for a course in fashion design.
“My dad told me that he was taking me to a technical school to learn a lesson because I had ashamed the family,” Nabuuma recounts.
“None of my siblings had got such a grade. I felt I had lost it,” she adds.
But 13 years down the road, Nabuuma is a budding fashion designer and does not regret doing fashion designing.
“I am my own boss. I also employ five youth,” Ms Nabuuma told the Daily Monitor at her shop in Nateete, a city suburb, last week.
Her situation illustrates what many parents do when they are disappointed with their children’s grades.
As a result, this has fed into the perception that technical and business courses are for academic failures.
However, educationists say failing to join Senior One or getting poor aggregates does not mean the end of the child’s academic fortunes. Just like in previous years, some students will miss out on joining O’ Level.
All the 494,839 students who passed PLE exams as announced last week cannot be absorbed in the Uganda’s post-primary school system.
But business, technical, vocational, education and training institutions (BTVET) can absorb them. Primary 7 leavers can go to community polytechnics and business schools.
These institutions offer practical skills, enterprise-based and on-the-job training programmes.
The learners can still upgrade and join university as Nabuuma did. She enrolled at Makerere University for a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art.
The good news is that most institutions offering technical courses are free. The government pays 220,000 per student under free secondary education in the institutions per term.
Mr Ilahi Mansoor, the assistant commissioner of BTVET, says a person who completes P7 can qualify as a professional in two or three years if they choose a hands-on course.
“What many people forget is that taking a practical course enables one to move out of school as a job creator instead of a job seeker,” Mr Mansoor says.
He says some pupils apply for the courses before sitting P7 while others consider the option after receiving their result. But to be eligible, Mr Mansoor says one must have scored between four and 28 aggregates.
“We encourage young students to consider this option as first choice,” Mr Mansoor says.
Education minister Jessica Alupo says it does not matter when one attains the skills as long as they can be helpful to shape his or her life.
“Our struggle is to fight the stigma towards vocational training. When we start putting such restrictions, we will be locking out many, but we want to undo that by doing more marketing about our programmes,” Ms Alupo says.
The Uganda Business Technical Examinations Board says vocational training is the key to tackling poverty and unemployment.
“We strongly feel that our children who have just completed primary education must not only think that in order for one to have a descent and rewarding career pathway, one must only pursue academics through the basic school system,” Mr Paul Amoru, the UBTEB spokesperson, says.
The government is focused on equipping learners with sby promoting teaching of sciences coupled with both technical and vocational education through the “Skilling Uganda” programme that pushes for hands-on skills.
Mr Enoch Gumisiriza, a senior education officer, advocates for technical schools.
“We will not solve unemployment problem without skills. It takes a long time to change the mindset that advocates for going to a secondary school instead of a technical one. But in the long run, that is where we are going. The choice begins at home with parents. It starts at a family level,” he says.
technical schools have more capacity but rely on shoe-string budget
There are also 56 BTVET technical schools and community polytechnics implementing free secondary education with 40 being government-aided while 16 private.
Each community polytechnic or technical school is expected to admit 60 new entrants on government sponsorship but those with expanded infrastructure are encouraged to enroll more, according to Mr Ilahi Mansoor, the assistant commissioner of BTVET. This means all the institutions will enroll 3,360 students.
“We would like to enroll more but our resource envelope as a sub-sector has stagnated at 4.5 per cent of the entire ministry budget,” Mr Mansoor says.
The commissioner says enrollment in such institutions has drastically dropped, which he attributes to lack of career guidance to students.
“Graduates under this programme complete their education when they are still young (16-18 years) and when they join employment, they are seen as minors who cannot do anything, which is a wrong misconception,” he says.
Since the introduction of USE in 2007, there have been calls from education experts to allow students choose a career path after S2. They argue that a learner would be allowed nine years of compulsory basic education before choosing to proceed to S3 or take a path in vocational training. Mr Mansoor says a final decision on whether government will accept the policy shift will be taken at a stakeholders’ conference expected this year.