Associate Professor William Bazeyo is the Dean Makerere University School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences. He has been in the teaching profession for 20 years and he is also Principle Investigator to several projects under the school, including ResilientAfrica Network (RAN). He believes in open leadership where everyone has a chance to talk, negotiate with the leader and be part of the leadership. Professor notes that translating theory into practice is still a big challenge in the Uganda’s education system. Akite Beatrice and Adong Harriet caught up with him in his office and had a chat about challenges in the education sector.

Question: What problems or challenges does the Education sector in Uganda face

Response: The persistent problem frequently mentioned is not about theory but rather translating theory into practice. The main problem that is eating up the education sector is the methodology of training programs that are always vertical in nature. “You cannot have an education system which is vertical!!. Many fundamental things are done without good integration.  For example, it is not beneficial to train a doctor who does not know Economics because this will definitely hinder his/her performance as a medical practitioner. People are not trained to attend to the problems in the community or to fill up the positions available in the employment sector.  Everyone is trained in and knows only his or her own area of specialty, destroying the ability for individuals to multitask. We therefore end up in “Silos” like fuel tankers; which look alike and all carry oil but never talk to each other despite being in one locality all the time. I must emphasize that integrated multidisciplinary training/education is key in not only attaining development but also boosting the education sector in Uganda.

We also need more courses for example in Makerere University; which enable multidisciplinary training, exchange and sharing of skills and competences. These can allow statisticians or even lawyers to attend some courses together in a bid to break the silos. We at the School run such programs that bring together different disciplines like Statisticians, veterinarians, social scientists, educationists and many others. These include; Master of Public Health, Masters in Health Services Research, Masters of Public health Nutrition and Master of Disaster Management-to start soon. I consider this a very good start which should be expanded and co-opted in other institutions/Units not only in Makerere University but also others in Uganda if we are to cause real change in our society.

In addition, I would urge that before creating any education program, a needs assessment is carried out to identify the training needs to be focused on and the real gaps that exist. These should be needs of Uganda as a country.  “We need to be able to answer questions like; who are the cadres we need in this country? Uganda has more graduates on the streets than any other country in our region now; therefore, to continuously chan out graduates with similar skills and competencies and simply training to award academic qualifications/certificates and not responding to the needs of the country is not going to be helpful to this country.

It is also important to note that the public sector has not yet engaged well with the training sector so as to train employable people. Thus, failure to bridge the gap between the two, consequently affecting the outcomes of their work. The education sector needs to synchronize synergies with the public sector to be more relevant to the country in terms of the resource base. Many if not all employers spend a lot of time if not all scrutinizing the academic papers an individual holds. But personally, what matters are the skills and competences acquired; can the individual perform or ably fill the existing gap regardless of the excellent degree grades attained on paper? Or is it just all about the excellent degree grades one holds? I challenge the education sector to evaluate, document, identify the gaps for training and demand that the training offered in this country is in line with the findings to achieve what is required.  If the public and private sectors liaise with the training institutions, we can ensure that people are trained for a purpose to allow for growth even in employment. For example, in 1994, the School of Public Health carried out a needs assessment and identified the need for well trained District Health Officers (DHOs) who would be able to respond to the needs of the communities more especially addressing the state of epidemic response and investigation in the districts, the need to carry out operational research and interpreting the data. This led to the birth of one of the most applied for and recommended program in the school; Masters in Public Health to train people for the communities. This is what the other colleges and institutions of our nature should emulate to improve the education sector in Uganda.

Question: In your own view, what can be done to address these challenges

Response: Once skills and competences are co-joined, then the country could be seen as heading in the right direction. These are requirements that come with the need of assessments which is inadequate in the country at the moment. I notice that it could also address the mushrooming courses at the different universities. What we need in the country is to overcome the mushrooming courses and align key courses to community needs. We need to halt dwelling on the same areas that we think are marketable and respond to the needs of the people and employment bodies. I also believe people should not be trained to get degrees but get skills and competences to fit into the readily available vacancies. I further believe that some areas in the education sector are more technical, therefore with assessment, what is valued by the community is what should be put into consideration.

There is also urgent need for the private sector to work hand in hand with the training sector so that products from the higher institutions of learning are tailed to the requirements in the specific industry. This should not only be left to the trainers, the small scale industries should also come up and support the public and private sectors to train skilled and relevant people for the jobs in the market. For example if the oil sector needs workers, then it should be responsible for identifying specific people, forward them to the institutions of learning to train in that field to overcome the overwhelming demand for human resources.

To try and curb down the numerous problems in the education sector, I would also recommend the need for commitment in institutions, from the communities coupled with their viable support. However, caution should be taken not to view innovative solutions as a political game. We need to be given the opportunity to translate the solutions without political interference. We should work with government and policy makers to cause change. Importantly, I must stress that the process should start with a needs assessment for prior knowledge of the gaps in the society and easy identification of what the community needs are, than mere prediction and perception.

Question: What is Makerere University doing to help graduates fit in this very competitive yet dynamic job market of the 21st Century   (that is to say any new skills, knowledge, values and attitudes among others being imparted into the graduates during their studies in the University

Response: As I earlier indicated, I have been in the education sector for the last 20 years. I have since witnessed and contributed to training with some focus. We are not yet there but we have co-opted integrated training. We have also adopted off campus training for example in Kabarole, Jinja and Kabale among others so as to train people where they are. We are giving them competences to work where they live and be able to address community problems first hand.

We should also embrace introduction of distance and e-learning which has so far contributed immensely. For example Makerere University has the first University graduate distance learning program, Masters in Public Health. It was a trial program but has since yielded so much in addition to being cost effective.  With reading materials and online assignments, the students have little contact with the lecturers but both satisfactorily do their part.  Some of the students are from as far as Somalia, Japan, Canada, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among others. It is my pride to share that this program has a 10% drop out rate. With such courses, we are able to reach many with minimal resources while causing big impact in the communities. Such courses allow the students to continue in their employment as they enhance knowledge, skills and competences.

There is also need to recognize and clinch off campus training. This is important because there is a need to train people where they are in order to train them more relevantly to the problems in the communities where they live or come from.

Makerere has also introduced extra courses to cater for the needs of the people. The research encouraged in Makerere informs process, policy and even the training needs. All these are aimed at giving people skills that they need to work. This also gives such people an opportunity to serve and work in their own communities, one thing I see as a motivational factor.

It is also very important for Universities to move away from training students to attain degrees and academic papers but rather aid students to be competent enough with technical knowledge and skills to fill positions available for employment. These I believe will cause a great change.

Question: How will Resilient Africa Network (RAN) fall in place to fill up some of the gaps in the Education Sector

Response: ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) is a program that has come to take the university out of the university to solve community problems. We are carrying out needs assessment in the target communities, identifying community problems and solutions they have if any, to these problems. We will then bring these community views to the multidisciplinary students who will design innovations to address the community problems. The problems include but are not limited to effects of environmental variability (floods and landslides), adverse effects of chronic conflict, urbanization and HIV and AIDS.  RAN will have Resilience Innovation Labs (RILabs), where innovative ideas will be discussed, incubated, scaled up in preparation for rolling out to the communities. We are working with the communities so that the innovations are acceptable, usable and appreciated for sustainability. However, the innovations must not interfere with community cultures.

Why should Uganda for example have natural forests, rain, fertile soils, animals and people but each year have famine, animals die, heavy rains causing heavy floods and we have to depend on handouts from well-wishers? Other countries like Libya, Israel among others are not as gifted by nature like Uganda is but they are better off than Uganda, why? Can RAN contribute to answering such questions and helping the communities?

We believe that with resilient communities, we will have caused impact on policy since we have an opportunity to cause change.  We are seeking commitment of the institutions, communities and the districts for implementation. Let us all look at RAN as a solution and not a political game. The communities should be given an opportunity to use these innovations. We are looking forward to working with all stakeholders including the Government to cause change in the communities.

We are grateful that United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has come to support African generated innovations, ideas to be used by Africans. The innovations will be Africa led and Africa developed, for Africans. RAN should be seen as a stepping stone to translate technology to the communities. We are building onto the existing body of knowledge to provide contributory solutions to the problems in the most affected communities in sub-Saharan Africa and look forward to lasting solutions for our people.