Bukalasa lecturers propose paradigm shift from ‘degree syndrome’ in Uganda’s education

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Bukalasa, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Lecturers at Bukalasa Agricultural College emphasize the need for a reevaluation of Uganda’s education system, urging a departure from the prevalent “Degree Syndrome” towards greater emphasis on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

Led by Gelvan Kisolo Lule, the Principal of Bukalasa Agricultural College, the lecturers highlight the imbalance in the government’s focus, emphasizing academic higher education at the expense of practical skills crucial for economic development. Lule asserts that a fixation on acquiring university degrees limits individuals’ ability to apply their knowledge effectively.

The call for reform comes during an interaction with the Education Policy Review Commission, seeking insights to revamp the education sector. “Degree Syndrome” refers to prioritizing formal degrees over practical skills, potentially creating a gap between academic qualifications and job market demands.

Lule suggests that the solution lies in prioritizing TVET and encouraging more learners to opt for this educational path. This approach, he believes, will produce more artisans and technicians, aligning with the economy’s demand for practical skills.

Joseph Sserwanga, the deputy principal at the college, underscores the benefits of TVET skills on an individual level, providing employable skills and fostering innovation. Sserwanga proposes reserving the academic route for academically gifted students and professionals in critical fields.

Drawing on examples from rapidly developing nations like Singapore, China, and Germany, Sserwanga highlights the significant role TVET plays across sectors. He advocates for individuals with university-level academic backgrounds to focus on research, leaving the implementation to skilled artisans and technicians.

The lecturers propose establishing a well-defined institutional framework for TVET, covering aspects like career guidance, recruitment, accreditation, assessment, certification, monitoring, and evaluation.

Lule raises concerns about undervaluing lower qualifications, prompting individuals to pursue higher degrees without gaining practical skills. He questions the government’s emphasis on establishing more universities and recommends prioritizing TVET institutions aligned with specific trades.

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The call aligns with the Ministry of Education’s TVET policy, providing an educational pathway for individuals to choose TVET studies from lower levels, extending through vocational institutions and colleges. The policy also suggests establishing a TVET university for learners to attain degrees and postgraduate qualifications.

As vocational and skills training gain traction, the lecturers emphasize the need for the commission to address internships, apprenticeships, and related matters in their report.

The lack of policies or guidelines for internships remains a significant challenge in Uganda’s education sector, hindering the seamless transition between training centers and the workforce.

The Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB) recently urged the government to mandate industries to provide internship placements for technical and vocational trainees.