Recently, together with my colleagues at Uganda Technology and Management University (UTAMU), I facilitated a career guidance seminar in a secondary school in eastern Uganda and I interfaced with close to 700 students. I asked every student to write down at least one role model in whom they find inspiration.
Over 50% of my respondents mentioned former South African president Nelson Mandela (RIP) while 35% had no answer to this question. The other 15% mentioned local musicians, politicians, reality TV stars and several characters that have crowded the news for the wrong reasons among others.
I actually had a student who mentioned that former accountant in the Prime Minister’s office, Godfrey Kazinda, as his role model!
Former American theologian, Tyron Edwards, once noted that People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves. But as I meditate upon his words, my mind wanders back to the students in my survey who seemed not to have any role models! One of the greatest challenges of our time is lack of role models in the key disciplines of our education system, career and family.
A role model is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated or whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. But then one wonders why 35% of my respondents at the seminar would lack a role model in their lives.
And I kept asking myself, “Don’t these students know any professionals who can be their role models? What about their own teachers? What about their parents? How about the so many heroes that have been in the news for all seasons? Tough questions indeed!
What about the students who took pride in mentioning Nelson Mandela as their role model? Nelson Mandela is a renowned freedom fighter that fought against apartheid rule in South Africa. While the story of Mandela was definitely a catch of the 1990s when he was persecuted, imprisoned and charged and when he finally became president, there is no doubt he became one of the most influential men around the world. But is he worth being taken on as role model for secondary school students? Or did they pick on him for lack of options?
The last group of my respondents had a wide range of answers; from popular Ugandan musicians, politicians, teachers and parents, to criminals. Why would a student consider a renowned criminal for a role model? Whatever the answers to my questions, one thing has been for sure; basing on trending topics on selected social media and headline news in our dailies, the figures scooping a lot of glory are those that have influenced our students’ way of life and of course would have a great impact on their choice of counselor.
The lack of positive role models, has turned much of today’s youth into a bunch of: disrespectful, lazy, spoilt, ambition-lacking students.In Uganda for example, we have glorified local musicians, socialites and politicians. Engineers, scientists, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants and lawyers to mention but a few, hardly get glorified with front page stories or trendy harsh tags on social media. How then would they be considered as potential role models for our students? Coupled with lack of role models, career guidance too is lacking in our society.
Career guidance consists of services that help people successfully manage their career development. It is a comprehensive, developmental program designed to assist individuals in making and implementing informed educational and occupational choices. Career guidance helps people to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications and abilities. It helps them to understand the labour market and education systems, and to relate this to what they know about themselves. Through comprehensive career guidance, students learn to plan and make decisions about work and learning. Career guidance program develops an individual’s competencies in self-knowledge, educational and occupational exploration, and career planning.Career guidance is provided to people in a very wide range of settings: schools and tertiary institutions; public employment services; private guidance providers; enterprises; and community settings.
One of the biggest challenges facing our current generation of students is preparing for a dynamic workforce never seen before. New jobs are being created every day. In fact, many students are being prepared for jobs and careers that don’t even exist. It is much harder for students to think about the future without a firm sense of who they are. Today, industries rise and fall, so being very externalized (job title, salary, etc.) about a specific career may not serve students well in the 21st century. Having a skill set with multiple pathways will always be more fulfilling, especially when that skill set and those pathways lead to a particular set of values or ways of expressing one’s identity. Students will be able to not only identify attitudes and stereotypes from the careers of their siblings, parents, grandparents, etc., but also how the past was informing who they are in the present. Once students get a solid sense of who they are in the present (as informed by their past), they then think about different life paths and what they want their future to look like.
While parents are influential, a strong correlate for students doing well in school is a strong relationship with their teachers. Relationships matter in education and so how can parents, teachers and students work together in career planning?
(i) Engage in education. The classroom is a great place for self-exploration and identity development; it not only helps students figure out who they are and who they want to be, it’s easy for everyone involved to work together in supporting a common goal.
(ii) Set high expectations that focus on plans after high school. Every student should aim high. More often than not, this means graduating high school and going to University, but it’s important for everyone to be on the same page. Parents should start the discussion early, continue it often and keep teachers engaged.
(iii) Set goals and track progress. When students have focused goals, they tend to work hard in achieving them. Parents, teachers and students need to work together in setting goals and tracking them from start to finish.
All said and done, students’ dream careers are being shattered by an unfair selection system in higher education institutions in Uganda. It is common to find a student whose dream career was to be an accountant ending up doing a completely different programme like Bachelor of Arts in public administration. This was understandable when students didn’t have opportunity to make a choice of university, but today with over 40 universities in Uganda, most students should be able to take academic programmes in line with their dream careers. For this to happen they need guidance from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). NCHE was established to implement the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act 2001 as amended as the regulator of higher education. Some of the functions of NCHE under this Act include:
(i) To monitor, evaluate and regulate institutions of Higher Education;
(ii) To promote and develop the processing and dissemination of information on higher education for the benefit of the people; and
(iii) To collect, examine and publish information relating to the different institutions of Higher Education.
Thus, NCHE is empowered by law to develop acceptable criteria and rank universities, schools/ faculties/ colleges and academic programmes in Uganda to enable parents and students decide on where to take their children. This is not a new concept as similar bodies in Europe and USA to mention but a few do provide these rankings at regional, country, university and programme level. The absence of these much needed rankings have left parents and students to choose universities and academic programmes on the basis of what is advertised on radio, TV and newspapers by the higher education institutions.
Parents and students need to pick institutions and academic programmes on the basis of information / ranking by NCHE using the different quality assurance indicators like quality and qualifications of staff, staff: student ratio, student: computer ratio, quality and sufficiency of laboratories and workshops, quality and availability of library facilities and mode of learning among others.
For instance, in UK a student who wants to do Medicine has information on rankings of all Medical Schools in UK to choose from subject to affordability and admission requirements. Now in Uganda if one wanted to do for example B.Sc. in Computer Science where are the national rankings by NCHE to guide parents and students? With the many institutions offering the same academic programmes, national rankings of institutions and programmes by NCHE based on national quality assurance indicators are inevitable.
Prof.Venansius Baryamureeba is the Vice Chancellor of Uganda Technology and Management university (UTAMU)