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Gov’t asked to make science education free

Government should put resources to free education, especially science education

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The government has been asked to make science education free. At the Kampala Innovation Week event, questions arose as to what should come first, between focusing resources on education or the financial empowerment of the disadvantaged groups in the rural and poorer communities, women and the youth.

A German-based investment advisor, Dr. Christian Lindfeld says Ugandan innovators should have it in mind that they are operating in a global industry, and play by the rules of the game.

“The startup ecosystem is already international. The proportion of female founders is rising, but we still need to do more,” said Dr. Lindfeld, advisor at Africa Advisors GmbH.

Almost 93% of startups in Uganda are in the Central region, according to a survey by Startup Uganda, which shows how much the rest of the country is being left behind.

However, the survey notes an improving trend when it comes to the inclusion of women. About 30% of startups are female-owned, 27% are co-owned by a female and male partner.

“This is something exciting and promising in the ecosystem,” says the association. Makerere University Business School Principal Prof Wasswa Balunywa says the digital industry is doing well in creating jobs, but he is worried that it is promoting imbalanced transformation.

Prof Balunywa says for example, that almost 90 percent of the children in Uganda have not studied for close to two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic especially in the rural and poor communities, while their counterparts in richer communities have been in school through digital channels.

Balunywa says this cuts across all levels of education, up to university, adding that all needs to be done including using the faltering radio learning project to prevent a crisis.

He criticized the government for focusing resources on areas which he thinks can be automatically developed if the focus is put on education.

Balunywa says instead of funding wealth creation programs for youth, women, and other groups, the government should put the resources to free education, especially science education.

This, he says will increase people’s spending power, create their awareness of better living and demand for better products and services, and this in turn will lead to private investments in production and value addition.

Richard Mubiru from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development says the government is aware of the need for education, but insists that it will balance the resources to include critical sectors like agriculture modernization, and cottage industries.

On the cost of accessing digital services by majority of Ugandans, Mubiru says the Third National Development Plan provided for enhanced use of ICT for all.

The five-year plan put the focus on promoting the use of ICT in the entire economy and society through the deployment of secure, integrated, and cross-sector infrastructure developing, and promoting the usage of quality communication and services.

It also provides for digital inclusion and citizen participation, promoting innovation and commercialization of ICT products and enhancing digital literacy, developing skills among others.

Mubiru says the government is aware of the digital divide and hopes the programs will be well-implemented.

However, he says the regulatory regime does not allow innovators to do things as they should be.

Georgette Ndabukiye, a co-Founder at WAZI, which makes eyewear for marginalized communities with sight problems also blamed the government for being too slow in responding to the needs of innovators. She feels that the government does not believe in the local innovators.

“I need to be believed in by my country, all other governments believed in me, so why can’t my government do so? This is one of the problems we face as entrepreneurs!” says Ndabukiye.

She cites financing challenges where the government is always reluctant.

The Innovation Week is facilitated by the UN Capital Development Fund in Kampala.

Chris Lukolyo, UNCDF Digital country lead, says everyone involved in the digital economy including innovators, government agencies, and financiers, should work towards improving the work environment for the sector to thrive.

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