High unemployment vs 100% enrolment

I’d like to talk a little bit about Ugandan school system to which many attribute high unemployment rates. Quick overview of Ugandan education structure that’s in existence since 1960s:

  • 7 years of primary education
  • 6 years of secondary education (divided into 4 years of lower and 2 years of upper secondary school)
  • 3-5 years post secondary education.

As part of a policy aimed at providing universal access to primary education, the government of Uganda in 1997 eliminated primary school fees. Initially Museveni provided free education for up to four children per family but the program wasn’t working well based on lack of regulations and the complex structures of Ugandan families. It was then opened to all children per family which caused a havoc as the schools were totally unprepared for the influx of pupils. The demand for learning materials, teachers, and infrastructure became a challenge putting the school system on the verge of collapse. Let’s think about it: even though the number of pupils grew rapidly which is in itself a very good thing, the speed of the change left them in enormous size classes often with a teacher – pupil ratio of 1:120 and higher. Large number of students make the learning environment much more difficult and becomes a tough environment for the teachers too: it’s hard to be heard and to teach, let alone focus your attention on each and every student. What is also noticeable in many schools is the inappropriate age of the students caused by late enrolment or repetition of classes. After primary school only some who can afford it go further and get a secondary education. In my mind the lower secondary education (up to S4) should be made compulsory and be finished with a national examination certificate.

Free education up until S4 should go hand-in-hand with a focus on quality teaching in smaller size classes and motivated teachers. The focus should be on the skills-development, not on the academics per se. Primary education should set a solid foundations of mastery of reading, writing and mathematics. Talking with most secondary school students around half of them is not able to read and write properly! Secondary school curriculum could be then expanded to history, social science and arts with a particular focus on skill building and not just passing the national examination.

Another issue affecting pupils directly is lunch or rather lack of it. Private schools have food included in their fees but in the government schools the lunch isn’t provided, meaning many kids go on hungry. How can they study and concentrate if they have an empty stomach? 

Only a fraction of those who graduate from secondary upper school actually go on to pursue a higher education at University level. I believe that given 80% of the population lives rurally there should be an incentive and a country-side promotion of vocational / technical schooling preparing students for a mastery in a particular trade. Vocational training in particular aims at creating opportunities for productive employment and providing access to adequately paid work, which enable people to lead a self-determined life.

Another visible issue, present in most Western country, is the huge divide between private vs public schools. And the exodus of young and well-educated Ugandans from private University to neighbouring countries or outside of Africa. I won’t focus on it in this post but it’s an issue affecting many countries not just on this continent.

This are just some of the challenges that the Government needs to address. Focus on better split of the education levels, free lunch, quality of teaching and support of public schools should be at the forefront of the agenda in the education ministry department.


Cyrus (19) and Derrick (14) – both in Senior 2 school.


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