Student Blogger: Preparing the Future of Uganda
Editor's intro: Today's post is by Roland Naijuka who as a high school student, created Future Uganda, an organization to help high school students with the college application process. This blog is part of our ongoing series by young adults who participated in Global Citizens Initiative's Summer Youth Summit. We hope these posts will inspire your students to take action!
By guest blogger Roland Naijuka
The population of Uganda grows at an alarming rate of 3.2% per year. By 2025, the country will have a population of 54 million people. As of now, youth account for 78% of the population, thereby making them the majority in the country. By 2025, the youth population will be four times the rest of the country's population. This means that we need a strong economy to sustain this population. Free education is provided by the government until high school. Every year hundreds of thousand graduate from high school, however, only the few than can afford it, join higher institutions of learning.
On the other hand, those that cannot afford higher education start looking for scholarships abroad. For many high school seniors in Uganda, applying to colleges/universities abroad is quite daunting. As other schools around the globe have college counselors, most public schools in Uganda do not have them. Students are left to consult with educational consultants who charge ridiculous amounts of money. Therefore, only the rich can benefit from these services. Those with resilience start going through the internet with hopes of bumping into something. However, there are so many colleges to look through, so many tests and requirements, yet so few reliable resources to guide students through their journey.
In 2015, I received a life-changing educational opportunity to study at Africa's prestigious institution which grooms the next generation of future African leaders. While there, I received over 15 applications from my friends asking me to help them apply abroad. This was within one year. As I discussed this with a friend, Trevor Lwere, we realized we had the same resource—a friend's trust. But our friends reflect a tiny fraction of the number of competent and talented high school graduates in Uganda who try to apply abroad. I am committed to creating access to similar opportunities for my fellow Ugandans. As such, Trevor and I have founded Future Uganda, a nonprofit organization that seeks to guide high school seniors through the college application process.
Founded in a small dorm room in Johannesburg, South Africa, Future Uganda has grown into a national program that provides quality SAT tutoring, college application guidance, and also connects students to scholarship opportunities around the world. Future Uganda also connects ambitious high school graduates to gap-year programs where they can grow and be transformed into global citizens.
At Future Uganda, we are guided by a principle of agency. We strongly believe that while basic education can empower individuals, quality education can transform communities. By guiding scholars with immense potential to access high-quality education, we hope to create a multiplier effect of change makers who will transform our country as leaders in scientific research, politics, and governance. We see our work as a small but significant contribution to the larger effort of transforming Uganda by investing in and empowering its young generation.
Our inaugural class of 10 promising high school seniors—who went through a rigorous online application—convened in early autumn 2017 to explore the offerings of our organization. In addition to the physical lessons that we offer our scholars every other Saturday, students are introduced to the student-tutor online system provided by Khan Academy thereby making tutoring for the SAT both thorough and personalized. Future Uganda's team of dedicated guidance counselors takes students step by step through the entire application process, providing services that include:
- Identifying schools that fit the student's career prospects.
- Preparation for interviews.
- Identifying and securing scholarships and financial aid.
- Assisting students without credit cards to pay for the SAT, sending scores, and the College Board's College Scholarship Service profile.
Future Uganda also boasts an extensive network of SAT experts, who at one time also took the SAT and mastered tips and tricks to navigate the test, successfully applied to college, and are currently studying in top universities around the world. These experts proof-read essays and provide peer support and personal guidance to each student through our trademark Buddy System.
As part of our growth strategy, in the next two years, my team and I plan to establish our own physical educational center that will allow us to improve scholar accessibility and service delivery through a more ambient learning environment that will have a library and internet resources as well as better classroom structures. This will also allow us to increase our student intake from the current 10 to at least 30. We are excited about the prospects of the future, especially helping people to make change in other people's lives. We would also like to introduced two more services:
- A Reach Program which will seek to connect civic-minded high school graduates with opportunities to serve within their communities and impoverished regions in the country during their vacations from school. We realized a loophole in the program. Our end goal is to develop the country and quality education is the first milestone, however, people with quality education should be able to come and apply it at home. We are now answering the question of how can we inspire our scholars to come back to Uganda?
- Entrepreneurial leadership and management skills training which will equip students between the ages of 16-25 with 21st century skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and communication so that they can start businesses to solve the problems in their communities with a 21stcentury approach. There are a lot of such programs, however, the approach that they use is not solving problems with standard and up-to-date skills. This is why most scholars that have gone through such programs cannot compete with other countries. The question that we would like to answer now is how can we create competent and talented 21stcentury youth who can compete on the global market without necessarily sending them abroad for tertiary education.
For us at Future Uganda this is the beginning of the journey. We still have years ahead of us of delivering better and new services. After one year of existence, we know that the future is going to be tougher than the past, or the present. I remember the first day of our camp, no scholar showed up and this was a shock to the team. We learned, that day, that to successfully operate in Uganda, you need to take phone numbers rather emails. These and more hurdles are why we continue to thrive. We at Future Uganda believe that problems are like foundations on a house—for it to be strong, the approach to the foundation must be extraordinary.
Quote image created on Pablo.