In Summary

Strange to meritocracy. Of the unemployed youths, those who become unrestful have education, but lack skills and competence to work efficiently – even basic skills such as to show up at work daily and on time. For an economy that is strange to meritocracy, well prepared youths tend to be excluded from gainful employment and opportunities.

I read an interesting analysis in the Daily Monitor of October 31 Charles Onyango-Obbo from his Oslo escapades with the #PeoplePower platform. Onyango Obbo demonstrated his grasp of the social and economic pitfalls in Uganda that has made young people unrestful, unemployed and generally distrustful of the current regime.

In that analysis, Onyango-Obbo outlines the failures of universal education system as foundational to youth unemployment today for delivering substandard quality.

Everywhere you go in Uganda, the poor quality of university and college graduates reflects a weak early educational foundation they received. When we evaluate the gaps in universal education, we examine a constellation of factors – from policy, financing, structure, content, the quality of those who manage and deliver it, to the conditions under which the education is delivered.

Numerous reports indicate that graduates and teachers of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) hardly have basic literacy skills in language, logic, critical thinking, history and arithmetic. The disparity is glaring between urban and rural settings – the education system, far from its inherent flaws, is not equitable. Thus, the high rates of dropout in rural and among female students.

Even then, the distinction between college and university remains nebulously explained. In Uganda, college path is deemed to be for failures, yet colleges provide the necessary hands-on skills needed for entrepreneurship and employment. Universities may have been traditional spaces for knowledge and ideology production, but the colonial colleges were places for skills acquisition.

Most countries where youth unemployment is kept low have invested in high quality education and early childhood development. These countries adhere to education as a pathway to reproducing high quality labour in all areas of its economy.
For instance, in Germany, there is an emphasis on apprenticeship as a form of education. In the United States and Canada, community colleges provide students with needed skills for employment.

Previous Uganda Census data confirm that more than half of Uganda’s population comprises youth under the age of 29. Labour statistics estimates that 86 per cent are unemployed, under-employed and or at the level of getting to be employable.

Moreover, of the unemployed youths, those who become unrestful have education, but lack skills and competence to work efficiently – even basic skills such as to show up at work daily and on time. For an economy that is strange to meritocracy, well prepared youths tend to be excluded from gainful employment and opportunities.

There is a big incongruity between the National Youth Policy and National Development Agenda since both are politically inclined rather than labour focused. We see money for politicising these and not for honing youth’s skill or financing transition programmes from school-to-workplace through internships, mentorship and other forms of professional socialising essential for entry level employment.The large pool of unemployed graduates may reveal that the economy is actually shrinking rather than expanding.

In 2016, Uganda Bureau of Standards (Ubos) found that 90 per cent of all Ugandans under the age of 25 had no job; 58 per cent of all Ugandans were unemployed and a whopping 65.2 per cent of women and 47 per cent of men were unemployed.
The sanitised Ubos reports in 2018 may present a different case, but here are some of strides that Uganda must pursue urgently to integrate more people in productive work. These are:

1. Invest in soft skills and digital jobs as pathways for harnessing youth energy productively. Youths have taken up social innovation using apps and communication through social media to participate in the digital revolution.
2. Responsible taxation policies to stimulate and encourage innovation.
3. Apprenticeships and work-based learning programmes for youths to socialise early to work place settings. The graduate training programme at Uganda Revenue Authority and the partnership between the Ministry of Gender and the United Nations Volunteers, could provide models for policy makers. Work-based apprenticeships should become the face of universal education.
4. Young people’s involvement in research- a tradition of systematic inquiry; and high level of creative writing for publishing.
5. Create a fluid skills-focused education system where a person can change career at least thrice in a life time as it is in developed countries. Current system is too rigid to allow people change career.

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