Shared opinion with the Education Minister Janet Museveni: benchmark the Swiss education system

Summary: Benchmarking the Swiss education system might help check on the problems brought about by the current education system.


In 1894, Uganda was colonised by the British as a Protectorate. Arguably, among the many achievements that the British Protectorate Government registered in Uganda was the introduction of formal education.

The British built several schools in Uganda in an effort to ensure that Ugandans easily get access to education. Examples of such schools include Gayaza High School, King’s College – Budo, Namilyango College, Mengo Senior School, Bishop S.S.S. – Mukono, and many more.

In 1922 Makerere College which later became Makerere University was set-up to purposely provide technical knowledge and skills to high school-leavers.

However, the colonial education system majorly focused at theory rather than the practical bit of it since the colonialists were mainly interested in passing out clerks who would, for instance serve as office clerks, or teachers who would assist both with the teaching and translation/interpretation.

In 1962, the Union Jack was lowered and the Uganda Flag was raised-an indication that Uganda had received her independence from the British. Unfortunately, from then, onwards, as a country, we have continued to follow the same theoretical colonial education system; for instance, while students of Geography are introduced to wheat growing in the Canadian Prairies, less effort is put in by the teachers of Geography to relate the subject matter say to, coffee growing in Buganda,or banana growing in Ankole, in order to create meaning for the learner.

Worse still, even sciences are theoretically taught. Undoubtedly, the biggest percentage of Physics teachers can hardy fix a mal-functioning mobile phone, radio, or television. Likewise, not many teachers of Chemistry have participated in the manufacture of liquid detergents, or even the production of a disinfectant. According to Professor John Ddumba Ssentamu, formerly vice chancellor of Makerere University, the education system of Uganda has generated a school leavers’ problem, because it is basically theoretical.

“The knowledge acquired from school is irrelevant to the actual situation. Presently, the post-primary education and training do not make much contribution toward rural development, in spite of the fact that it is one of the principal objectives of the development plans, and of the government policy to bring about rural transformation,” says Ddumba.

Arguably, “Uganda’s education system oversupplies youngsters with a purely “arts” education, while human resource shortages with highly specialised training, and more so, with transferrable skills, persist,” Ddumba adds.

However, benchmarking the Swiss education system might help check on the problems brought about by the current education system.

According to the World Economic Forum, although Switzerland does not have an Education Ministry, the management of the Swiss education system was ranked first in the 5th pillar (Education and Training) of the 2011 Global Competitiveness Index.

The Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce and the Boston Consultant Group, assert that, the Swiss education system has been an outstanding segment of the country’s policy strategies for innovation, yet provision of a highly competent workforce is the single most critical element for successful innovation.

This is contrary to that of Uganda which instead focuses on paid employment. The education system of the Swiss is divided into four stages: Primary, secondary, tertiary, and adult education. At 16, students are at liberty to follow a vocational training track for direct entry into the labour market, or to follow an academic career at University.

The Swiss vocational and professional education system is distinguished by its close links to the domestic labour market. Students are trained as apprentices in the labour market, while having also to attend lessons in the classroom focused on foundation skills. The two activities are co-ordinated and managed by local educational authorities. At the University, students have even broader options where there are liberal arts universities, universities of applied sciences, as well as federal institutes of technology.

The universities of applied sciences offer professional training at university level where research conducted at these institutions is closely related to the real world of business.

According to the Organization of European Countries in Developmemt (OECD), the vocational training and university research connected to the business sector have been acknowledged as the key to systematic innovation in Switzerland. This is the reason why administrators of our universities that offer applied sciences such as Makerere, Mbarara, Kyambogo, Busitema, and Gulu among others, need to visit Switzerland purposely to see how the Swiss universities address the issue of innovation. Indeed, the Swiss education system has been instrumental in enhancing the success of governmemt policies, and fostering innovation, as opposed to that of Uganda.

Speaking at a meeting with teachers and head teachers at GEMS Cambridge International School in Luzira, Kampala, in April 2018, on Post 2018 Global Education and Skills, the minister of state for primary education, honourable Rosemary Sseninde, said, “I remember when I was a teacher in the training college, I learnt that whether with money, or not, as a teacher, you have to be creative. Have teachers forgotten they have to be innovative?” asked the minister. According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss policy-makers recognise that investment in education together with research, development, and technology are the main drivers of a country’s competitive advantage. Innovation is fostered by the financial support from the federal, local, and private funds made available to selected research programmes and projects.

Switzerland is home to best universities and research institutes in the world, and produces very highly qualified and competent labourforce, maintaining the country’s cutting edge research and technology. According to Professor Abdu Kasozi, formerly executive director of the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), the university is at the centre of research and knowlwdge production, and, therefore, the heart beat of economic development. “Due to this digital revolution, the roles of the university have changed from just being the apex of a training and teaching system, managed as other teaching institutions, to a major driver of economic development at the head of a country’s research and innovation system,” says Kasozi. Since 1960, important reforms, including government policies that provide financial resources allowing the expansion of third level education in the creation of vocational and technological colleges, has been made available in Switzerland.

By, and large, Switzerland has been investing heavily in human capital, since 1960, as already mentioned. This has greatly enabled her to cope with structural changes, thereby attaining sustained levels of growth in output.

The State Secretariat for Education and Research, 2007, reported that, in May 2006, the Swiss population approved a new constitutional provision on education designed to achieve continual improvements in university education, research, and innovation which also includes increasing the government’s investment in education.

Unfortunately, in Uganda, only shs. 420m was earmarked for the same, for the financial year 2017/18. Today, policy strategies that enhance education, research, technology, creativity and innovation that are focused on competitiveness, economic growth, and improvement of quality are designated high priority by the Federal Council of Switzerland.

Honestly speaking, benchmarking the Swiss education system, will provide us with a platform upon which to improve ur current system of education in an effort to meet the growing demands of the new era. Benchmarking is an approach that has become increasingly popular in recent times for business organizations to become and remain innovative in a way they produce their goods and services. By benchmarking the Swiss education system, therefore, “best practice” will be incorporated within our education system.

This will greatly contribute towards the improvement in the quality of human life, increase in labour efficiency and productivity, promote creativity and innovation, and above all, enhance rising levels of entrepreneurial alertness within the country. As people get involved in gainful economic activities, poverty levels will diminish, thereby leading to a decline in the crime rate.


Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist, 0770880185


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