While agriculture is still the backbone of Uganda’s economy, little has been achieved in teaching subject. In both secondary schools and national teachers colleges, experts say learners have not appreciated a subject key to alleviating poverty. This is largely due to the fact that agricultural education and training is still theoretical.
To bridge this gap, government has signed a three-year partnership worth 2.5m Euros (about Shs 11bn) with the Belgian government to aid teaching of agriculture practically in secondary, technical and vocational training institutions, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.
Dubbed ‘From classroom to land: Teaching agriculture practically,’ the programme will be implemented by VVOB – Education for Development, a Belgian non-profit organisation that will offer pre-service training of agriculture teachers and instructors.
The three institutions selected for the programme are National Teachers College (NTC) Mubende, NTC Unyama in Gulu and the National Instructors College Abilonino (NICA) in Lira district.
Uganda has five NTCs training teachers for the secondary level of education and only one NIC training instructors for the more than 100 BTVET institutions. According to the commissioner of Teacher Instructor Education and Training (TIET), Dr Jane Egau, agriculture education is offered in all the colleges but the quality of trainers and graduates is still wanting.
She said the country needs reformed approaches to education delivery such as hands-on agriculture training to address youth unemployment.
“Theoretical teaching no longer has a place in today’s learning environment if graduates are to acquire the 21st century skills to survive in the ever-changing and demanding workplace,” Dr Egau said at Golden Tulip hotel last week. “Today, education should be supported with practical activity to produce knowledgeable, well-skilled and self-reliant graduates.”
Egau added that the VVOB programme will see a major shift in the sector since the selected institutions will become centers of excellence in delivery of agriculture education. NTC Mubende was selected for being a skills-based institution mainly in agriculture and other vocational subjects, while Unyama has plenty of unutilised land fit for agriculture studies.
Currently, Egau said, NTC Unyama sits on more than 500 acres but most of the land is being encroached upon.
“Even with plenty of land in Unyama, you find only demonstration farms yet each student can be allocated a plot big enough for education purposes,” she said.
In his remarks, the Belgian ambassador to Uganda, Hugo Verbist, said Uganda’s agriculture sector strategic plan envisions rightly on agricultural transformation that contributes to wealth creation and employment. However, most of the future agricultural entrepreneurs are still in school which makes skilling them through quality agriculture education and training a challenge worth taking.
“I believe that agriculture is currently and will remain for the foreseeable future, the backbone of Uganda’s economy and one of the main sectors for youth employment in Uganda. And, let’s be honest, the agricultural potential of this country is enormous but still facing challenges,” Verbist said.
He added: “Its growth is slower than other sectors and below the level of neighboring countries. Value is added, but mostly abroad and not sufficiently at the local level thus draining profits outside Uganda.”
Verbist said updated services and information are often lacking and a strong focus on new technologies and innovation is needed. With the new programme, he explained that one of the key orientations is support to the training of teachers whose mission is to empower youth, increase their employability and to enable them compete for meaningful and decent jobs.
Speaking to The Observer on Monday, a curriculum specialist in Agriculture at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Mathias Mulumba, said agriculture is one of the science subjects that continue to suffer a historical problem of theoretical teaching.
“The system today produces agriculture academics rather than doers; policymakers and researchers. Today, you will find many agriculture teachers that don’t even know how to grow a cabbage because the training from the college does not offer practical learning,” Mulumba said.
Consequently, while teaching, teachers will not pass on the practical knowledge to students. He said the subject is on demand but there are no resources to review its content at a national level.
“Unless we change that historical perspective by allocating funds, things will remain as usual even after implementation of the new VVOB programme,” he said.
The VVOB general director, Sven Rooms, said he looks forward to seeing Uganda’s youth advancing from secondary school with sound agricultural and entrepreneurial skills to obtain decent jobs that provide them with a quality livelihood.
“We must, and we will, work hard in order to attract, retain, guide, support, motivate, skill and strengthen quality agriculture instructors. If we properly skill Uganda’s youthful population, especially in entrepreneurship, they will be empowered to seize the opportunities offered by this booming sector,” Rooms said.
Mulumba agrees that once the sector has a critical mass of skilled agricultural practioners, they will bargain for the rightful place of agriculture in the country. By the end of the programme, NTCs Mubende and Unyama and NICA are expected to have, among others, expanded their networks to better agricultural practices.