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Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda: freeing individual agency


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The reality of the troubles young people encounter in navigating confining social and institutional settings to become productive workers and flourishing citizens in sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda continues to attract all sorts of theoretical and social policy assumptions. One such prominent assumption is the idea that increased young people’s participation in agricultural education and work has the potential to stem escalating youth unemployment. The related narrative that young people are less keen to plunge their learning and work life in agriculture owing to its low social status poses a huge education and labour policy dilemma across SSA and similar contexts. Amid this dilemma are narratives, which seem to underplay the influential social arrangements that structure the education–work trajectories of young people and the perceptions and practice of micro-social actors in the agriculture education and labour markets. Questionable narratives that often attempt to frame young people as authors of their own troubled work transitions abound sections of social policy and development discourse. Moreover, mainstream research and evaluative studies in Uganda and similar contexts do have a traditional focus on macro and meso structures with limited methodological interest into the voices and experiences of frontline social actors. Accordingly, this qualitative study is an in-depth examination of personal and contextual influences on young people’s agricultural education-employment transitions; and exploration of how to improve transition processes for optimising learning and labour market outcomes. The findings reveal unprecedented resilience and volitions of young people to advance their education–work trajectories despite the structural barriers. The study showed a reasonable degree of enthusiasm amongst some micro-social actors in supporting young people on their life transitions though often constrained by confining social and institutional arrangements. The study yielded robust evidence into the difficulties to cause AET system improvements for better student outcomes but also delivered incredible insights for making change possible. Freeing and nurturing the individual agency of Ugandan young people to choose and pursue agricultural education and work aspirations along the constricting pathways enacted as part of societal canalisation is among the core elements of this thesis. The agency freedom and professional autonomy of frontline social actors, especially agricultural educators to enable them to practise craftsmanship, democracy and associated transformative approaches for better preparation of young people to navigate their education and career trajectories is equally a core argument of this thesis.
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University of Groningen
Youth Transition, Agricultural Education and Employment in Uganda
Jjuuko, Robert
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Youth Transition, Agricultural Education and Employment in Uganda:
Freeing Individual Agency
Robert Jjuuko
Njeru 2021
Front cover design Emmanuel Mugisha
English language edit Angela Rwabose Kintu
Dutch Summary Jim Lo-A-Njoe
© Robert Jjuuko 2021
Published by: Globalisation Studies Groningen, University of Groningen
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Youth Transition, Agricultural
Education and Employment in
Freeing Individual Agency
PhD thesis
to obtain the degree of PhD at the
University of Groningen
on the authority of the
Rector Magnificus Prof. C. Wijmenga
and in accordance with
the decision by the College of Deans.
This thesis will be defended in public on
Thursday 4 November 2021 at 12.45 hours
Robert Doubt Jjuuko
born on 20 February 1970
in Mokono, Uganda
Prof. J.J.M. Zeelen
Dr. C. Tukundane
Assessment committee
Prof. A.E.M.G. Minnaert
Prof. V. Wedekind
Prof. S. Allais
This thesis presents my research work, in partnership with a number of very talented and
immensely resourceful social actors, on youth education-employment transition in Uganda
from 2016 to 2021. It is no exaggeration to state that pursuing this PhD programme has
delivered countless personal learnings; and remains the greatest opportunity for
meaningful reflections on what matters most in my life endeavours yesterday, today and
tomorrow. In this journey, I have even realised how my ever increasing passion for the
theme of youth education and work, which was actually a build-up from my earlier research
and practical work is driven by my own lived experience of non-linear youth transition. I am
very grateful that this study has greatly contributed to my paradigm shift with not only the
analytical tools to reflect on my motivation for undertaking this study but also the
epistemological curiosity to interrogate my own claims and societal conceptualisations of
young people and the conditions that shape their transitions.
In this PhD journey, I have experienced the essence of an empowering supervision
and mentorship approach no matter the level of academic or study trajectory. My two great
promoters, Prof Jacques Zeelen and Dr Cuthbert Tukundane have done an exceedingly great
thing for me in this journey they have accompanied me so well. I have no words to express
the sense of deep connection, friendship and thinking-freedom that I have derived from
being mentored by two great scholars who respectfully deal with each other’s independent
opinions. On several occasions while in Groningen, Jacques’ deeds and words of kindness
were enough to teach me how a University Professor can exercise his or her discretion to
contribute to the social and emotional well-being of his students.
Walking this PhD journey has helped to deepen my recognition of the immense
value of using the diverse knowledge, skills and emotional resources of my close family
members and friends. Pinpointing how I benefited from the photography, videography,
typing and reading skills of my children Gloria Linda Ndagire, Reagan Jjuuko and John
Kyeswa without mentioning the ever soothing emotional and social climate that was jointly
created by Brenda Naluwaga, Efrance Nabweteme, Mable Nakisozi, Azed Kikobe, Juliet
Namutebi and Herbert Sserwadda would be a grave omission. My mother, Maama
Ssefoloza Nansamba’s signature prayer Mama Bikira Maria Akulembere (May Mother Mary
Lead Your Way) on every single moment of my departure from home for the several PhD
study visits in and outside of Uganda continue to ring bells of hope and courage in my mind.
The whole story of the supportive emotional and social climate that I have enjoyed in this
journey would be incomplete if I forget to acknowledge with joy the contribution of my
special friend and partner, Maria-Goreth Nandago.
The essence and skill of creating and nurturing communities or teams to optimise
action research principles is my other great learning from the empirical phase of this PhD
trajectory. Drawing on the expertise in participatory approaches and adult learning
methodologies of my three very dependable research associates - Saul Tumwine, Joel
Bwana and Maria-Goreth Nandago, we were able to create a vibrant community of
practitioner researchers at one of the AET institutions which we later named expanded
action research team (ERT). Saul’s role in this very challenging but crucial step of our action
research pathway is highly appreciated. With pleasure, I acknowledge the sacrifices,
commitment and dedication of the action research team
led by Mr. Enoch Kayongo and Dr.
Namusoke Margaret. I also acknowledge one of the administrators of the AET institution,
Mr. Kisolo Lule who was very instrumental especially at the initial stages in making it
possible to gain entry and access to the social actors.
Building and sustaining social relationships is clearly not only an integral part of the
practices and virtues of a meaningful PhD research experience but a dependable resource
with vivid multiplier effects. My initial connection with Prof Jacques Zeelen, one of the most
prominent partners in this PhD project was only possible through Marit Blaak. The beautiful
connection that Marit made was based on the good professional relationship that we had
developed while working on some aspects of adult education in Uganda - a field we both
have a shared passion for. The good relationship that Marit had built with Dr Cuthbert in
their other engagements as co-lifelong learners made it very easy for both of them to
support me in preparing the research proposal for admission and NFP scholarship. I am
aware that my original connection with Marit could perhaps have not been possible, if my
old colleague and friend- Prof George Openjuru, had not inspired her for some professional
engagement at our umbrella network for adult education.
This relationship was foundational and indeed productive in terms of the eventual
successful admission and attainment of the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP)
scholarship. The encouraging remarks and feedback of Ms. Marit Blaak and Mr Frank Elsdijk
from the lifelong learning section at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences were
timely and essential for refining the winning proposal. I strongly feel that the excellent
support of Ms Esme Bakker and Mr Wiebe Zijlstra (the Office of the University staff in charge
of NFP) has some link to the foundational social relationship mentioned above. Relatedly
Prof Jacques Zeelen’ outstanding social engagement and relationship building attributes
were instrumental in connecting me with resourceful individuals and organisations here in
Uganda, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Of course, it is not possible to exhaust the list of
fruits of the social connections with his partner, Ms. Julia Swierstra and their children Jesse
and Nina that makes their home an intellectual lab for mingling every day stories of hope
The action research team (ERT) comprised of 28 members namely, Dr. Namusoke
Margaret Mr. Abigaba Enoch Kayongo, Ms. Masibo Winnie Oculi, Mr. Acema Alfred, Mr.
Emusugut George, Mr. Kiggundu Wilson, Ms. Apio Sharon Ibedo, Ms. Beatrice Okinyal, Mr.
Kulumba Samuel, Ms. Nakawuka Florence (RIP), Ms. Nnabbanja Eve, Mr. Saul Tumwine, Ms.
Asudo Esther Milcah, Ms. Atukunda Robinah, Dr. Badru Muyanja, Mr. Ekoot Leonard, Mr.
Kiprop Fred Sikuku, Dr Lukenku Benard, Ms. Nabateesa Shakirah, Ms. Nassaka Dorothy, Mr.
Otim Andrew Amos, Mr. Tokuma Alfred, Mr. Wilfred Byaruhanga, Ms. Maria Goreth
Nandago, Mr. Joel Bwana, Mr. William Kalema Kuteesa, Mr. Kanyike Fred, and Mr. Yasiima
and social justice struggles from Uganda, South Africa, the Netherlands, and from many
corners of the world.
I have learnt how every relationship and social space can be an opportunity to
interrogate certain aspects of one’s PhD research topic depending on the extent to which
one is able to exercise his lifelong learning skills and attributes. In my case, among the
several examples include the connection with Rotary Groningen Oost which earned me the
opportunity to interact with the Dutch people about societal conceptualisations of young
people. This relationship which was steered by Rotarian Nicolette generated more benefits
in form of basic funding by the Club to ‘our youth learning festival model’ (YLF) in Uganda.
This support contributed to the enabling environment to explore the model’s potential for
stimulating young people to ‘enjoy the joy of learning’. I am very grateful for the Club
members’ generosity towards not only the YLF but also our passion-driven ICTSkills4Youth
Work Research Initiative
. It is also appropriate to mention with gratitude that it is Ms.
Geerte Dijkstra from our Youth Education Network (YEW) who connected me to Rotarian
The Youth Education and Work Network (YEW) was another powerful illustrator of
social bonds as drivers of learning productivity. YEW, a social learning enabling
infrastructure for all sorts of professionals and practitioners, created excellent social space
for me to mingle and interact with very resourceful and talented individuals who later
became good friends, associates and partners in the entire PhD trajectory. Some of the very
fine human beings who came into my life through mainly the YEW include Ms Maaike
Smulders, Dr Josje Van der linden, Ms. Nathalie Beekman, Dr. Victor Friedman, Dr. Peace
Tumuheki, Dr. Alice Wabule, Mr. Frank Elsdijk, and Dr. Ben Boog. Apart from the social
support that I continued to receive from many of them, I remember with gratitude the
intellectual conversations around action research complexities and applicability of
capabilities approach and related paradigms in our shared mission for social justice,
emancipation and inclusion.
The induction effect of the YEW activities was crucial for my smooth integration
into the working and learning practices of the Globalisation Studies Groningen (GSG). GSG,
an inter-faculty and interdisciplinary institute that spans the entire University of Groningen,
was another monumental space for group learning about several topics of great relevance
to the PhD theme. With Ms. Inger Smid and Ms. Cobie Jeanne Poppinga, my regular
officemates, we developed a very strong collegial relationship that allowed us to collectively
explore and interrogate the theory and practice of workplace learning. Our warm
relationship extended the boundaries of engagement which prompted Inger and Cob
Jeanne to kick-start the charity scheme of mobilising used laptops from friends and
colleagues in Groningen towards our ICTs4Youth Work Initiative in Uganda. I mention with
happiness the efficiency of Mr. Jarno Hoving at handling all my logistical and material needs
throughout my affiliation at GSG. Dr. Pieter Boule’s very thoughtful comments on my initial
introductory chapters were so impactful that they helped me to affirm the use of ‘deficit
The ICTSkills4Youth Work Research Initiative is an integrated research and training passion-driven
community intervention designed, borne out of this PhD, to further explore the usability and
applicability of a work-based teaching and learning model in Uganda’s context.
narratives’ as a key vocabulary in this thesis. The relaxed ambience of GSG was indeed a
driver of intellectual productivity; and the assuring smile and gesture of friendliness by GSG
senior scholars especially Prof Tjalling Halbertsma and Dr Pieter Boele would always make
me feel at home and created in me a sense of being accepted and recognised. The shared
working space with Ms. Viet Marloes at GSG, and the logistical support she offered
especially during the last year of the PhD were equally replenishing and timely.
My PhD study experience has indeed presented to me many examples that
illustrate the educative value of building social relationships. Here I highlight the
tremendous learning and emotional support derived from my network of Dutch agri-
educators that was co-created by Ms. Marjon Nissien. Marjon was introduced to me by Prof
Jacques Zeelen at the beginning of the PhD project in 2016; and she gracefully integrated
me into her family. She also made deliberate steps to connect me to a number of very
interesting MBO/VMBO professional actors with a passion to promote better teaching of
agriculture in Uganda. This offered me a window into the fraternity of professionals with a
connection to Edukans’ Exchange programme which taught me additional lessons about
practice-based teacher’s professional development. These connections were a gateway
into the Terra VMBO/VMBO institutions which sharpened my understanding of internships
under the Dutch VET system. I am so grateful to each of these dozens of professionals who,
beyond allowing me to learn from their rich experiences, continuously offered me their time
for a meal and drink together. Harry and Birgit continue to support the mobilisation of used
laptops for our ICT Skills4Youth Work Identity Initiative, for that I am greatly indebted.
The qualitative research principles offered me the required leeway for valuing
relationships and individual human experiences which paid out so well in my engagement
with AET students, VTI tutors in Northern Uganda, AYEI actors, employers and workplace
supervisors in the different locations in Eastern and Central Uganda. Many of these research
participants allowed me to have with them follow-up open interview sessions, and informal
conversations about all sorts of things that they deemed necessary for a fair account of their
agriculture education and work experiences. I remember with gratitude the deep and
intensive discussions that we had with the Northern Uganda VTI tutors at Ave Maria
Vocational Institute in Lira.
Finally, I point out the immense contribution of AEC community College in Uganda
particularly in helping me to reflect more intentionally about my engagement in the design
and delivery of education and training solutions for youth and adults. I do treasure the
history of a solid social relationship that I enjoy while serving our community together with
my good friends, Robert Nsubuga, Crespo Senyonga, Esther Kirumira and Florence Walubo.
With them and a host of other volunteers and part-time staff, I feel blessed to have a
dependable team and social space to continually explore possibilities of providing
meaningful learning and work options for the socially disadvantaged young people and
adults in our community.
Overall the power of building and nurturing social relationships with the several
individuals singled out here and the many others that I could not mention were
fundamental in making it possible for me to yield this intellectual harvest that you are now
reading Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda: Freeing
individual agency’.
Table of Contents
Preface i
Table of Contents vii
Chapter 1 General Introduction 1
1.1 Introduction 1
1.2 Background 1
1.3 Research problem 4
1.4 Study purpose and significance 6
1.5 Conceptual and methodological choices 6
1.6 Study implementation and structure of the thesis 8
1.7 Study context 9
Chapter 2 Youth, education-employment transitions in SSA 11
2.1 Introduction 11
2.2 Youth conceptualisations 11
2.2.1 Chronological definition of youth 12
2.2.2 Sociological definitions of youth 13
2.2.3 Youth as resource, social problem 14
2.3 Young people’s voice and participation 16
2.4 Societal changes and youth transitions 17
2.5 Societal changes and work for young people 18
2.6 Difficult employment transition of educated youth 19
2.7 Education under pressure 21
2.7.1 Vocational Education and Training (VET) 22
2.7.2 Agricultural Education and Training (AET) 23
2.7.3 New efforts to harness AET labour market outcomes 25
2.8 Active labour market policies and youth employment 26
2.9 Takeaways 28
Chapter 3 Theoretical and methodological framework 29
3.1 Theoretical underpinnings: education-employment transitions 29
3.1.1 Agency and youth transitions 30
3.1.2 Applying the capabilities approach and socio-ecological model 30
3.1.3 Agricultural education and youth transitions 36
3.2 Study design 41
3.3 Qualitative research ideals 41
3.3.1 Case study bolstered by action research 42
3.3.2 Study process and data analysis 45
3.3.3 Ethical considerations 49
Chapter 4 Agri-youth employment interventions in Uganda 51
4.1 Introduction 51
4.2 Background and method 51
4.3 Findings 52
4.3.1 Nature and purpose of AYEIs 53
4.3.2 AYEIs’ coverage and demographic targeting 55
4.3.3 Stakeholders’ perceptions of constraints to youth in agriculture 56
4.3.4 AYEI components and activities 58
4.3.5 Partnership implementation approach 60
4.4 Further analysis and takeaways 61
4.4.1 AYEIs Project-based programming 61
4.4.2 Active role of youths in the AYEIs 62
4.4.3 Greater focus on NEETs 62
4.4.4 Use of work-based training models 62
4.4.5 The AYEIs’ youth development rhythm and employability logic 63
4.4.6 Enhancing youth social capital for business 63
4.5 Concluding remark 64
Chapter 5 Agri-education and work pathways for young people 67
5.1 Introduction 67
5.2 Background: study participants and methods 67
5.3 Findings 70
5.3.1 Young peoples’ vision of the future, and self-concept 70
5.3.2 Agri-education and work pathways: decisional influences 73
5.3.3 Agri-education practice: social actors’ experiences 81
5.3.4 Labour force entry and career development 102
5.4 Further analysis and discussion 108
5.4.1 Young people’s positive envisioning and navigational stance 109
5.4.2 Young people’s aspirations, agri-education and work pathways 109
5.4.3 Students’ multiple identities across the transition domains 110
5.4.4 Career interest and vocational guidance 111
5.4.5 Theory and practice integration 112
5.4.6 Social relations and learning environments 113
5.4.7 Adapting curriculum to new socio-economic realities 114
5.4.8 Students’ engagement amid a domineering teaching tradition 115
5.4.9 Labour force entry; confining social arrangements 116
Chapter 6 Transforming agri-education practice 117
6.1 Introduction 117
6.2 Negotiating entry and nurturing communicative space 118
6.2.1 Introductory interactions with decision makers 119
6.2.2 Action research coordination and communication structure 119
6.2.3 Building a shared understanding of the research design 122
6.3 Exploring agri-education practice of case study AET institution 125
6.3.1 Gathering contextual data to deepen understanding 126
6.3.2 State of agri-education practice 126
6.4 Exploring and enacting change options 128
6.4.1 Exploring and shaping change motives 130
6.4.2 Defining desired change 132
6.5 Improvements to vocational placements and guidance enacted 144
6.5.1 Benchmarks of good practice developed 144
6.5.2 The harvest, steps to institutionalise good practice 146
6.6 Reflections on the action research process and outcomes 151
6.6.1 Change supporting conditions 151
6.6.2 Time scarcity dilemma: the most prevalent difficulty 153
6.6.3 Resources and autonomy to enact change elusive 154
6.6.4 Faithfulness to action research virtues sometimes thwarted 155
6.6.5 Outsider positionality, research team’s mediating role 156
Chapter 7 Conclusions and implications 159
7.1 Introduction 159
7.2 Conclusions 161
7.2.1 Determinants of young people’s pursuit of AET pathways 161
7.2.2 AET as driver of youth transition: tussle of hope and promise 162
7.2.3 Lopsided repetitive curriculum reforms 163
7.2.4 Burdensome employment and career opportunities 164
7.2.5 Young people’s navigational stance 164
7.2.6 Educators’ latent agency and craftsmanship 165
7.2.7 Change possibilities and enabling environment 166
7.3 Contribution and implications of the study 166
7.3.1 Theoretical implications 166
7.3.2 Practice and policy implications 167
7.3.3 Research implication and considerations for the future 173
7.3.4 Final comment 173
References 175
Summary 199
Samenvatting 207
About the author 217
Abbreviations and acronyms
AET Agricultural Education and Training
AFDB African Development Bank
ALM Active Labour Market
ALMP Active Labour Market Policies
AR Action Research
AS4Y Agri Skills 4 You
AYEIs Agri-Youth Employment Interventions
BTVET Business Technical Vocational Education and Training
CBET Competence based education and training
CLUSA Cooperative League of USAID in Uganda
CSO Civil Society Organisation
DYNAMIC Driving Youth Led New Agribusiness Microenterprises
ERT Expanded Action Research Team
FAO Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations
GDP Gross Domestic Product
HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus
HoD Department Heads
ICT Information Communication Technologies
ILO International Labour Organisation
IYF International Youth Foundation
MAAIF Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries
MFPED Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development
MGLSD Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development
MoES Ministry of Education and Sports
NCA National Certificate in Agriculture
NCDC National Curriculum Development Centre
NCHE National Council of Higher Education
NEET Youth not in employment, education or training
NEIDA Network of Educational Innovation for Development in Africa
NEPAD New Partnership for Africa's Development
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
NPA National Planning Authority
NYSEA National Strategy for Employment in Agriculture
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
PAR Participatory Action Research
PWDs Persons with Disabilities
SDGs Sustainable Development Goals
SKY Skilling Youth for Employment in Agriculture
SSA Sub Saharan Africa
STRYDE Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprises
TVET Technical Vocational Education and Training
UACE Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education
UBTEB Uganda Business Technical Examination Board
UCE Uganda Certificate of Education
UMA Uganda Manufacturers Association
UN United Nations
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNICEF United Nations Children Fund
UPPET Universal Post Primary Education and Training
USAID United States Agency for International Development
USDP Uganda Skills Development Project
VET Vocational Education and Training
VSO Voluntary Services Overseas
VTI Vocational Training Institute
YEN Youth Employment Network
YETA Youth Empowerment through Agriculture
YLA Youth Leadership for Agriculture
YLP Youth Livelihood Programme
ZPD Zone of Proximal Development
Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda
Freeing individual agency
Chapter 1 General Introduction
1.1 Introduction
Whether it is a case of young people finding or creating meaningful agricultural employment
themselves, or educators preparing them to effectively navigate the confining education
and labour market settings, individual agency stands out prominently. Whether in relatively
wealthier economies in Europe and North America or in a poor sub-Saharan African (SSA)
country like Uganda, the innate volition and freedom of every single individual to be and do
the things he or she has reason to value is paramount, particularly from a human
development paradigm (Alkire & Deneulin, 2009; Sen, 1999; Fukuda-Parr, 2003). Freeing
and nurturing the individual agency of young Ugandans to choose and pursue agricultural
education and work aspirations along the constricting pathways enacted as part of societal
canalisation (Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019), is a core element of this thesis. The agency
freedom and professional autonomy of frontline education social actors especially
agriculture educators to be able to practise craftsmanship, democracy and associated
transformative approaches to better prepare young people to navigate their education and
career trajectories is equally core. The topical issue of youth transition from full-time
education to working in the agriculture and food industry poses intrinsic and instrumental
value for individual wellbeing and societal transformation. While this seems to be widely
acknowledged, I argue that mainstream youth education-work transition research, policy
and programming are yet to optimise the individual agency of the youth and frontline social
This study is an in-depth examination of personal and contextual influences on
young people’s agricultural education-employment transitions, as well as an exploration of
how to improve transition processes for optimising young people’s learning and labour
market outcomes. In this chapter, I set the discourse with an overview of the narratives
relating to youth education and employment transitions, followed by a statement of the
research problem. A glimpse of the study context precedes the theoretical and
methodological choices made to firmly anchor the study into a transformative tradition.
1.2 Background
Millions of young people around the world still face enormous difficulties in their transition
to become productive workers and flourishing citizens, despite decades of national and
Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda
Freeing individual agency
global interventions and pronouncements for increased youth skills development and
decent work (Cieslik, Barford, & Vira, 2021; UNESCO, 2012; World Bank, 2006). Worldwide,
13% of the 429 million young workers are reported to be experiencing the harsh impact of
income poverty (ILO, 2019). Obviously, the situation is not any better in Africa, where the
number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80% since 1991 (Marjanovic
Dragan, 2016). In 2018, the African Development Bank indicated that:
Of the 420 million youth aged between 15 and 35 in Africa today, the
majority are unemployed, have insecure jobs or are in casual employment
(African Development Bank, 2018, p3).
Moreover, the statistical portrayal of decreasing youth unemployment is misleading in the
majority of African countries (Filmer & Fox, 2014). As eloquently argued by the 2011 State
of African Youth Report:
The apparent low and decreasing unemployment rates should not be
construed to imply that labour market conditions for young people are
favourable. Because of factors such as low economic growth and lack of
growth in labour-intensive sectors there is generally inadequate job
creation in Africa. In consequence, many young Africans have little say in
their choice of jobs. They mostly end up in the informal sector, and are less
likely to be in wage or self-employment ... In the informal sector, young
people are more likely to work longer hours under intermittent and
insecure work arrangements, characterized by low productivity and
meagre earnings (African Union, 2011, p14).
In Uganda, the country’s Bureau of Statistics reported that by 2016, 71% of young people
were in vulnerable employment, with the majority undertaking all sorts of auxiliary roles in
the food and agriculture industry. Indeed, few young men and women are engaged in
meaningful and productive agricultural work.
The reality of the troubles that young people encounter in finding employment
received the renewed attention of national and international development policy in the
early 2000s (O'higgins, 2001). The formation of the youth employment network (YEN) by
the World Bank, ILO, UN and other development partners was among the key highlights of
the global interventions to deal with the cross-cutting issues that affect youths worldwide
(World Bank, 2013). At the time, youth bulge was part of the mantra of the discourse on
transition and employment of the rapidly growing young population in the global South
(Sommers, 2011; Urdal, 2004).
The divergent narratives of the forces behind this global phenomenon and how
society is responding generate various theoretical and policy arguments. The role of
Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda
Freeing individual agency
education and training systems becomes topical in the quest to smoothen young people’s
transition. At the same time there are endemic concerns relating to the intrinsic and
instrumental purpose of education, in addition to access and quality dilemmas. The
arguments for what works and doesn’t in improving young peoples education-employment
transition reignite questions about the relationship between the education and labour
systems. Amidst the presuppositions and arguments, the role and voice of young people
and other social actors at micro levels of education and labour policy implementation is
often muted. In addition, and most importantly for educationists and other professionals in
youth development work, the phenomenon revives the debate about societal youth
conceptualisations and how to deal with young peoples life, education and work interests
and aspirations as shaped by the numerous ecological, technological and societal changes.
At national and global level, the intentions to facilitate youth education-
employment transitions is driven by diverse motives to promote certain socio-cultural,
political and economic interests (Sukarieh & Tannock, 2014). These interests tend to shape
and legitimise dominant conceptualisations of young people’s needs and transition
challenges. Such entrenched understandings, which we may call deficit paradigms or
discourses’ that breed ‘defective narratives’, inevitably have the potential to influence
youth research, policy and practice (Aikman et al, 2016). This is why one often finds
representations of young people as resources, agents or assets (ILO, 2015). Other
conceptualisations portray young people as a difficult lot that can potentially cause trouble
not only to themselves but also to the entire society (Hardgrove, Boyden, Dornan, & Pells,
2014). Many narratives portray young people as a problematic population group that must
be ‘handled’ to save the world from the risks of insecurity, war and terrorism (Bersaglio,
Enns, & Kepe, 2015; Urdal, 2004; Urdal & Hoelscher, 2009).
The manifestations of these representations at different levels are diverse, but
often converge in their description of young people as beings with the potential to either
redeem or destroy their destiny. The persistence of deficit paradigms that, for instance,
hold young people accountable and responsible for their social situations, is not uncommon
in every society despite some progressive social research and policy engagements
(Freeman, 1993; Perullo, 2005; Seekings, 2006). Later in the thesis, I come back to the
discussion on the impact of historical and socio-cultural processes in shaping the social role
and position of young people in society. When influential social actors in families, schools
and other social institutions attempt to explain the difficulties young people face in their
education-employment journeys, one or more of the following stereotypes are applied:
Young people are lazy;
Young people dislike dirty work;
Young people are impatient;
Young people have short-term goals, and driven by quick pleasures;
Young people are too dependent; they are not self-directive;
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Young people can find work in the villages but they crave for urban life.
As communities everywhere confront the dynamic social, demographic, climatic and
technological challenges, such deficit assumptions often find their way into the design of
education-work transition programmes for young people. Apparently, despite the
exponential societal changes as further heightened by globalisation and technological
revolution, most influential social actors seem to be stuck in the paradigm of standardised
transitions. This potentially limits their capacity to deal with youth waithood (Honwana,
2012). From a western perspective, Dwyer and Wyn illustrate this point in their observation
that significant social and economic changes ‘have introduced elements of uncertainty,
unpredictability and risk into the lives of this new generation, which their parents and
others from previous generations often find difficult to explain or understand’ (Dwyer &
Wyn, 2001, p1). Without due recognition of the social structures and wider institutional
contexts that frame youth thoughts and actions, some social actors have a tendency of
blaming young people for not doing enough to find some work. In Uganda, for instance, as
the search to mitigate escalating youth unemployment picks momentum, so do the notions
of young people’s negative attitude towards agricultural work and other so-called blue-
collar jobs (Ahaibwe, Mbowa, & Lwanga, 2013). Of course, this is not an unusual theme in
the development architecture of developing countries whose development policy is often
focused on transforming agriculture to promote food security and employment creation
(Zorya, Kshirsagar, Gautam, Odwongo, & Sebudde, 2012).
Generally, the challenge of difficult youth transitions is yet to be matched with the
required knowledge base, motivation and capacity to support young people on their desired
life trajectories amidst the confining social and institutional arrangements. My own
motivation for this study is largely attributable to the compelling topic of understanding
how to enhance Ugandan young people’s participation in agriculture as a sector of
meaningful career opportunities. This study launched me into a consistent thinking and
reflection enterprise on the ideals that underlie the policies and programmes for promoting
youth participation in agricultural education and work. As I discuss elsewhere in this thesis,
this study has greatly contributed to my paradigm shift with a consequential zeal to pose
questions about what I claim to know about young people and the conditions that shape
their agricultural education and work aspirations.
1.3 Research problem
While increased youth participation in agriculture could yield better youth labour market
outcomes, existing support systems do not measure up to the challenge (Kibwika, Okiror, &
Birungi-Kyazze, 2010; Metelerkamp, Drimie, & Biggs, 2019). Empirical studies and literature
reviews delineate a set of interrelated constraining factors, such as young people’s low
interest in agriculture work, which is exacerbated by their limited access to quality
agriculture education and production resources like land and finance (Garcia & Fares, 2008;
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Leavy & Smith, 2010; Leavy & Hossain, 2014; Mwangi, Agunga, & Garforth, 2003; Rammolai,
2009). Most related research and policy studies mainly engage key informants from
communities, government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and are not known for
engaging frontline social actors such as students and educators in the formal AET sub sector.
Often, young people are represented by the category of the so-called youth not in
employment, education or training (NEETs) and those in high school. Findings from these
limited scope and analyses are often used to inform the design and delivery of policies and
support programmes by state and non-state actors.
Research into formal AET in Uganda and similar contexts consistently faults the
sub-sector for poor learning and labour market outcomes. Findings point to a complex
interplay of organisational and infrastructural constraints that AET institutions face in their
function to prepare and engage young people for work in the food and agriculture industry
(Chakeredza et al., 2008; Wallace, 1997). While some findings point to flaws within the
larger operating environment, including macroeconomic policies and welfare systems,
blaming individual social actors in AET institutions is often implied (Spielman, Ekboir, Davis,
& Ochieng, 2008; Sumberg, Anyidoho, & Chasukwa, 2015). Indeed, skewed narratives and
deficit paradigms permeate the analysis and conclusion by some studies. It is imperative
that AET researchers do not only generate data about young people’s negative perception
of agriculture and the structural constraints facing AET. They ought to deepen their scrutiny
of what happens before, during and after young people’s stay in AET institutions, and how
the institutions nurture or stifle students’ agency and career aspirations.
However, one finds a few small-scale qualitative studies that potentially offer a
positive encounter to the deficit narratives. These studies show evidence of students and
graduates who view agriculture as a sector of meaningful career growth and development
(Metelerkamp et al., 2019; Shayo, 2020; Tadele & Gella, 2012; Okiror & Otabang, 2015).
This string of studies is apparently characterised by less empowering research approaches
which undercut the required deeper engagement of the frontline social actors to better
understand the forces and conditions that shape young peoples education-employment
transitions. Moreover, the hierarchical structure of educational settings potentially stifles
not only the interactions among and between the insider social actors themselves, it also
poses a challenge to ‘outsider’ researchers. Generally, the avenues for effective
communication and working relations are structurally constrained by rules, regulations,
sanctions and a set of unwritten norms, which prescribe acceptable behaviour and conduct.
It is regrettable that there is little research that focuses on how young people
navigate the social and institutional conditions that shape their education-work transitions.
It is the young people and other frontline social actors who know best what it means to be,
think, and act under such conditions. The apparent scarcity of in-depth data and knowledge
derived from a deeper engagement of frontline social actors, particularly the educators,
students, graduates and industry actors, is equally regrettable because it is that sort of
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evidence that is required to inform youth agriculture education-work transition theory,
policy and practise.
1.4 Study purpose and significance
This study aimed at an in-depth examination of personal and contextual influences on young
people’s agricultural education-employment transitions, and an exploration of how to
improve transition processes for optimising learning and labour market outcomes of young
people. The two interrelated questions that guided the research are:
How do socio-economic conditions and institutional settings shape Ugandan young
people’s agricultural education-employment transitions?
How can improvement interventions be made to enhance agricultural education
processes for optimising Ugandan young people’s learning and labour market
This study contributes to building a knowledge base on how young people transit
through AET into the world of work. It does so by engaging young people and frontline social
actors to explore better approaches and positive paradigms in improving youth education
and employment interventions. Policy makers and other decision makers in education and
labour markets at different levels need empirical evidence of what young people think
about their participation and the value they attach to it for their present and future lives.
The perceptions and experiences of educators and other social actors regarding teaching-
learning processes, and how they view and value their role and position in the education-
employment transition programmes, is what macro and meso decision-makers need to
optimise innovations and educational policy reforms.
Overall, this study intends to contribute to practice, policy and research on how
education systems prepare young people to confront the ever-changing world of work. The
study further aims to contribute to the field of youth education-work transition through
promoting positive youth conceptualisations and challenging deficit paradigms to foster the
agency of young people and those social actors that shape youth agricultural education-
employment trajectories.
1.5 Conceptual and methodological choices
Youth as a stage in life is a time when young people experience rapid biological,
psychological and emotional changes amidst social expectations for them to take on
adulthood roles and responsibilities across a set of life domains. The main social markers of
transitions include completion of education in preparation for work, labour-force entry,
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marriage, parenthood and exercising citizenship. It is generally agreed that education plays
a greater role in aiding the transition to employment, and this achievement has a significant
multiplier effect on the rest of the transition domains thus the social premium placed on
youth education and employment. Relatedly, the title of this thesis Youth transition,
agricultural education and employment in Uganda denotes the recognition of the decisive
role of education and employment in enhancing the whole spectrum of young people’s
journey to adulthood. Further, it is a recognition of the misnomer of looking at the youth
education-work transition in a linear way, yet this particular transition is intertwined with
other life transition domains.
The empirical focus of the study is on exploring the youth education-employment
transition nexus, with particular attention to transition processes and outcomes. Of course,
this is not in complete negation of the other life transitions, as further discussed in chapters
two and three. Transition processes are collectives of actions in young peoples movement
through education and related capacity-building experiences to the world of work
(Atchoarena, 2000; Raffe, 2008; Wyn & Dwyer, 1999). In this context, they encompass such
processes created by youth employment programmes and formal AET institutions. The
transition processes also include movements into the world of work that young people
make with the use of attained educational qualifications. The transition outcomes are seen
in young people’s participation in all the dimensions of the world of work, including job
statuses, conditions and earnings. The loose interchangeable use of work and
employment is to bridge notions of employability and working as a valuable functioning.
This is not to yield to one-sided employability logic that potentially trivialises the intrinsic
value of work as viewed from a humanistic perspective (England & Harpaz, 1990; ILO, 2008;
Sen, 1975; UNDP, 2015).
Navigating transition processes and attaining related outcomes is a relational
social phenomenon. That is why I chose to draw on social theories of learning and action. I
employ relevant socio-constructivist epistemologies in the study, and therefore draw from
theory and research on learning and working as participation in social-cultural practice
(Dewey, 1963; Kolb & Kolb, 2009; Mezirow, 2006). In recognition of the active role of young
people and frontline social actors, especially educators, in enacting transition processes, I
use the notion of agency as espoused by the agency-focused capabilities approach, the
social-ecological development perspective to youth transition, and the emancipatory
paradigm of learning and working (Biesta & Tedder, 2007; Eteläpelto, Vähäsantanen, Hökkä,
& Paloniemi, 2013; Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019). In dealing with quality issues and
concerns in education-work transition processes, I complement the study’s conceptual
framework with theoretical ideals of craftsmanship and vocational pedagogy (Lucas &
Spencer, 2016; Sennett, 2008).
The empirical dimensions of this study from its inception in 2016 until the
conclusion of the interventionist phase in 2019 unfolded through intentional relationship
building and interactive encounters that fostered the participation of frontline social actors
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(Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007; Creswell, 2003; Flyvbjerg, 2001). I engaged a range of
social actors mainly at the practice level, from agri-youth employment interventions (AEIs),
to agriculture education and training (AET) institutions, and agro enterprises through a
range of qualitative research approaches and methods. I used a case study approach to
derive a thick description of the agricultural education processes (Creswell, 2003; Stake,
1995). Informed by action research ideals and principles, I facilitated the establishment of
a communicative space augmented by creation of a community of social actors at the case
study AET institutions. I undertook collaborative inquiry to better understand and act on
the social and institutional influences on transitional processes and outcomes (Boog,
Slagter, & Zeelen, 2008).
1.6 Study implementation and structure of the thesis
The study implementation evolved in three distinct but related phases during the four years.
With the preliminary insights drawn from an indicative literature review complemented by
my experiential knowledge of youth education and work theory and practice, I conducted
the orientation phase from February to July 2016. This first phase was helpful in deriving an
overview of Uganda’s agriculture-based youth employment terrain. Thereafter I explored
the frontline education social actors’ perceptions and experiences of institutionalised AET
at seven vocational training institutes (VTIs) and one tertiary AET institution from October
2016 to October 2017. The interventionist phase, which involved a deeper engagement with
stakeholders to understand and transform agri-education practise, was conducted from
November 2017 until June 2019 at the case study AET institution.
The thesis is organised under seven chapters. This chapter on general introduction
is followed by chapter two on the synthesis of issues and trends in the youth education-
employment landscape across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The chapter identifies and
examines youth conceptualisations, the debates about youth voice and participation,
increasing de-standardised youth transitions, difficult youth employment transitions and
education-based responses. Also, the chapter deals with active labour market programmes
in recognition of the increasing interest in their role in promoting youth employment.
Chapter three presents the theoretical and methodological framework for the
study. The choice to use the capabilities approach and integrated socio-ecological
developmental model of agency is explained and justified. The capabilities approach’s
revolutionary conceptualisation of development as freedom suits this study’s strategic
focus on agency of social actors in youth education-employment transition. In this chapter,
I make the argument for freeing and enhancing individual agency of young people and the
frontline social actors who ought to accompany them on their education-employment
journeys. The use of the social constructivist learning paradigm in framing the discussion,
analysis and scrutiny of agricultural education and training (AET) is outlined. The section on
methodological choices provides the justification of the study’s interpretive paradigm in
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shaping the integrated research design constructed on qualitative case study and action
research principles.
In chapter four I present findings about the agri-focused youth employment
programmes as generated during the orientation phase, while chapter five deals with
findings from the second phase of the study. The chapter presents a detailed account of
stakeholders’ experiences and perceptions of agricultural education practice by selected
VTIs and the tertiary AET institution. Also, this chapter captures young people’s vision of the
future, as well as the decisional influences on their pursuit of agricultural education and
employment pathways. I also present the young people’s labour force entry imaginations
and realities, as well as their career development ambitions. Chapter six provides findings
of the third phase of the study, which involved a deeper engagement with social actors of
the case study AET institution using action research principles and methods. This , more
intensive and lengthy phase attempted to respond, with practical interventions, to some of
the issues and concerns that were identified among the major obstacles to young people’s
better learning and labour market outcomes. The last chapter sums up analysis and
interpretation of the findings, and connects the same to the integrated theoretical
framework while drawing pertinent research, policy and practice implications.
1.7 Study context
Uganda is located astride the equator with an area of 241,550.7 It is a landlocked
East African country bordering Tanzania to the South, Rwanda to the southwest, South
Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west and Kenya to the east.
With 34.6 million persons in 2014 and an annual population growth rate of 3.2 per cent,
Uganda is considered to be among the world’s youngest populations. According to the 2012
census and subsequent projections, young people aged 18-30 years constitute 22.5% of the
population (UBoS, 2016b). The 2016/17 national household survey estimated the country’s
working age population at over 19 million (UBoS, 2019).
Uganda is continually portrayed as a country of endowed natural resources and
favourable climate with a potential to attain a middle-income status within 30 years as
proclaimed by the Government’s vision 2040 (GoU, 2013). Economically, the country is
struggling to build its small industrial sector amidst unstable policy frameworks anchored in
the so-called private sector-led development model inherited from the failed structural
adjustment regime of the 1990s (Kingston, Irikana, Dienye, & Kingston, 2011). The reported
GDP per capita growth from USD 844 in the fiscal year 2011/12 to USD 878 in 2018/19
(National Planning Authority, 2020) means little to the general well-being of the majority of
Ugandans. The country is still a long way from expanding choices for its entire people to live
a dignified life. The national household survey of 2016/2017 indicated that the proportion
of Ugandans living below the poverty line increased to 21.4% (10 million) with huge regional
disparities defined by rural and urban poverty characteristics (UBoS, 2019). There are also
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increasing local and global concerns over poor governance and weak democratic practices
characterized by high levels of corruption, dysfunctional public institutions and declining
rule of law (Asiimwe, 2013; Baldwin, 2009; Office of the Prime Minister, 2012; Tangri &
Mwenda, 2008).
As discussed elsewhere in this thesis, the twin challenge of employment creation
and harnessing youth labour market transition makes agricultural productivity a mantra of
Uganda’s political economy discourse. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of
the economy, second to the trade and services sector, and contributing 24 percent to GDP
during the fiscal year 2018/2019 (UBoS, 2020). Relatedly, agro-industrialisation is one of the
key development programmes earmarked by the third 5-year national development plan
2020-2025 to increase commercialisation and competitiveness of agricultural production.
This is within the framework of sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2 and 9 and the
overall national aspirations of attaining a middle-income status. Against the backdrop of the
policy pronouncements that favour agriculture productivity, real financing by Government
is minimal, declining to less than 3.5% of the 2020/21 national budget and far below the
recommended 10% as expressed in the Maputo Declaration on Comprehensive Africa
Agriculture Development Programme (Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, 2020; FAO,
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Chapter 2 Youth, education-employment transitions in SSA
2.1 Introduction
Young people are a treasure to families and nations, and their successful transition is a
matter of local and global concern (United Nations, 2007). The state and wellbeing of youth
mirrors the nature of social systems. It reveals how enabling or confining the social
institutions of communities and nations are (Durham, 2000). Smooth transitions of young
people, particularly their entry into the world of work, remains a real challenge that
constantly attracts and generates policy, research and theoretical arguments about the role
and influence of education and labour market systems. Amidst the arguments, the changes
and forces behind the structural and institutional determinants of young people’s lives
persist in varying dimensions across the globe.
In this chapter, while drawing from international literature with a focus on African
and Ugandan context, I make a brief discussion of these technological and societal changes
in the context of their impact on youth transitions. I set out the discussion with a glimpse
into societal youth conceptualisations. In recognition of youth resilience and adaptive
capabilities in navigating confining structures to find their life paths, I bring into context the
arguments about young people’s voices and participation. The impact of technological and
societal changes on work and working contexts is discussed to contextualise the difficulties
young people face in their movement into and through education settings to the world of
work. The section on the pressure that society exerts on education systems to effectively
prepare youth for work, as well the difficulties involved in facilitating youth employment
transitions, is preceded with insights that influence this study’s theoretical and
methodological frame of reference.
2.2 Youth conceptualisations
A critical look at youth conceptualisations is helpful in understanding how individuals and
institutions with power and authority relate and deal with young people.
Conceptualisations communicate assumptions about entitlements, protection, obligations
and responsibilities of young people in the context of time, space and purpose. In the
discussions about young people’s access to education and work opportunities, I illustrate
how such representations potentially perpetuate disparities and exclusion. In the literature
on youth conceptualisations, one derives two major interrelated dimensions. One is the
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relative tension between chronological and sociological definitions, and the other is about
youth as either a resource to build and exploit or a social problem to manage.
2.2.1 Chronological definition of youth
Chronological definitions take youth as a stage in life ‘that can be tied to specific age ranges’
(Furlong, 2013, p1). The population group in the age cohort of 15-35 is what most national
governments and development agencies define as young people. Of course, there are
variations in regard to the lower and upper ceilings where some countries including Uganda
legislate the lower age ceiling at 18, relative to the United Nations15-24 age bracket as
well as World Bank’s and the African Union’ 15-35 age range (African Union, 2011; United
Nations, 2010). However, inconsistencies and tensions are not uncommon, particularly
when the policy decisions to guide and regulate youth programmes and services are framed
to meet particular interests.
Age definitions can turn into complex policy issues when social actors are
confronted with decisional dilemmas relating to young people’s access to work and
education opportunities. In Uganda, for instance, whereas the national youth council act of
1993 decrees 18-30 age brackets for eligibility to exercise political rights, other sections of
the youth policy regime place the lower age ceiling at 12. The Ministry of Gender justifies
the child youth ambivalence with the argument that youth and child are mutually inclusive
at some stage of their lives, so their welfare and protection can be derived from the same
conceptualisation (MGLSD, 2001). In the same breadth, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics
argues for the ‘inclusion of young adolescents (14-17) in national youth policies in
conformity with the labour market definition of working age population, and to allow early
participation by young people (UBoS, 2016a, p58).
The child-youth ambivalence plays out even at household levels as families
arbitrarily make decisions that affect the lives of young people on the basis of what suits
the circumstances, regardless of age prescriptions. In Uganda and similar contexts, the
onset of some conventional social markers of progression from childhood to youth or
adulthood often leads to adverse consequences on the educational affordances and other
forms of protection and social services by the different social institutions, and in varying
dimensions as influenced by gender stereotypes. It is evident that the sexuality
manifestations among young girls, which is often characterised by unprotected sex and
eventual pregnancies, many times results into being denied the opportunities to access
education and training opportunities. Apparently, conventional social markers such as
sexuality, marriage and working are more significant in distinguishing youth from childhood
(Hardgrove et al., 2014) than the age statistics. Moreover, delayed or accelerated realisation
often conflicts with social expectations, thus exacerbating the tension. This makes
sociological understanding of youth a pertinent element of this thesis.
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2.2.2 Sociological definitions of youth
Broadening the understanding of youth beyond statistical definitions is a natural response
in recognition of the social realities of growing up to become an adult. Variations on the
rallying elements within the sociological youth discourse notwithstanding, there is
agreement that youth is a phase of transition (Abbink, 2005; Hogan & Astone, 1986). This
phase signifies the transition from a dependent personality, reminiscent of childhood, to a
more autonomous adulthood status. Theoretical opinions about the nature and meaning of
this transition are subtle and less oppositional. For instance, while Bastien and
Holmarsdottir call it a liminal phase in life, Andy Furlong refers to it as an intermediary phase
that stands between childhood and adulthood (Bastien & Holmarsdottir, 2015; Furlong,
There are also arguments against a transitory emphasis, because societal changes
are not only distorting social transition calendars, but they are continuously elongating the
phase. Already, over half a century ago, youth scholars observed that the youth phase had
been moved later in the life course (Musgrave, 1967). As observed by Jon Abbink, ‘some
people who are well into their thirties have not completed their education, have no job, and
are not in a position to raise a family(Abbink, 2005, p6). Connectedly, there is a line of
thinking that argues for defining youth from ‘now and future’ perspectives. Social being and
social becoming constitute the main conceptual tools in this argument (Gough, Langevang,
& Owusu, 2013). This apparent radical argument is about extending youth as a position in
movement within a larger social structure defined by the constant struggle for influence
and authority (Christiansen, Utas, Vigh, & Ungruhe, 2007).
It is generally agreeable that youth transitions are no longer linear. Notions and
concepts such as de-standardised, protracted, accelerated, delayed transitions or waithood
are coined to illustrate how societal changes distort periods and ages at which transitions
across different life domains would be expected to happen (Honwana, 2014; Walther,
2006). Predictions of when and how young people, for instance, enter work from school
and from family home to independent living with a spouse in a different village or city are
no longer feasible.
Manifestations of nonlinear transitions are not uncommon in rich and poor
economies though with varied ramifications on society and the young people themselves.
There are incidences of young people assuming social, reproductive and economic roles
either long before or after expected social deadlines. Often youth have double or triple
statuses as children, husbands, wives, students and temporary workers. By 2015, fifteen
percent of Ugandan youth at school were engaged in employment’ (UBoS, 2016a, p2).
Contextual manifestations and implications of changing youth transitions are among the
central elements of this thesis.
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2.2.3 Youth as resource, social problem
A deficit perspective that takes youth as a social problem to manage at times juxtaposes
youth as a resource (Resnick & Thurlow, 2015). On one side of the continuum is the positive
youth paradigm that views young people as capable and indeed with the potential of being
good and resourceful to their own lives, families and wider communities. This presupposes
the focus on talents, strengths, interests and future potential of young people (Damon,
2004). This worldview recognises the fact that young people possess a certain level of
agency, which they can exercise to actively negotiate and influence their life journeys amid
the structural barriers and societal canalisations. The conceptualisation of youth as an asset
is prevalent in local and international literature on youth policies and interventions. For
instance, the United Nations states that young people in all countries are both a major
human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development
and technological innovation’ (United Nations, 2010, p10). The Commonwealth Secretariat
argues that youth are ‘an essential resource for sustainable development and poverty
eradication’ (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2007, p4). In its Vision 2040 policy document, the
Government of Uganda states that with a youthful population ‘the country is blessed with
the potential for an abundant and cheap labour force that can drive the envisaged growth
and transformation (National Planning Authority, 2013, p51). Of course, as discussed
elsewhere in this thesis, the interests and intentions that underlie the seemingly positive
portrayal of youth need critical consideration.
At different levels of society, social actors including parents, educators and
employers often make positive statements that clearly communicate their conviction about
youth potential. When things seem to be going fine, one often hears statements such as
best hope, real heritage, leaders of tomorrow, and agents of change. For instance, a youth
situational analysis in Uganda by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) in 2010 revealed
how some employers perceive Ugandan youth as:
More productive and flexible than adults; less expensive to hire; ambitious,
motivated and creative; less prone to corruption; and willing to give back
to the community. (IYF, 2011, P9)
However, the positive representations of youth often come with strong undertones that
question the autonomy and potential of young people to lead a healthy and productive life.
This gives rise to the notion of youth as a problematic phase in life. Conceptualising youth
as a social problem is increasingly becoming a highly contested perspective. This rather
negative representation is among others, based on the assumption that young people can
easily ruin their lives and that of others if society does not take appropriate measures.
‘Youth are perceived in terms of incapacities and inabilities, and it is assumed that adult
intervention is essential for their proper development’ (Kurth-Schai, 1988, p115). Portrayal
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of youth as a social problem to manage is indeed a deficit paradigm because of the undue
focus on risk factors associated with growing up (Piper & Piper, 2000). Strong opinions that
young people are vulnerable and prone to alcohol, drug abuse, prostitution and all sorts of
risky behaviour potentially distorts the decisions and actions of parents, educators,
employers and influential social actors.
The deficit portrayal of youth often plays out prominently when things are not
going right from the perspectives of influential social actors. Apparently most Ugandan
parents, educators and political leaders alike, often label young people as lazy, impatient
and driven by quick easy options, among other deficit social descriptors. In the face of the
current tough economic times and dwindling work opportunities, unemployed educated
youth are increasingly framed as a population group that is not interested in the so-called
dirty work like agriculture, but is instead swayed by the leisure of urban life (for a recent
related remark by one of Uganda's powerful social actors, see Mugisha, 2021).
Further, when young people object or even act differently in a manner that some
scholars call transformational resistance (Cammarota & Fine, 2008), influential social actors
interpret it as a product of enticement or bad influence and manipulation. The assumption
is that young people are yet to mature enough to decide and act on their own interests. In
very highly hierarchical societies such as Uganda, it is not uncommon to misunderstand
youth assertiveness and legitimate demands. This is why it is necessary, for instance, to take
a critical look at the views of participating employers in the IYF study who said that youth
demand higher salaries, are stubborn and provocative (IYF, 2011). Such assumptions are not
uncommon in moments of tensions between students and administrators of education
institutions. Often times, administrators respond with all sorts of threats, sanctions and
skewed narratives when students protest against injustices and inefficiencies such as
arbitrary tuition regimes, inadequate welfare facilities, and poor teaching and assessment
systems. For instance when Makerere University students protested tuition increment in
2019, one of the top university administrators was reported to have claimed that the
protest was spearheaded by students with political ambitions. According to a government-
run newspaper, the administrator said ‘this usually happens during October and November
because most of the students are yearning for power and want to be remembered when
they contest in February’ (Tumwine, 2019).
The topical debate of positive and negative representations of youth is not only
theoretically complex but a real programming puzzle for decision makers at local and global
levels. For instance, a number of education and employment policy pronouncements in the
wake of the burgeoning youth populations in the developing world and Africa in particular
are caught up in this mix (Corrigan, 2016). Global leaders, including those in the UN system,
are reported to echo messages that strongly imply the argument that if good education and
employment solutions are not made available to young people, they can easily engage in
actions that can potentially hurt global peace, security and harmony (Sukarieh & Tannock,
2014). The duality of resource and problem perspectives permeates official documents of
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national governments, particularly in the context of youth employment challenges. For
instance, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics in its 2015 youth transition survey report
reiterates the official rhetoric that ‘unemployment among youth is a major national concern
becoming a social and economic threat’ (UBoS, 2016a, p2). Against the backdrop of deficit
paradigms, the arguments to mainstream youth agency become topical.
2.3 Young people’s voice and participation
Concerns over the limited space that social actors provide young people features
prominently in the literature on youth research, policy and practice. Generally, the concerns
are mainly rooted in social justice and human rights paradigms that recognise the
democratic value of participation (Checkoway & Gutierrez, 2006). The agitation for youth
participation is presented as part of an empowerment agenda to offset the shortfalls that
are associated with policies and programmes that assign a passive position to young people.
One of the most outstanding global policy endorsements of the crusade to give young
people their voice is the 2007 World Bank Development Report titled Development and the
Next Generation (World Bank, 2006).
The report argues for listening to young people, and it uses the concept of client
power to make the point that young people should be allowed to exercise their freedom of
choice. A review of related literature yields a couple of interesting themes that clearly
communicate the attention that youth policy actors and researchers attach to
mainstreaming youth perspectives in decisions and actions that affect their current and
future lives. The list below gives a clue of the convergent perspectives in the literature on
redressing the past flaws, but also the thoughts and attempts to get young people from the
New research - new voices: youth at the margins (Bastien & Holmarsdottir, 2015)
Highly affected, rarely considered (Heaven & Tubridy, 2003)
Be seen be heard - youth participation in development (United Nations, 2007)
Youth participatory action research (Cammarota & Fine, 2008)
Youth-led research and development (London, Zimmerman, & Erbstein, 2003)
Around the world, particularly in the global South, there are model youth development
programmes, which employ diverse participatory approaches in a range of sectors including
education and economic empowerment. One characteristic nature of such interventions is
their reliance on donations and grants from non-governmental organisations (NGOs),
international aid organisations and corporate philanthropists. The other is that they operate
outside mainstream public education and labour market structures (Ozer & Wright, 2012).
They also have a track record of engaging youths who are considered most vulnerable, the
majority of whom are the so-called NEETs. The use of participatory approaches in
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mainstream education and training institutions is not evident in the literature.
Understandably, scholars from the critical and emancipatory tradition take issue with
discourses which use the notion of youth voice as a strategy to perpetuate false generosity
and to promote certain interests, aims and targets. Relatedly scholars with political
economy lenses challenge the whole youth as resource discourse as sheer rhetoric and a
global capitalist project for reproducing a generation of consumers and workers in the
service of neo-liberal interests (Sukarieh & Tannock, 2008). This scepticism rightly
generates a useful critical debate about conceptualising participation from either an
instrumentalist or emancipatory perspective, which fundamentally impacts programme
approaches and processes.
Under the chapter on theoretical framework and elsewhere in this thesis, I come
back to the discussion about young people’s voice and participation. For now, let me make
a brief switch to the concept of positive youth development. Youth development scholars
and practitioners take a positive vision of youth, and argue for a focus on young peoples
agency while building and harnessing their social, moral, emotional, physical and cognitive
capabilities to navigate their life trajectories within the ever-changing world (Benson,
Scales, Hamilton, & Sesma, 2006; Damon, 2004). The concept of positive youth
development is a useful launch point for my consideration of the societal and ecological
changes that impact not only the social institutions that structure young people’s work-
education transitions but directly impact their aspirations and life paths.
2.4 Societal changes and youth transitions
The influence of societal changes and globalisation on the personal identity and aspirations
of young people is an issue of pertinent interest to this study. It is widely acknowledged that
today’s young people, unlike their parents and grandparents, are growing in a rapidly
changing world (Assaad & Krafft, 2014; Heinz, 2009). Moreover, the changing ways of life
in response to consequences of demographic shifts, degradation of natural resources, and
other socio-economic forces affect young people’s personality development in varying
dimensions. While positive social changes potentially contribute to youth positive growth
and transition, the reverse distorts their orientation to learn, work and full citizenship.
Research on education and social integration in conflict and post-conflict countries in Africa
and elsewhere provides clues about how hazardous environments can distort the life paths
of young people (Angucia, 2010). For instance, based on their vast research experience in
Uganda, Amone-P’Olak and others observe that war-affected youths often have to endure
post-war environmental stressors, depression, stigma, poor community relations,
restlessness, and irritability to navigate Vocational Education and Training (VET) pathways
(Amone-P’Olak, Schnelker, & Van der Bent, 2016).
Demographic changes like migration and immigration often trigger young peoples’
tendencies and urge to travel in search of opportunities (Ramos, 2019; Van Blerk, 2008).
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Vulnerabilities arising from poverty, hunger and related social problems in deprived
communities upset development of human values among the youth which leads to
contradictions in their quest to forge flourishing relationships with peers and significant
others (Hardgrove et al., 2014). In addition to local social conditions, the ever-increasing
connection of the world affect young people’s identity formation in very diverse ways.
Globalisation of culture powered by the enormous creative industry affect youth lifestyles
in very fundamental dimensions. Music, sports, art and cinema as fuelled by digitalisation
and communication technologies, including radio, television, smartphones and social
media, increasingly affect youth desires, aspirations and preferences. Taste, fashion, design
and style are key defining concepts in youth conversations and practices everywhere,
including in some of the remotest villages in Uganda and similar contexts.
Youth is a stage that is often associated with being most receptive and susceptible
to risks of unfiltered global culture. As observed by Heaven and Tubridy, youth are seen as
the part of the society that is most likely to engage in a process of cultural borrowing which
disrupt the reproduction of traditional cultural practices, from modes of dress to language,
aesthetics and ideologies (Heaven & Tubridy, 2003, p149). Often, this constitutes a source
of tension and conflict with influential social actors in their families and other social
institutions, including education and labour contexts. It potentially exacerbates youth
stress, anxiety and uncertainties which fundamentally influence their emotions, decisions
and actions. The influence of societal changes on young people’s education-work transition
is of key interest to this thesis.
2.5 Societal changes and work for young people
The high automation of production and related exponential social changes, especially from
the 1970s, continuously alter work and working contexts (Casey, 1999). Technological
innovations, demographic and economic shifts all combine to affect not only employment
creation processes, but also the quantity and quality of required human capabilities. Across
the world, the sectors of industry, manufacturing and services generate more jobs than
agriculture since the onset of the industrial revolutions. Jobs are increasingly being created
and distributed by private and transnational corporate companies. National state
institutions are left to a regulatory domain owing to macro-economic structural shifts in
favour of neoliberalism and related marketisation policies. In the majority of SSA, public
sector jobs dramatically shrunk with the advent of structural adjustment policies in the
1980s, which paved the way for massive restructuring and entrenchment of market-driven
macro-economic policies (Cornia & Helleiner, 1994; Geo-Jaja & Mangum, 2001; Kingston et
al., 2011).
Related literature points to the consequences of these changes on work
organisation, management and value. It is evident that young people are growing up in
times when notions of labour specialisation and life career are, for instance, giving way to
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multi-tasking and professional boundary crossing (Cochran & Ferrari, 2009; Jagannathan,
Ra, & Maclean, 2019; OECD, 1999). An interdisciplinary skill-set embedded with digital,
emotional and other relational capabilities is the best preference for current and future
labour market demands (Dougherty & Lombardi, 2016). Work tasks can be performed
anywhere while being managed and supervised through automated systems. Work
conditions are increasingly based on temporary and short-term contractual arrangements.
The trend of home-based and remote working has taken a new twist with the onset of
lockdowns and related restrictions on physical interactions due to Covid-19.
As widely acknowledged, the impact of technological and societal changes on work
manifest differently in rich and poor economies around the world. To illustrate this a little
further, let us consider the aspects of employment creation and work conditions in SSA. The
creation of quality formal sector jobs in most of SSA is constrained by a complex web of
demographic and macroeconomic challenges. Across the entire African continent, only
three million formal jobs are created annually against the over ten million youth labour
market entrants (African Development Bank, 2018). The insufficient creation of quality jobs
by the economy, especially for the youth, is one of the key development challenges
identified by Uganda’s third national development plan (National Planning Authority, 2020).
The prospect of high skilled gainful jobs such as business analysts, academics, teachers,
bankers, accountants, marketing specialists, engineers, doctors, advertising professionals
and software developers, is still painfully slow. In the majority of Sub-Saharan African
countries, agriculture and the informal sector remain the mainstay of labour markets
(Brooks, Zorya, Gautam, & Goyal, 2013; Jayne, Yeboah, & Henry, 2017). All the
aforementioned combine to complicate labour market transition of young people, including
those with some education qualifications.
2.6 Difficult employment transition of educated youth
Associating education attainment with easier youth entry into decent and productive work
is increasingly becoming problematic across the world. As dramatically put by David
Atchoarena, ‘people who used to see education as a passport to employment can no longer
take it for granted’ (Atchoarena, 2000, p1). Since the 1970s, the global phenomenon of high
unemployment rates among educated youth is upsetting social timetables, as the majority
cohorts of young graduates face difficult and prolonged transitions. Across the majority of
SSA countries, the portion of educated young people who transit to stable and satisfactory
employment is persistently negligible (Fares et al., 2005).
While the general topic of youth employment is a matter of global interest,
empirical evidence on unemployed educated youth in Africa and Uganda in particular is
scanty (Garcia & Fares, 2008). Nonetheless one can derive clues and insights from general
studies such as the ILO supported school-to-work transition surveys implemented by 28
low- and middle-income countries including Uganda (Elder & Koné, 2014). Related literature
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across the SSA region indicates that the largest share of educated youths remain in-
transition while engaging in all sorts of temporary jobs (Betcherman & Khan, 2015; Fares
et al., 2005; Soucat, Nzau, Elaheebocus, & Cunha-Duarte, 2013). They engage in self-
employment and unpaid family work because they cannot afford not to work at all. Most
youth in-transition in Uganda and similar contexts are engaged in vulnerable employment
characterised by poor work terms and conditions. For instance, the 2016 Uganda youth
transition report indicated that the share of youth with technical or higher professional
qualifications that transited to stable employment was just 20 per cent (UBoS, 2016a).
To escape from harsh labour conditions at home, a section of educated youth in
Uganda and others in similar contexts manoeuvre their way into foreign labour markets.
This somewhat trendy labour migration in the 1980s and 90s assumed a terrible dramatic
turn from the early 2000s with thousands of young Africans flocking Europe and the Middle
East for jobs in the lower echelons of the labour market (Ramos, 2019). Media reports and
other commentaries reveal that increasingly, hundreds of educated SSA young men and
women relocate to countries such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to work as
domestic servants, drivers and in other odd jobs under very insecure and dehumanising
conditions. There are also strong indications that once they get discouraged from
unyielding and prolonged job search, a portion of educated youth return to college or
university to either upgrade or switch to new study programmes. A small though not
insignificant number of educated youths withdraw from the search for work thus remaining
dependent personalities on families and friends. The gendered effect of transition manifests
by longer and more precarious transition of young women (Elias et al., 2018; Van Blerk,
Assumptions about the barriers to successful employment transition of educated
African youth are yet to be firmly based on empirical investigation, though a couple of
related small scale studies are visible in the literature (Broecke, 2013; Pheko & Molefhe,
2017). Of course, this is not to negate the traditional tracer studies by some education and
labour market regulatory agencies. Generalisations in the literature point to the interplay
of individual limitations, macroeconomic and labour market conditions. Informed actors in
the domain of active labour market interventions delineate a list of interrelated features
that constrain youth labour market outcomes. The five categories of constraints proposed
by the World Bank policy primer provide an interesting framework for understanding young
people’s difficult transition into the world of work. They include job-relevant skills
constraints, lack of labour demand, job search constraints, firm start-up constraints, and
social constraints (Cunningham, Sanchez-Puerta, & Wuermli, 2010, p2). In Uganda, the
country’s national planning authority confirms that ‘young people find it hard to get a first
job and face many obstacles, ranging from discrimination, marginalisation and poverty’
(National Planning Authority, 2015, p52). While it is widely acknowledged that not all the
forces that underlie troubled youth labour force entry are located within the education and
training domain, this study focuses on the potential role of education as a driver of smooth
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transition. However, this is not to signal a negation of other features of effective transition
systems or regimes (Raffe, 2011; Walther, 2006).
2.7 Education under pressure
In the literature on difficult employment transitions of educated youth, there are strong
claims that education systems are not doing enough to prepare young people with
appropriate skills needed by labour markets. Generally, education is faulted for failing to
keep pace with technological and societal changes. The pressure is everywhere around the
world even in developed economies as education and training systems are racing to meet
the 21st Century skill demands and the fourth industrial revolution (Brown, Hesketh, &
Williams, 2003).
The challenges of education systems in Africa are often framed in the continent’s
continued struggle to disengage from colonial education policy legacy. There are claims that
education systems in the majority of developing countries including SSA are shaped and
influenced by western paradigms and assumptions which are not in tune with current
realities (Boukary & Walther, 2016; Watson, 1994). Adapting to the realities of shrunken job
opportunities in the public sector is, for instance, one of Uganda’s major education policy
challenges. It is also argued that education and training systems have for long been designed
to supply the diminishing formal employment sector, yet as widely acknowledged, labour
markets in the majority of developing countries are characterised by high levels of
informality (ILO, 2019).
Educational-based interventions to optimise youth labour market outcomes have
aimed to restructure Africa’s education systems from the outset of the post-independence
era in the 1950s. Reform bells have continuously rung through legislation, policy and
development plans under such themes as education for self-reliance, education with
production, education and productive work, and vocationalisation of secondary and higher
education (Gustafsson, 1985; Ishumi & Maliyamkono, 1995; NEIDA, 1982; Obanya, 1994;
Oketch, 2007). Linking education with work contexts for better labour force productivity
and social transformation of the continent has always been the mantra of policy rhetoric.
Despite the efforts, African education systems are still a long way from matching
labour market realities and other societal changes. It is widely claimed that the continent’s
education systems and institutions are still struggling to shed off elitist colonial legacy (Allais
& Wedekind, 2020; Boukary & Walther, 2016; McGrath et al., 2020; Walker & Hofstetter,
2016). Mainstream education is considered schoolish, and universities are sharply criticised
and often considered dysfunctional and weak in their function of building the continent’s
workforce (Kibwika, 2006; Zeelen, 2012). Moreover, the tendencies to undervalue the VET
track in favour of higher education are commonplace in the majority of SSA countries. There
are claims that the situation cannot be easily reversed owing to the premium that
communities and families in Uganda ascribe to university education and ‘degree’
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certificates (Okinyal, 2012; Tumuheki, 2017). Actually, until now a section of the political
class in some African countries are still agitating to turn specialised vocational institutions
or colleges into universities. Relatedly, young people’s post-secondary education
trajectories and the important considerations of how and what to study in preparation for
future work life are distorted. The statistical map of Uganda’s tertiary education enrolment
in recent years affords a good illustration of this trend. In 2017 the national TVET enrolment
to 45, 153 from 63,2019 in 2016 compared to the tertiary level increase of 258,866 in 2016
from 201,376 in 2013 (UBoS, 2020).
2.7.1 Vocational Education and Training (VET)
Literature abounds with claims that VET systems in the majority of SSA and similar contexts
across the world are in a perennial struggle to deliver returns on investments and meeting
the somewhat exaggerated expectations. Labour supply and demand mismatch is the
mantra in the criticism of the sector for being stuck in a design paradigm which does not
fully respond to labour market demands and realities (Gill, Fluitman, & Dar, 2000;
Psacharopoulos, 1991; Subrahmanyam, 2013). A synthesis of studies from the 1990s
reveals five recurring themes:
Overbearing influence of western paradigms into VET policy, research and practice as
driven by multilateral and bilateral development aid agencies which do have a history
of dominance in terms of the sector’s infrastructure development, curriculum reforms
and human resource capacity building
Poor perception of VET as an inferior or last resort for socially and academically
disadvantaged young people who have completed primary and secondary education
Tension between balancing the integration of academic and vocational content amidst
wide spread tendencies of dichotomising the teaching of theory and practice, as well
as the vocationalisation debate
The challenge to bridge the social and economic aims of VET policy and practise, further
problematised by the emerging critical approaches which demand for transformative
and emancipatory lenses. This challenge is wider if added to the somewhat exaggerated
power of VET in reducing poverty and tackling youth unemployment in the face of
failing economies and lopsided social policies
Weak VET organisation and management constrained by institutional and governance
inconsistencies, exacerbated by the peripheral position of the sector within the
mainstream public education policy and financing arrangements. (Bennell &
Segerstrom, 1998; Johanson & Adams, 2004; King & Palmer, 2007; Lillis & Hogan, 1983;
McGrath, 2011; Oketch, 2007; Watson, 1994)
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For over a decade, African decision makers through their regional mechanisms
have been developing several policy instruments to strengthen and rejuvenate the
continent’s VET sector (African Union, 2007; African Union, 2018). While several attempts
to enhance linkages of systems and social actors so as to address the persistent tension
between skill supply and demand are being made, there is limited success. The renewed
global interest in TVET as articulated under sustainable development goal four may usher
in a new lease of hope for transforming Africa’s VET. However, any enthusiasm for a
sustainable and systemic change would be farfetched owing to a number of challenges both
inside and outside the sub-sector (Allais & Wedekind, 2020). Some scholars are making
renewed critique of the defective VET policy reforms which are not reflective of the
operating environment and influencing factors linked to the wider economic and socio-
historical context (Afeti, 2018; Allais, 2020; Lolwana, 2017; McGrath et al., 2020).
Uganda’s reform efforts, which received a legislative boost of an Act of Parliament
(BTVET Act) in 2008, are not exceptional (GoU, 2008). I argue that the long-term impact of
the country’s VET policy reforms is questionable. The legacy of failed attempts is vivid on
many counts, not to mention two decades of apparent recycling of policy options which are
never tested or tried. For instance, there has been a distressing oscillation between
establishing training councils and enacting legal instruments for a national skills training
authority on one hand, and introducing a training levy and establishment of a skills training
fund on the other. There are pointers from empirical studies and policy reviews which
confirm that most of the perennial challenges stubbornly persist (Jjuuko, 2012; Nuwagaba,
2012; Okumu & Bbaale, 2019; Tukundane, 2014). In the Skilling Uganda programme
document as well as the background to the new TVET policy provisions, the Ministry of
Education acknowledges that the country’s VET sector remains underdeveloped,
fragmented and characterised by inadequate funding, weak institutional framework,
insufficient training approaches, limited linkage with industry, negative perceptions and
unfriendly learning environment (MoES, 2012, 2019). Against the backdrop of a weak VET
sector, AET with its peculiar challenges is certainly not any better.
2.7.2 Agricultural Education and Training (AET)
Across the SSA region, there are three main formal agricultural education and training (AET)
options (Muwaniki, 2019; Shayo, 2020; Vandenbosch, 2006). The first option, in the
majority of countries, is provision of agricultural education as a vocational subject within
general education at secondary education level. This AET option is mainly to stimulate
career interest of young people though there are public aspirations and claims of labour
market outcomes in some countries (Hulela & Miller, 2003; Mukembo, 2017). The second
option is for secondary school completers who, on the basis of academic or social
considerations, pursue foundational vocational and professional training courses in
agriculture at certificate level. The third pathway is diploma and degree agricultural study
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programmes at tertiary and higher education level. The second and third options are
designed to prepare students for occupations at different levels in the food and agriculture
A perusal of Uganda’s system of education is useful to reveal the location of AET
therein. The system has a structure of seven years of primary education, six years of
secondary education (divided into 4 years of lower secondary and two years of upper
secondary), and 2 to 5 years of post-secondary education (UBoS, 2017). Under the new
thematic curriculum for lower secondary education, agriculture and food related themes
are covered under technology and enterprise learning (National Curriculum Development
Centre, 2016).The country has about 20 vocational institutes, which provide AET courses for
lower secondary education completers. Young Ugandans who successfully complete upper
secondary education have the possibility of enrolling for a diploma in either animal science,
forestry or crop science at a dozen AET specialised institutions (MoES, 2019; UGAPRIVI,
2017). They also have a chance to enrol for an agriculture-related course at one of the
eleven universities, which offer undergraduate academic study programmes in specialised
fields such as agribusiness, veterinary medicine, agri-entrepreneurship, agricultural
mechanisation, and food science.
Similar to the general VET sector, Africa’s AET is equally constrained. Under the
following three aspects, I sum up some of the chronic constraints and challenges that
characterise AET across the majority of SSA (Cletzer, Rudd, Westfall-Rudd, & Drape, 2016;
Hawkins, 2021; Maguire, 2012; Rivera, 2006; Wallace, 1997; World Bank, 2007):
Shrunken or stagnant public budget allocations to AET exacerbated by lack of financial
investment from the private sector and other stakeholders
Incoherent policy frameworks often leading to territorial scrambles amongst ministries
and departments in charge of forestry, agriculture, cooperatives, livestock, wildlife and
education. This creates inconsistencies in staff development and deployment
Out-dated curricula and pedagogical practices that are not adapted to changing skills
demands as driven by ecological, social and technological changes
AET is additionally confronted by the general challenge of perceived low status of
agricultural occupations, which are predominantly in the informal sector. Indeed, as
indicated in chapter 1, the notion of young people’s poor perception of agriculture features
prominently in related literature. The African Union’s planning and Coordinating Agency
(NEPAD) sums up the perception challenge and the resultant poor enrolment of students
for agriculture-related courses:
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In Africa, agriculture is still perceived as a path to poverty, and the dream
of any farmer’s family to keep their children away from its limitations that
they have badly experienced. Not surprisingly, agriculture enrolments,
both in terms of total number and quality of students, show declining
shares at all post-secondary levels. Most students who are enrolled in
agricultural programmes in Africa are not doing it by choice but because of
their poor grades that prevent them from accessing the other options.
(African Union, 2015, p12)
AET is challenged to overturn the trend by improving access, quality and attractiveness
(Hawkins, 2021; Rammolai, 2009; Walker, & Hofstetter, 2016). However, the narrative that
young people are not interested in agricultural education and work begs a certain level of
critical scrutiny that takes into consideration the structural determinants of youth decisions.
Poor perception narratives have for a while overshadowed and influenced youth in
agriculture programming, policymaking and research. Moreover, as argued under chapter
one, a closer look at some findings by a couple of related small qualitative studies in Uganda
and similar contexts reveals that quite a number of young Africans still gear-up for careers
in agriculture. Chapter 5 of this thesis presents findings on the experiences and aspirations
of agriculture students and graduates.
2.7.3 New efforts to harness AET labour market outcomes
African AET decision makers want the sub-sector to serve the dual purpose of
economic growth and social transformation through outcome-based delivery models for
increased youth employment (African Union, 2015; World Bank, 2007). Curriculum reviews
based on competence-based principles are being undertaken, not only to change or
introduce new study programmes and content, but also to adapt AET to current and future
needs of the food and agriculture industry.
In Uganda, tertiary AET institutions and related university faculties have in the last
ten years introduced specialised diploma and degree courses such as agribusiness, agri-
entrepreneurship, extension services, horticulture, floriculture, nutrition and dietetics in a
bid to produce students with specific occupational competencies. New attempts to
entrench specific occupational competence-development include the introduction of
modularised training within the framework of Uganda Skills Development Programme
(World Bank, 2015). The theme of business management is increasingly being used to
rename and rebrand agricultural study programmes to denote the sub-sector’s business
and market orientation trends.
Entrepreneurship as a subject is integrated in almost all the new and old study
programmes such as animal husbandry, crop production and general agriculture. The
argument for embedding entrepreneurship education into the curriculum is to enable
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students to create their own employment upon graduation. Indeed, the notion of ‘building
job creators not job seekers’ is increasingly becoming a catchphrase in mission statements
and promotional materials of private and public AET institutions. My own review of related
curriculum documents, prospectus, course leaflets and brochures confirmed this
phenomena. Decision makers seem to be overzealous about the role of practical or hands-
on training in addressing concerns that the AET graduates do not possess adequate practical
competencies that are needed by employers. Over a decade ago the Ministry of Education
argued for more emphasis on practical work in order to produce graduates with hands-on
experience who can competently engage in gainful farming activities on their own.
Consequently, the Ministry justified the inclusion of farm practices, special projects and
outreaches as additional course units onto the curricula for national diploma courses in
agriculture and related fields. Work placements of 4-12 weeks with labels such as industrial
training, industrial attachments, fieldwork or internships, became a common pedagogical
add-on by almost all AET institutions that offer certificate and diploma courses (UBTEB,
2015). This study’s empirical contribution to the discourse of harnessing AET learning and
labour market outcomes is presented under chapter five and six.
2.8 Active labour market policies and youth employment
Active labour market policies (ALMP) are public policy instruments which most
governments across the world use to intervene directly to enhance the integration of
unemployed and underemployed youth into the labour market (Kluve et al., 2017; Martin
& Grubb, 2001). OECD offers a pragmatic definition of ALMPs, which encompasses:
All social expenditure (other than education) which is aimed at the
improvement of the beneficiaries’ prospect of finding gainful employment
or to otherwise increase their earnings capacity. This category includes
spending on public employment services and administration, labour
market training, special programmes for youth when in transition from
school to work, labour market programmes to provide or promote
employment for unemployed and other persons (excluding young and
disabled persons) and special programmes for the disabled. (OECD, 2007,
The dominant ALM interventions in most of the developing countries include activities
relating to:
Making labour markets work better for young people by focusing on counselling and
job search skills, wage subsidies, public works programmes, and anti-discrimination
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Improving chances for young entrepreneurs through start-up capital provision and
entrepreneurship education for self-employment and job creation;
Intermediary support services for overseas employment of young people;
Youth employment affirmative action framework (Betcherman, Dar, & Olivas, 2004;
Betcherman & Khan, 2015).
Unlike welfare-inclined states in Europe and elsewhere, Uganda and the majority of SSA
countries do not have explicit official policy for social protection of young men and women
without work opportunities or those in vulnerable employment (Danish Trade Union
Development Agency, 2019; Niall, 2017). Instead, there is a variety of youth employment
programmes run by state and non-state actors which provide start-up capital, skills
development and entrepreneurship support. Examples of state-run ALM interventions
include the youth capital venture fund in the Ministry of Finance, and the youth
opportunities programme implemented by the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund in the
Prime Minister’s Office (Ahaibwe & Kasirye, 2015; International Alert, 2013). There is
increasing policy interest in employment brokering by profit-oriented agencies, which are
not primarily concerned with meaningful youth labour market transition. By the end of
2009, the MGLSD had licensed 11 external employment recruitment agencies, and many
more are operational (MGLSD, 2011).
There are also small-scale youth labour transition schemes such as
entrepreneurship and career support projects being implemented by NGOs and the private
sector players. Examples include the internship programme for 2,000 graduates which was
implemented from 2015 until 2017 by Uganda Manufacturers Association with support
from the African Development Bank (Uganda Manufacturers Association, 2015). Another
example is the 5-year World Bank-funded Skills Development Facility coordinated by the
Private Sector Foundation (Private Sector Foundation Uganda, 2018). Chapter 5 presents
the empirical findings on ALM programmes for harnessing Ugandan young people’s
engagement in agriculture-related enterprises.
Apparently the political push and donor interest into ALM interventions in Uganda
and similar contexts is evident in the media and public domain. There are claims of positive
results of ALM programmes in reversing the effects of youth unemployment; and helping
young people to secure wage employment or create own enterprises (Kluve et al., 2016).
But ALM interventions are typically project-based without structural arrangements for
continuity to address the wicked problem of poor labour transition of educated and
uneducated young people. There are also concerns relating to the long-term impact of ALM
interventions towards social transformation and youth flourishing. Of course, the
limitations that are linked to distortions in broader social policies and business environment
are partly to blame. Indeed, international and national studies have not found credible
evidence of long-term youth labour market outcomes from start-ups and entrepreneurship
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support interventions in Uganda and similar context (Ahaibwe & Kasirye, 2015; Martin &
Grubb, 2001; McKenzie, 2017; Meth, 2010).
2.9 Takeaways
From the youth education-employment transition landscape, I derive a couple of insights
which influence the theoretical, methodological, and empirical dimensions of this study.
First, contextual youth conceptualisations denote entitlement as well as responsibilities
that impact the extent to which young people navigate their education and work pathways.
Youth transitions are increasingly becoming destandardised, with contextual variations
characterised by accelerations, stagnations, and overlaps across the domains of education,
work, family, and full citizenship. Youth employment transitions are not only becoming
increasingly prolonged, but also stressful owing to the exponential technological, ecological,
and societal changes that continuously alter work and working contexts.
Second, efforts to facilitate and ease youth labour force entry through a variety of
active labour market interventions, including skills development, are constrained by several
social and structural factors. Indeed, as widely acknowledged, there are questions relating
to the long-term impact of youth employment programmes owing to their limited linkages
to the broader demand-side dynamics including labour market inequalities and lopsided
business environments. General VET and AET across SSA are struggling to meet individual
and societal expectations of quicker labour market transition of young graduates. AET
reform efforts in Uganda are too far from resolving the longstanding institutional,
organisational, technical, and logistical challenges. One of the remarkable phenomena of
past and present efforts to reform AET systems of the majority SSA countries is the heavy
financial and ideological influence of bilateral and multilateral agencies. Apparently, there
is limited engagement of local stakeholders in educational change discourses and policy
actions. The democratic participation of students, educators and other frontline social
actors in AET institutions is therefore given due focus by this study.
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Chapter 3 Theoretical and methodological framework
Studying youth transition to understand and contribute to the flourishing of young people
in their current and emergent identities as students and future workers necessitates a frame
of reference drawn from empowering philosophical and epistemological traditions that
optimise the agentic participation of social actors. In this chapter, I glean pertinent concepts
as drawn from relevant human development and learning theoretical frameworks which
guided the conceptualisation and implementation of the study. I present the case of a
practice-oriented research paradigm which informed the methodological choices we
while engaging the social actors to understand and contribute to the improvement of youth
transition processes and outcomes.
3.1 Theoretical underpinnings: education-employment transitions
This study acknowledges the sociological conceptualisation of youth transition as a life
journey of several non-age-graded linear milestones involving completion of schooling and
training, labour-force entry, family formation and full citizenship (Furlong, 2009). In
chapters 1 and 2, the pertinent conceptualisations are discussed; however, it is imperative
to clarify the focus on education-employment transition. In the same vein, I clarify the use
of a hyphen to join the two words ‘education-employment’ to signal the nexus of the two
transitions as illustrated by literature on the overlaps and extended or prolonged
As implied by (Raffe, 2008), studying youth education-employment transitions can
be pursued with a focus on distinct or integrated aspects at micro, meso and macro levels
to understand and interpret the inherent institutional and structural arrangements that
influence transition processes and outcomes. This study focuses on individual transition
processes and outcomes of young people, with particular interest in the two domains of
education and employment. It pays attention to agriculture education practice and youth
employment interventions in Uganda. Education processes and outcomes include content,
methods and attained competencies. Employment transition processes and outcomes
The use of ‘we’ here and elsewhere is to signify the collaborative nature of the research design
particularly the interventionist action research phase. The use of ‘I’ is mainly to connote my role as
principal researcher and author of this thesis.
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include searching, creating, finding and retaining meaningful work or decent employment
The movements that young people make through agricultural education and
related employment programmes to work in the agriculture and food industry, just like the
journeys into other sectors, are shaped by multiple social and institutional conditions.
Moreover, as widely expounded in the youth transition literature, the influencing conditions
for failed or successful transitions are broader than education and training systems (Schoon
& Bynner, 2019). Indeed, the influencing conditions are broader than active labour market
policies within which the existing agri-based youth employment interventions are
conceived. Accordingly, a better understanding of social and institutional conditions as
determined, negotiated, perpetuated or even normalised by the different social actors
demands a blend of social learning and action theoretical tools to frame the inquiry.
3.1.1 Agency and youth transitions
Dealing with structure and the set of social relations that engender or constrain successful
youth transitions is highly dependent on the agentic role and empowerment of key social
actors. I argue for the centrality of agency in the school-to-work transition on the account
of the required active role of young people in navigating the opportunities and constraints
presented by social world (Raffe, 2003). I also argue for the agency of other frontline social
actors, particularly the educators, who directly influence youth transition processes and
outcomes (Rigby, Woulfin, & März, 2016; Van der Linden, 2016).
I acknowledge that structure potentially enhances and diminishes agency, and as
Deneulin eloquently clarifies, ‘human agency and freedom cannot be thought of
independently of structure’ (Deneulin, 2008, p120). The well-known impact of social
arrangements on the flourishing of individuals, as discussed under chapter two in respect
to youth transition processes and outcomes, informs my choice for a deeper focus on the
agentic accounts and actions of social actors. Agency as conceptualised and applied by
school-to-work transition researchers and transformative human development scholars
denotes a set of interrelated aspects, including capacity for goal choice, planning and
pursuit, as well as attributes of self-esteem, confidence, self-determination, volition,
autonomy, ambition and versatility of individuals. From a school-to work transition
perspective, Wyn and White topicalise ‘the exercise of free will and conscious action’ in
their proposition of how agency manifests (White & Wyn, 1998, p315).
3.1.2 Applying the capabilities approach and socio-ecological model
I draw the theoretical underpinnings of agency from the capabilities approach and
integrative social-ecological developmental model of agency to frame this study. The
capabilities approach’s revolutionary shift from the traditional economic measure of
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Freeing individual agency
development to the conceptualisation of development as freedom
suits the study’s
strategic focus on agency of social actors in dealing with social and institutional
arrangements that ultimately shape young people’s education-employment transitions. The
agency-focused capabilities approach as enriched and expounded by several human
development scholars is particularly appropriate (Deneulin & Shahani, 2009). As Alkire and
Deneulin argue, ‘one of the central goals of human development is enabling people to
become agents in their own lives and in their communities’ (Alkire & Deneulin, 2009, p27).
While the two concepts of capabilities and functionings that, respectively, connote
opportunities and valued doings or beings gained more popularity in recent decades, the
potential of agency in its own right is comparatively less pronounced.
Functionings are being and doing activities that people value and have
reason to value [they, for instance, include] being nourished, literate
[educated] and employed … capabilities are the freedom to enjoy valuable
functions. (Alkire & Deneulin, 2009, p32)
I contend that talking about capabilities and functionings within the larger discourse of
human flourishing is incomplete without addressing the question of who decides and what
role do individuals have in creating the social forces which influence their well-being. The
idea of people as active agents in the social world, captured by the concept of agency, is of
particular relevance. Agency refers to ‘a person’s ability to pursue and realise goals that she
[he] values and has reason to value’ (Alkire & Deneulin, 2009, p37). The freedom and power
of individual decisional making, and acting on their decisions is a key consideration within
the agency discourse. In the capabilities approach lens, people as agents individually or
collectively ‘decide and achieve their goals whether altruistic or not in the world, and as
agents they have more or less freedom and power to exercise their agency (Crocker &
Robeyns, 2010, p62). Agency freedom, from this viewpoint, therefore becomes a significant
conceptual tool in framing related aspects of this study. Agency freedom is about the
enabling conditions that individuals (frontline education social actors) need to exercise their
human agency.
A section of key scholars of the capabilities approach strongly argue and advance
the plurality of the notion of agency beyond individual power and control to act and bring
about change, but also the capability and freedom to act effectively as a member of a
community or society (Hart, 2012; Robeyns, 2005). This counters the claims amongst some
Amartya Sen, the contemporary thought leader of the capability approach, in his book on
Development as Freedom, argues that development can be seen as a process of expanding the real
freedoms that people enjoy... but freedoms depend also on other determinants, such as social and
economic arrangements, for example, facilities for education... [and that] development requires the
removal of major sources of unfreedom (Sen, 1999, p1).
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quarters that often argue that Sen’s capability approach is individualistic and rather less
applicable in discourses of collective agency and social change. The claims that the approach
promotes an individualistic pursuance of life goals of flourishing are further countered by
an extended argument that views Sen’s consideration of ethical individualism as a concern
for what happens to every single individual in a society, but not a negation of the fact that
individuals are indeed social beings. Some critical scholars in the education field often
question the adequacy of Sen’s analysis in addressing the epistemic deficiencies of
education systems which perpetuate the status quo including injustices, exclusion and
instrumentalism (Hart, 2012; Unterhalter, 2008). However, the effective application of the
notions of agency and freedom in education is what it means to espouse critical pedagogies
and transformative approaches for social actors to create and engage in learning processes
that they have reason to value, and that can deliver social change outcomes and individual
human flourishing (Angus, Golding, Foley, & Lavender, 2013).
The integrative social-ecological developmental model of agency as proposed by
Schoon and Heckhausen is a useful complementary approach for the exploration and
analysis of the influence of social conditions in the education-employment transition
trajectories of young people. The model postulates a framework to discuss and engage with:
The multi-dimensional conceptualisation of the notion of agency as
intentional action and action regulation; the societal conditions that shape
the opportunities for individual agency during the school-to-work
transition; the conditions under which individual agency can overcome
societal constraints; and the conditions under which agency can be most
effective. (Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019, p137)
The propounders acknowledge the relational nature and social embeddedness of agency
and the influence of multiple proximal and distal circumstances. The models’ framing of
individual agency as the capability to set goals, plan their pursuit and attainment in the
future, and allow decisions and actions to be guided by goal pursuit appeals to this study’s
spirit of fostering individual agency of young people. Another relevant element from the
model is the stipulation of the aspects of agency comprising:
Expectancy, control perceptions, goal selection and goal setting, intention,
volition and goal disengagement, control striving, action regulation,
disengagement, and goal adjustment that develop during adolescence and
young adulthood. (Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019, p137)
The model supports the analysis to understand the influence of family context, education
settings and other societal conditions on the possibilities for young people to navigate their
education and employment transitions. It offers the framework to reimagine the
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appropriate conditions and opportunities to enhance the personal agency of young people
for pursuit of their education and work aspirations.
Generally, both the capabilities approach and the socio-ecological model of agency
converge in recognising the agentic role of human beings in co-creating their life paths in
whatever social domain they occupy, whether as students, workers or educators. The
evident use of the concept of agency in this thesis demonstrates the potential
complementarity of the two approaches. The contemporary work of numerous
transformative education authors and scholars who subscribe to the emancipatory location
of individual freedom, choice and entitlements within the larger agenda of education for
social, economic and ecological justice inspired the entire study (Hart, 2012; McGrath,
Powell, Alla-Mensah, Hilal, & Suart, 2020; O’Sullivan, 2001; Walker & Unterhalter, 2007).
Valuing agency of social actors
Crocker and Robeyns provide an informative and adequate exploration of Sen’s thesis of
the value of individual and collective agency in deciding and acting to achieve individual and
collective wellbeing (Crocker & Robeyns, 2010) . This thesis argues for the recognition and
valuing of the agency of frontline education social actors who directly influence young
people’s agricultural education and labour market outcomes. The core argument is also
about affording agency freedom to social actors to exercise their personal agency and
professional autonomy to interpret and counter the enormous societal changes and
realities that impact young people’s transition processes and outcomes. The impact of these
changes on young people’s way of life as discussed in chapter two pose significant
challenges to the role and capabilities of social actors, particularly the educators. The
argument is to renew the debate about the key role of educators, and to reverse de-
professionalisation trends at different levels of education and training (Frostenson, 2015;
Stromquist, 2018).
Based on her empirical work, Alice Wabule confirms the subordinate position of
educators in Uganda:
Strict control and suppression of African teachers under the missionary
rule limited opportunities for them to participate in making important
decisions... Little has been done since independence to actually empower
and motivate teachers to work as autonomous professionals. (Wabule,
2017, p235)
The argument is also about creating social space, competences and possibilities for frontline
education actors to navigate policy and institutional impediments in embracing inclusive
and transformative education approaches and experiences. Educators and other frontline
actors need democratic spaces to collaborate and participate actively in discussions and
actions towards educational change. The participation and empowerment of educators and
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other frontline social actors in making decisions that affect their work cannot be
overemphasized. As Alkire and Deneulin rightly observe, ‘in the reform of an education
system, human development perspectives would consider and try to draw upon the agency
of children, parents and teachers’ (Alkire & Deneulin, 2009, p30). The educators also need
sound humanistic philosophical bases and cognitive autonomy to espouse empowering and
transformative education practices by adapting a critical pedagogical paradigm (Freire,
1972). Transformative education practices entail democratising schools, colleges and
universities for the educators and the learners to exercise the freedom to think and reflect,
and to imagine alternatives while inside and outside education settings.
Educators’ professional agency is about the latitude to determine and nurture
educative experiences of appropriate content, pedagogy and resources for young people to
develop the required agency for successful education-employment transition. It extends to
promoting active citizenship by facilitating learners to understand and reflect on injustices
and inequality in education settings and work contexts. It is also about exercising the agency
to deal with the pressure of employability logic or productivist paradigm which, as
eloquently challenged by McGrath and others, often over-legitimise instrumentalistic
curriculum approaches, thus subordinating the transformative and emancipatory value of
education (McGrath & Powell, 2015; McGrath et al., 2020). Overall, educators need agency
freedom to reclaim their professional autonomy and integrity amidst the escalating
tensions arising from the interplay of socio, political and economic forces that constantly
define their role and status.
The agency that education social actors need to navigate the confining structures
that limit their potential to design and deliver real educative agricultural education
experiences is what actors in workplaces and those in youth employment programmes need
to deal with related institutional and structural barriers. To be able to provide optimal
condition for young people to learn and work, social actors in the labour market, as well as
those in AET institutions and AYEIs, need an enabling environment. While labour market
actors ought to claim a normative framework to deal with contradictions and socio-cultural,
AYEI actors need the same to counter the pressure associated with project deadlines,
targets and indicators which make their interventions susceptible to tokenism and
Agency for young people to take some control
Transition experiences are dependent on individual decision-making but
are also largely shaped by opportunities and constraints presented by the
socio-historical context and economic conditions. (Schoon & Silbereisen,
2009, p3)
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This observation by Schoon and Silbereisen helps to appreciate the reality that talking about
youth agency is not to perpetuate the utopia of independent functioning, as if to ignore the
influence of social structure. The argument is about the ability of young people to take some
‘control of and give direction’ to their education-work trajectories (Biesta & Tedder, 2007,
p135). The debate about balancing agency enhancement guidance and support for young
people provides important pointers for educators and other social actors. It is recognisable
that young people, given their limited past life experiences, need quality support and
guidance to make informed decisions about their personal, education and work lives. The
skepticism about their agency utility should, however, be no excuse to deny young people
the opportunities and support that they need to gradually take control of their lifelong
project of living, learning and working. The thing to do is to determine ‘which sorts of socio-
structural, cultural, and social-psychological contexts are more conducive to developing the
different modes of agency’ (Emirbayer & Mische cited by Biesta & Tedder, 2007, p138).
Learning to be, one of the four pillars of education for the 21st Century, is of direct
relevance here in light of its focus on developing one’s personality and ability to act with
growing autonomy, judgement and personal responsibility (Delors, 1996). Whether
engagement in education or work contexts, individual agency determines the outcome of
such life encounters and social engagements (Schoon & Heckhausen, 2019). As well argued
by Stephen Billet, individual agency ‘determines how individuals engage in work practice;
[moreover] superficial engagement in workplace activities leads to shallow outcomes’
(Billett, 2002b, p3). From a social constructivist view of education as social practice, agency
and active learning are interlinked because education is as an enabler and it helps people
to develop their capacities for agentic action (Eteläpelto et al., 2013).
Supporting young people to take some control of their lives is to recognise the idea
that the quality of their past, current and future decisions is a negotiated product that
depends largely on their agency to navigate confining social structure. Related literature
abounds with research-based arguments in favour of promoting the agentic role of young
people in dealing with complex decisions relating to their education and work aspirations,
expectations and uncertainties. For instance, as rightly argued by several scholars,
educational decision-making is a dynamic process which is strongly influenced by gender,
culture, ethnicity, social backgrounds and institutional factors (Fuller & MacFadyen, 2012;
Heinz, 2009). In chapter two on trends and issues, the discussion about the transition
difficulties of young people in light of exponential societal, and demographic changes
illustrates the relevance of the notion of agency. Here I state two threads of justification
that I discern from the scholarly arguments that pronounce the theme of agency and its
dimensional utility in relation to youth transitions processes and outcomes.
First is about young people’s motivation and interest in pursuing education and
work trajectories amidst conditions that constrain or enhance agency. Motivation, as widely
acknowledged, shapes young peoples’ learning attitudes and actions; emotional and social
well-being; overall academic performance; and their long-term pursuit of life, work and
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Freeing individual agency
learning aspirations (Heckhausen, Wrosch, & Schulz, 2019; Minnaert, 1999; Rozendaal,
Minnaert, & Boekaerts, 2003). Of relevance to the topic of motivation and agency is the
notion of student engagement, which I view as a process input as well as an indicator of the
educators’ efforts to promote learners’ interest, enjoyment and effort. Student
engagement is a positive contributor to the learning process while, ‘agency as a component
of student engagement contributes considerably to the understanding of how students
really engage themselves in learning activities’ (Reeve cited in Montenegro, 2017, p118).
The theme of motivation is particularly relevant in this study owing to the numerous claims
about how young people are not interested in certain education and work opportunities.
Indeed, the discourse about how educators can support students’ agentic engagement is
particularly relevant (Reeve & Shin, 2020). In chapter 1 and 2 of this thesis, I discuss such
deficit narratives, which portray young people as passive participants in their own lives.
Second is the demonstrated and latent resilience of young people in navigating
their social, education and work lives in the face of the obstacles that they encounter within
families, communities, schools and other social spaces. Maintaining an inherent sense of
being actively involved in shaping own lives, and maintaining a sense of agency amidst
failures, setbacks and disappointments is the life reality of millions of young people in
Uganda and elsewhere. Relatedly, in defense of youth transformational resistance, a section
of scholars from a social justice and critical pedagogical tradition argues that ‘young people
have the capacity and agency to analyze their social context … to challenge and resist the
forces impeding their possibilities for liberation’ (Cammarota & Fine, 2008, p6).
3.1.3 Agricultural education and youth transitions
AET and VET in general can enhance young people’s agency, personal development and
successful transition into the world of work. However, confining structures often offset this
potential. As discussed under chapter two, studies and evaluations continuously fault and
challenge the capacity of VET in Uganda and similar contexts to prepare students for self or
paid employment. It is against this background that the argument to reclaim the educative
power of agricultural education practice to support young people’s employment transition
is stronger in this study.
Agri-education from a social constructivist paradigm
Viewing education as a social practice provides sound epistemological and theoretical basis
to frame the inquiry into Uganda’s agricultural education and its contribution to youth
employment transitions. Social constructivist perspectives focus on the ‘interdependence
of social and individual processes in the co-construction of knowledge’ (Palincsar, 1998,
p345). Social constructivists acknowledge and recognise the influence of social and cultural
factors on individual cognition, and the critical role of social relations as well as the
interaction between and among learners. From this view point, I argue that education social
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Freeing individual agency
actors should support and guide young people to become active and reflective learners to
achieve deep learning, not only for occupational or employment purposes but to take
control of their entire life course (Heinz, 2009). The socio-constructivist framework provides
a good standpoint to think, imagine and act towards optimising the educative potential of
agri-education practice.
Drawing from the work of key human development and learning theorists including
John Dewey
, Lev Vygotsky
and Paulo Freire
, I glean relevant concepts to construct a
framework for understanding, and exploring ways to improve education processes and
outcomes. Dewey’s theory of experience and freedom in education and his emphasis on
education as life itself justifies the argument to democratise and contextualise agricultural
education practice to address current and future education and work aspirations of young
people (Sweet, 2013). In line with his caution against assuming that mere doing or
participation in social experience is in itself educative (Baker, Robinson, & Kolb, 2012;
Sikandar, 2016), it is imperative that education social actors have the required professional
capabilities and agency freedom to optimise young people’s learning from curriculum
experience. Connectedly, the remarkable work on situated learning and communities of
practice by Lave and Wenger offers insights for optimising learning from all contexts, be
they education or work locations (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). This strengthens
the argument for educators and other social actors to promote agentic engagement for
young people in their identity formation and learning project of becoming and belonging to
a community of agricultural professionals.
Lev Vygotsky’s social constructivist argument in defence of the value of socio-
cultural contexts in which teaching and learning takes place is of great relevance in fostering
the educative potential of social and physical environments at AET institutions. Vygotsky’s
concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a very helpful theoretical tool to assess
and structure the needed scaffolding for learners to proceed to the next levels of
understanding and performance (Trif, 2015). Operationalising ZPD in the implementation
John Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism and social-cultural situated education theorisation in his
work on ‘experience and education’ in 1938, which continues to influence current thinking on
experiential learning as rooted in social constructivism paradigm, offered appropriate pillars for
building this study’s frame of reference (Dewey, 1963).
Vygotsky [outstanding contemporary social constructivist] is most closely associated with social
constructivism which sees learning not as an individual process, but as a social and cultural process
which happens through social interaction and dialogue (Scales, 2013, p92).
Paulo Freire’s rejection of banking education and his thesis for freedom, democracy, conscientisation
and emancipatory education, particularly in one of his most famous writings Pedagogy of the
Oppressed’ is an inspiration to this study (Freire, 1972).
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Freeing individual agency
of work placements, for instance, can yield better education and labour market outcomes
(Almajed, Skinner, Peterson, & Winning, 2016; Fry, Ketteridge, & Marshall, 2009).
Paulo Freire’s view of education from its emancipatory and liberating dimensions
is a source of additional inspiration for this study. Freire’s critical pedagogy offers the
inspiration to promote the active role of education social actors and rethinking the
relationship between educators and learners in the social process of knowledge production
and application (Freire, 1972). Critical pedagogy is about reconstructing the influence and
position of educators from transmitters of facts, information and knowledge to facilitators
with professional autonomy and pedagogical competence to create meaningful and
empowering experiences that harness students’ agency. Educators of this calibre not only
derive personal enrichment and fulfilment; they effectively harness students’ technical and
relational competencies to face the realities of life, study and work aspirations.
Overall, I draw relevant concepts of participation, interaction, collaboration from
the social constructivist perspectives to frame the argument for an appropriate vocational
pedagogy. I integrate the concepts of agency, freedom, justice and democracy to strengthen
the discussion and argument for an inclusive and transformative agricultural education
practice. Transformative learning approaches are particularly essential to build personal
and professional agency of social actors to critically reflect on, and challenge the unequal
social and power relations that constantly drive social and institutional barriers to learning
and students’ achievement (Mezirow, 1991; Mezirow, 1996). I complement this analytical
framework with craftsmanship ideals to situate and discuss the role of social actors in
dealing with quality dilemmas of agri-education practice (Sennett, 2008).
Vocational pedagogy and craftsmanship
Optimising the interconnectedness of pedagogy and craftsmanship can effectively
contribute to the potential of AET in connecting young people to decent work in the
agriculture and food industry. Since good pedagogy develops craftsmanship, educators with
real craftsmanship can easily espouse good pedagogy (Berger, 2003; Lucas & Spencer,
2016). The enormous challenge to build motivated and qualified graduates that are required
by the ever-changing world of work makes the interconnectedness of vocational pedagogy
and craftsmanship a strategic element within the domains of education and work. The
agricultural world of work needs workers who are not only able to do their job well, but also
love it. An AET system that is devoid of craftsmanship in its vocational pedagogy can hardly
meet the sector’s current and future labour demands. This thesis argues for a
The sub section on vocational pedagogy and craftsmanship is an edited extract from an article titled
‘Exploring agricultural vocational pedagogy in Uganda: students’ experiences’ published by the
International Journal of Training Research (Jjuuko, Tukundane, & Zeelen, 2019). The article draws on
findings from this study.
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craftsmanship-informed vocational pedagogy to develop the young craftsmen and women
that possess the required knowledge, skills and attributes.
Craftsmanship can be understood as a skill, a state of mind, a composite of
attributes or a way of life based on doing well whatever one does. Contemporary thought
considers craftsmanship to be a skill beyond making something manually. It includes
technical proficiency governed by deep cognitive engagement and doing (Chan, 2014). As a
mind-set and composite of attributes, craftsmanship is about the pleasure, pride, patience,
integrity, sensibility, commitment and dedication that constitute and drive the desire for
excellence in whatever a worker undertakes to do. As a way of life, it is also about personal
identity derived from learning to become, and internalising the values, principles, roles,
responsibilities and tacit knowledge associated with one’s occupation and profession
(Kunneman, 2013; Meal & Timmons, 2012). Craftsmanship names ‘an enduring, basic
human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake’ (Sennett, 2008, p8). Good work
or quality-driven work as a value and principle is critical in all endeavors, be they vocational
occupations such as carpentry, farming, health care and engineering or professional service
sectors such as teaching, tourism, insurance and law. The proposition to include
craftsmanship on the list of generic outcomes of vocational education is thus a plausible
argument (Lucas, Spencer, & Claxton, 2012).
As Richard Sennett argues, every one of us has the potential that allows us to
become good craftsmen and women, but motivation and aspiration as shaped by ‘social
conditions take people along different paths in their lives’ (Sennett, 2008, p241). This
perspective fits into an agreeable argument to take forward a bold proposition by several
scholars such as Berger (2003) to construct meaningful vocational pedagogies for building
craftsmanship among students. This also necessitates a craftsmanship-embedded
vocational pedagogy, which embraces teaching and learning as a social practice. The notion
of education as a social process presupposes alternative conceptualisation of the purpose,
process and outcome of education. The position of educators and students and the
relationship between these principal actors, as well as the entire educational setting, ought
to be conceived from a socio-cultural perspective.
It is imperative for educators to draw relevant ideas and concepts from social
theories of learning that legitimise the tradition of linking education with every day social
applications (Guile & Griffiths, 2001; Kolb & Kolb, 2009) to inform their pedagogical
decisions and practices. Approaching pedagogy as a social practice beyond mere
transmission of knowledge is to embed craftsmanship for optimising education processes
and outcomes. With meaningful vocational pedagogy, teaching and learning encounters
ought to unfold as mutual interactions and learning spaces for both educators and students.
An operational definition of vocational pedagogy offered by Lucas et al (2012), captures the
centrality of art and craft in creating interactive learning spaces for developing working
competence. The definition captures the centrality of competence, motivation and value
systems of educators in creating meaningful learning experiences.
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Freeing individual agency
Educators operating within a framework of meaningful vocational pedagogy need
to recognise learners’ autonomy and to promote their agentic engagement (Ecclestone,
Biesta, & Hughes, 2009; Montenegro, 2017; Reeve, 2013). Such good educators strive to
create conducive learning spaces for students to feel good about themselves and develop a
positive self-concept (Smith & Yasukawa, 2017). They embrace critical pedagogy and
problem-solving approaches to foster students’ sense of self-control, critical awareness,
power of imagination and overall motivation for learning (Freire, 1972). Such approaches
enhance students’ human qualities and dispositions that they need to navigate their
learning and career transitions (Osborne, Houston, & Toman, 2007). Meaningful vocational
pedagogies within the framework of social learning uphold the superiority of cooperation
over competition to enable the students to unleash their potential, and to optimise their
participation in collaborative learning (Almajed, Skinner, Peterson, & Winning, 2016; Rué,
2016). Authoritarian educators who perpetuate domineering institutional culture and
competition-driven assessment regimes stifle the students’ unlimited cooperation
capacities as social beings.
A meaningful vocational pedagogy as a social practice integrates a multiplicity of
teaching-learning approaches that connect theoretical and cognitive learning with practice
to enhance vocational interests, career maturity and working competence. Meaningful
vocational pedagogies that build craftsmanship combine working and learning (Armatas &
Papadopoulos, 2013; Streumer & Kho, 2006). They circumvent the dangers of separating
the head and hand from the heart (Brühlmeier, 2010). A pedagogy that recognises the
intimate connection between head, hand and heart resonates with Richard Sennett’s
argument that separation results into poor understanding and expression of skills and
performance (Sennett, 2008).
Vocational pedagogy cannot be anchored in a traditional dichotomy of theory and
practical sessions because, as argued by Barnett (2006), its task is to face both ways to
theory and the workplaces as the basis for their integration in vocational practice. The
separation of theory and practice, which denies vocational students access to disciplinary
knowledge, is culpable in diminishing their agency to convert attained capabilities to claim
and secure more functionings (Wheelahan, 2009; Tikly, 2013). It is also guilty for the failure
to contribute to the desired parity of esteem for vocational and academic oriented study
Work-related learning approaches provide authentic and real-world experiences
that should not alienate students from the realities of desired occupations and professional
practice. Creative ways of ensuring authentic learning experiences range from transferring
teaching from college or university campus to work places. However, this ought not to be a
rule because work-related learning activities through participatory learning techniques such
as problem-based learning can effectively immerse students into active and authentic
learning (Burke, Marks-Maran, Ooms, Webb, & Cooper, 2009). Relatedly, reorienting VET
institutions to operate as workplaces or enterprises can offer real life learning experiences
Youth transition, agricultural education and employment in Uganda
Freeing individual agency
beyond the ivory-tower mentality that characterises current education practice. For
instance, an agricultural college can operate as a farm or an agribusiness enterprise.
Similarly, a catering and hospitality institution can simultaneously run as a hotel in a manner
that gives precedence to the teaching-learning function.
Off-campus work related learning strategies such as work placements offer
students the opportunity to learn from within the industry. They connect students with
practitioners and experts in their fields of study (Dockery, Koshy,