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School should be a place of activity

By Rosario Achola

Not silence and listening to the buzzing sound of a teacher

Fagil Mandy is a former commissioner in the ministry of education and is in private consultancy in the sector.   He spoke to The Independent’s Rosario Achola about how education can be used to reduce the youth unemployment gap.

Secondary education must go in order for it to become relevant to the global market?

What must go first is the concentration on examinations. It is estimated that ¾ of the time is spent on doing examinations. So if you look at the year- that is 8 months at school- more than six months is spent on preparing for, revising for and doing examinations. One way or another we must fight it.  So you see now even primary school kids are not doing P.E. Can you imaging a child growing in a school and they are not doing a subject that makes the body grow? Two- absenteism of teacher must go. My other problem is about the use of local languages- I think that it does not help a lot. It has bigger social/political and economic implications than you think. If you don’t know the local languages you cannot teach in a certain place. I think it compartmentalises our professionals.

What are your views on Business Technical and Vocational Education and Training (BTVET)?

It is very good but not popularised. What the parents know is primary leaving examinations (PLE) and O and A Level. Luckily, the economy has encouraged it. It is easier to explain now to you that it’s the BTVET subjects that are really making the biggest industries and growing fast. It’s all about productivity, which is as a result of BTVET concepts. This goes all the way back to before colonialism; people respected makers of things, doersof things. But with the colonisation process, the mind went clerical, elitist, and we have not lost it. That’s why we need to shake it up.

Are you a BTVET activist and how?

Yes, very much. All my children have gone through vocational training. They have all done sports and Music Dance and Drama and all those are key openers of BTVET- the use of the body. My biggest boy went through a garage after P7 at Kitante;  he spent the whole holiday of P7 in a garage under a mango tree in Kamwokya, because I was engineering him into an engineer. My youngest, is working in a laboratory now. She did biology and chemistry at the university is doing a course of how P.E. works as medicine in our body- for me that is BTVET- the doing angle. I have deliberately taken my nephews through BTVET at Pioneer technical school in Iganga instead of secondary school- one is taking electrical and one is doing plumbing.  For two reasons; I want them to get workable skills and I have businesses where I need those skills. Education must lead to productivity.

What has the government’s contribution to BTVET been?

There has been about 50% response. When UPE was launched, the provision of community polytechnics to absorb primary seven leavers was a big step. Then the expansion of the Para-medicals: dentistry, bone-studies and radiography has also been a big direction.  The government made it possible to start with a certificate or diploma in nursing and work up to a degree. The government has a technical directorate on BTVET and the policy of privatization and industrialization is a very big push in the direction of BTVET- the emphasis that we must build industries and industrial villages, exhibition through trade fairs are good efforts. I think this is very positive; the government needs to popularise it more.

There was money set aside for publicising and refurbishing BTVET programs at the African Development Bank. What happened to it?

I don’t know, because I don’t even know how much is there. But you see, you can have money there but do you have the mental process of the person to publicise it. USAID does; when they give you a vehicle they mark it.

Is there a deliberate emphasis on Universal Secondary Education at the expense of BTVET?

Obviously. Everybody knows about USE but who knows about BTVET? Government is giving loans at university- why can’t they also give loans to BTVET?

What are the implications of this?

You produce a population that have gone through school but without production skills. You end up with people who are looking for jobs instead of making jobs. Levels of poverty will take longer for us to fight when people are unproductive. We shall continue talking about the Pearl of Africa- Gifted by Nature- but not gifted by value addition.

What position should BTVET occupy in the education system of Uganda and consequent budget allocations?

It should occupy first position absolutely. Either through the BTVET institutions, or incorporating production skills in the school system. So it is number 1.

What other budget recommendations do you have for government over education?

I think teachers’ salaries should be increased.  The teacher is a pathetic package right now. Their attitude, majority of them, is very negative. Then we must include practical education in our system. This business of sitting in class silently and listening to the buzzing sound of a teacher is a hopeless situation. I hate this idea of a school of silence; it should be a school of activity.

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