Make vocational courses more attractive to students

Make vocational courses more attractive to students

UNEB late registration of candidates for PLE, UCE and UACE examinations is still ongoing, until July 31, 2023. Late registration comes with a 50 or 100 per cent surcharge on registration fee, which is half of 164,000 (UCE), or 186,000 for UACE.

While registering for UCE, it is a requirement for candidates to choose their academic pathway, and two options are provided, namely, the secondary pathway, or vocational pathway. However, there’s also option of selecting none, in cases where a student is not yet decided during this time.

The UNEB e-registration software captures the academic pathway, using 4-digit codes, representing schools or institutions issued every year to schools. These has been the norm, even before UNEB computerized the registration process.

It is a good thing to provide students with an opportunity to choose which education they would like to pursue, after PLE and UCE. I have the experience of registration, first as a student. As a student, I remember that students were not provided with detailed information about this career options, especially technical/vocational. Many years later, as teacher, I have come to realize that a majority of students choose the secondary school (A-level) pathway, compared to vocational pathway. For example, at Lira Town College, in the main centre, out of 499 candidates, only 45 students chose the technical/vocational career route. In annex centre, only 2 accepted technical option, out of 30 students. And the situation is like that in many other schools across Lango sub region, and Uganda at large.

According to my understanding, there are several reasons for this state of affairs.

Firstly, primary or secondary school teachers themselves went through the secondary school (O-level, and A-level), and therefore have inherent bias towards secondary pathway. By allowing this important decision be taken in school, UNEB actually encourages this biasness, making teachers easily influence student to choose the secondary pathway. To enable independent decision making, UNEB should create a platform that allows students to change their decision after exams.

Secondly, and this is perhaps the most important. I have been handling UNEB e-Registration for 8 years now, and I usually ask students why they prefer secondary (A-level) over technical. A majority of them say that technical courses are boring, for example, tailoring, carpentry, building construction etc. They also say that they feel a strong desire to reach university, and A-level provides a direct path to university.

In the last 15 years, government has greatly emphasized the study of sciences, in order to achieve Vision 2040. In 2007, science subjects were made compulsory in O-level. Furthermore, Uganda Business Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB) was established in 2011 to assess all post-UCE business and technical courses in various institutions. In A-level, the number of principal subjects were reduced, while also allowing flexibility in subject combinations. Consequently, these policy shifts have resulted into massive increase in the number of students pursuing science combinations.

Additionally, the introduction of the new lower secondary competence-based curriculum (CBC) in 2020, which emphasizes practical skills, rather than theoretical knowledge, signals that government is focused on vocationalizing our education system. The main objective for vocationalization of education is to enhance the employability of students by providing them with skill-based training. This helps them to be self-reliant and self-employed, which in turn reduces unemployment levels created by the current theory-based, degree-chasing system.

In order to ease enrollment into post-UCE technical institutions, the following should be done. Technical, and other post UCE institutions must create clear admission criteria, and easy-to-use online admission platform, as public universities have done. Secondly, new exciting, practical courses should be designed to accommodate the interests of diverse range of people. And most importantly, all students under the new lower secondary curriculum must be subjected to DIT exams, so that we all reap the benefits of this new curriculum.

This article was also published in the Daily Monitor, on July 17, 2023.

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