Over the last week, the education sector has been taken up by proposals to change the current O-level curriculum.
However, not everyone is focused on this area. Ndejje University vice chancellor, Prof ERIABU LUGUJJO, wants the sector to look more closely at vocational education. Moses Talemwa had a discussion with him over the matter.
When Fred, a former pupil in Namutumba, dropped out of school aft P6, there was concern that he would not succeed in life. There were fears among his relatives, particularly his grandfather, who hoped that Fred would exceed the standards his father set.
Fred’s father had been a charcoal dealer, who died three years earlier, after months of suffering from an unknown respiratory ailment. The treatment consumed the family’s savings.
With the family impoverished and Fred out of school, his only hope was to work as a spanner boy at mechanical garage, near their home. The hope was that he would acquire enough skills to finally start his own garage in the future.
Fred’s situation made part of work covered by the Prof Senteza Kajubi Commission, when it opened for work in 1989. According to Prof Eriabu Lugujjo, a member of that commission, chapter five of the 1992 White Paper report centered on improving the teaching of science and technology in tertiary institutions (what became vocational education).
“We had noted that a lot of young people had skills that were in such high demand but were not receiving any training,” Prof Lugujjo said. “Now it is called Skilling Uganda and needs to be even more ambitious but more inclusive and more flexible, so it can embrace students of all shades.”
Prof Lugujjo is convinced that the government has lost focus on the needs of students like Fred.
“It is time to revisit the Kajubi report and the White Paper … it recommended the vocationalisation of education,” he said. “We appreciate the challenges facing these people who are facing the agony of defeat.
What he refers to as the agony of defeat is actually a situation of hopelessness that young people feel, when they realize that they can’t fit into a fixed education system.
Prof Lugujjo believes that the education system should be flexible enough to accommodate everyone and impart a life-changing skill to them.
“Think of my uncle at Katosi [a lakeshore village], making canoes that ply Lake Victoria ... he has never heard of the Archimedes principle and the laws of flotation,” he said. “My uncle is regarded [by the education system] as stupid and foolish because he does not know any English ... yet his boats transport people successfully.”
Prof Lugujjo was moved by the situation of people like Fred and his own uncle to help set up the directorate of Industrial Training Council.
“I have been the chairperson for the Industrial Training Council for eight years now and I have just handed over last year,” he said. “We developed a qualification framework that [people with no formal qualification] can be assessed by a generic descriptor for that grade … if he passes, we give him a certificate.”
The current executive director at the directorate of Industrial Training Council, Ethel Kyobe, acknowledges Prof Lugujjo’s work and says there has been some progress.
“We have worked on getting more people assessed and certified, so that they can get jobs or start their own businesses,” she said.
However, Prof Lugujjo is still unhappy that the education sector is not making enough progress to accept these qualifications in the formal academic qualification framework.
“There is so much inertia … they haven’t gone through a paradigm shift that is needed. They are still linked to the old order,” he complained. “[I would like to] let them come to the new order of portable skill ... because we want skills and competence, not your [qualification] papers. What can you do? You need a flexible workplace to exercise a skill.”
Kyobe agrees that there have been some delays, but is convinced there is no need for frustration.
“We have prepared the relevant framework and this is ready to be considered by the ministry for final approval,” she explained. However, Kyobe, whose term of office is due to expire at the end of the year, admits that she may not be around to see the process to its fruition.
But Prof Lugujjo is not waiting for explanations.
“This is very important to me … even when I leave Ndejje University [where he is vice chancellor], I’m going to die on this [project],” he said. “Look at the people who are roofing these houses; some of them don’t know the Pythagoras theorem, but they are doing a good job across East Africa; so, we need to do our best to give them skills they need.”
Lugujjo is also not happy that Uganda is the source of great educational ideas, only for these to be adopted by other countries to great success.
“I participated in developing the BTVET policy … here it is just a plan but Rwanda has already taken that one and is implementing it,” he said. “For 18 years, we developed a policy on Science and Technology with Prof [Edward Paul] Mugambi and it is just sitting there.”
Lugujjo also cites Skilling Uganda, launched by President Museveni in October 2012, which he says is more ambitious and inclusive than the ideas initially planned.
“Skilling Uganda works on the principle of recognizing skilling and awarding people according to a qualification framework,” he added.
Lugujjo, who has been teaching Mechanical Engineering since 1976 at Makerere University, is hoping that these initiatives will help young people like Fred use their skills to support their communities.
“They have a lot of priorities in the education sector, but they should not forget vocational education, because it is also very important.”