Rebel Education

Uganda’s School for Life: Educating out of Poverty

Can teaching entrepreneurship skills help Ugandan students to break the cycle of poverty and youth unemployment?

In the 21st century, for many young people “finding a job” is just not an option. And in Uganda, with youth unemployment at around 66 percent, the highest rate in Africa, schools need to tailor their education to meet the different needs of society.

We are seeing that the youths that are undergoing the Educate! programme actually become community leaders because they are aware and cautious about what's going on in the community and sort of provide solutions for those challenges the community is going through.

by Emmanuel Kalyebi, programme coordinator of Educate!

Educate! is an experience-based education model where a mentor goes into a secondary school with 40 “scholars”. The mentor spends time with the scholars, delivering sessions on entrepreneurship, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving.

The pedagogy enables the use of games, group work and encourages public speaking. The scholars are encouraged to set up businesses, which are open to everyone in the school. They are also encouraged to be responsive to the needs of their local communities.

“Uganda has such a huge young demographic. Over 70 percent of the population is actually young people under the age of 30, and the challenge that we are having is that there is a mismatch between the number of students that graduate from school, and the available jobs in the market,” Emmanuel Kalyebi, the programme coordinator of Educate!, says.

Educate! focuses on making entrepreneurship – not just the theory, but the practice of it – a key part of what they offer.

“One of the things you go through in Uganda’s education system [is that] they give you a lot of theoretical knowledge … What typically happens to most of us is that after school you cannot find employment. You don’t have the right skills to get employed. So, if an employer is going to give you a job, they have to first train you again [with] skills that ideally education should be providing to you,” Kalyebi says.

Lilian Aero Olok joined the Educate! project in 2009 while she was at secondary school. Her project provides counselling and community support to more than 100 widows and women affected by HIV/Aids. She mobilises funds for the project by teaching women how to make recycled paper beads which she then buys from them. She is now working with more than 230 women and exports the beads all over the world.

“I want to see a change, I want to see a transformation from being an impoverished community to being a middle income-earning community, because poverty, HIV/Aids and single motherhood and widowhood is so high in this area … Running my own business has helped me pay for myself at school, it has also helped me take my daughter through school, and it also helped me get the lovely house that I have now,” Lilian says.  

Educate! currently works in more than 350 schools in Uganda, with another 100 lined up in the near future. Its vision for 2024 is to measurably impact one million students, and reach four million students more broadly, across Africa each year.

The film follows a mentor and the “scholars” as they set up a new business in the school. We also track the students as they juggle their studies, home life, and the pressure of making the business successful.

Funds are limited and the only money they will have to invest will come from their profits. But the business skills they learn through real-world projects will prepare them for a future in which they will be able to support their families and play a leading role in their communities.


By Doug Bolton

“What is education for?” It’s a question I kept asking myself when filming for Rebel Education. I met such passionate educators, each shaping education to meet the needs of their specific community; all, it seemed, creating new pedagogies out of necessity.

Across the world, it seems that each generation seems to worry about the education their children receive.

We see newspaper headlines reporting that education systems are failing millions of children, politicians crying out for young people to “learn by rote” or, conversely, calling for children to not attend school until they are seven. Everyone seems to have a differing view of what’s required.


But in a country like Uganda where there simply aren’t enough jobs for the population, what really is the answer? For what is the country educating young people, if there are no jobs to fill? Every day in Uganda I saw glimpses of the problem: large numbers of young people on the streets, a door covered with hundreds of adverts from people desperately seeking work, and people living in slums without basic amenities.

So it was a bit of a revelation to see the different programmes the Educate! NGO had developed alongside ordinary Ugandan secondary schools. If time had allowed, I would have loved to have filmed more of their work, for instance, the goat-rearing programme in which students not only breed goats to sell, but they also lent goat kids to other members of their community to help them improve their livelihoods, or students using “found” items to turn into stylish bits of furniture for sale, or the school that is making bricks from recycled plastic bags.

As we travelled out of the city, it was clear, particularly for families at the rural Bukooli school, that subsistence farming prevailed.

Famers could only grow enough for their families to exist; they didn’t have the resources to scale up to being able to grow crops or breed livestock to sell. It just wasn’t possible, therefore, to make much difference to their finances. What impressed me was that these young students, through a programme of entrepreneurship and leadership, were becoming the change agents in their communities. This practical skill-based education did not replace academic learning but enhanced it, and, in doing so, gave a leg-up to the whole community.

Educate! is a programme designed to give students the skills to find a way out of poverty for themselves and their communities [Al Jazeera] 
Educate! is a programme designed to give students the skills to find a way out of poverty for themselves and their communities [Al Jazeera]