Equipping students for life

29 Jan 2019

“Don’t sit on the skills you’ve learned. Go out and practice them!” is one of the Educate! mottos. And it works: former Educate! students are around 50% more likely to find a job and 44% more likely to own a business.

The classroom is basic. There’s no glass in the windows. The walls are scratched and dirty. The entrance door creaks as the wind blows in.

There are forty students aged between 16 and 18 inside, working in groups, trying to find the answers to two questions written on the blackboard: “What does empowerment mean? What does disempowerment look like around you”?

The students are discussing among themselves. Then they raise their hands and shout: “Poverty!”, ““Lack of education for girls”, “The decisions you are not allowed to take even though they concern your life”.

The class greets every answer with claps, finger snaps, creative songs and gestures. An extraordinary, almost palpable electricity runs through the air. Everyone is focused, alert, hanging on their teacher’s words. Except that their teacher isn’t a teacher, but the “mentor” who leads the 22 Leadership and Entrepreneurship lessons these students are taking in addition to normal classes during their last two years of secondary school.

Educate! is the NGO that selects the students, trains the mentors and designed this special training programme, focused on core skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, problem-solving, confidence and public speaking. These practical skills are rarely addressed by school curricula although they’re essential and particularly valuable in Uganda, which has the world’s youngest population and youth unemployment of 62%.

The lesson is over, and the students gather for their weekly School Business Club meeting, where they’re encouraged to conceive and set up small businesses that they will develop creatively throughout the year.

“Don’t sit on the skills you’ve learned. Go out and practice them!” is one of the Educate! mottos. And apparently it works: research has shown that former Educate! students are around 50% more likely to find a job and 44% more likely to own a business.

Most of the small businesses use easily-obtained local materials like wood, paper, banana leaves and sugar cane. Apogo makes and sells paper folders, while Mercy and Ivan produce beautiful fishing baskets made from vegetable waste. Other students make organic fruit drinks, wooden chairs and tables, woollen carpets, soaps and portable clay ovens.

There’s a strong commitment to not only translate creative ideas into business opportunities, but to contribute to society in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible.

Educate! is operating at national scale in Uganda, being active in around 800 secondary schools across 50 districts in the country.

We support them to roll out the Educate! curriculum in 50 extremely low-resource schools in eastern Uganda, reaching 6,000 students through the classes and clubs and some 50,000 of their peers over three years.