MARKS vs SKILLS: A tale of Uganda’s Education System


Robert is a 26 year old graduate of IT from one of Uganda’s ‘prestigious’ universities. Having graduated at 22, he searched for a job for 3 years in vain. Finally, he gets a job at an Internet Cafe. 2 months down the road, he was jobless again because he had failed to live up to the basic demands of such a job. Sadly too, he considered the job too low for his status. Little did he know that the other staffers who were doing quite well were not fortunate enough to go beyond S.4.

The few times I heard about him, he had hopped around 4 different jobs in the space of 5 months.

Robert had an impressive record at school having passed with flying colours throughout his time at school. At his graduation, speaker after speaker poured praise on the ‘brilliant’ young man who had excelled in a field considered a reserve for the gifted.

This makes me revisit the objectives of Secondary Education in Uganda where one is to ‘enable individuals to develop basic scientific, technological, technical, agricultural and commercial skills required for self-employment.’  It is expected that ‘individuals will develop personal skills of problem-solving, information gathering and interpretation, independent reading and writing and self-improvement.

This means that by the time a Ugandan completes this level of education, he/she should have figured out how to start a life in self employment. However, it’s the same old song after graduation that there are no jobs therefore leading to one disgruntled lot joining another disgruntled lot.

Although not everyone will agree with me, the question still arises whether education should be about getting students to know more facts or about encouraging them to solve problems?

Knowledge or skills?

We need to understand that we are in the 21st century and all efforts should be driven towards teaching 21st century skills and surviving in the real world.

You will be bewildered by what a typical graduate of IT in Uganda can (or rather cannot) do these days. Many of them cannot even write down the first line of code for the most basic web page. You ask one what he or she can do and they will show you how highly they passed their exams.

The system in which we are working is doing little or nothing to arrest the situation. Almost no effort is invested in teaching our kids how to use the knowledge acquired at school to solve everyday problems around us. We are pumping our kids with facts in order to help them shine only at UNEB. Schools are competing unfavourably only to have better grades than their neighbours.

An IT graduate who cannot prepare a simple excel template for his mother’s small retail shop is complaining about the lack of jobs. The same fellow who lacks the basics of coding is applying for a job at a Telecom company. He is the very person complaining about nepotism because I employed my brother.

Yes, we may know what to do, but how shall we do it when those that are above us were trained in a different century and are still using 20th century skills to solve 21st century problems.

I rest my case.

Stephen Dumba
E-zone School of Computing