Youth & societal perceptions

Conceptualizing youth as resource, social problem!

Youth Learning Festival 2018 (YLF5) Scholars

The implications of conceptualizing youth as resource or social problem can be too hard to comprehend in the daily routine of parents, teachers and other social actors as they guide and support young people. Yesterday, the 27 September 2019 at the fellowship of Rotary Groningen Oost, I had a very rewarding exchange on the same with a club of distinguished Dutch men and women. We undertook an impromptu perception check on the common understandings of youth. We also reflected on the common phenomenon of youth resistance. We debated a little about the manifestations of the perceptions in the two contexts – what society in Uganda and the Netherlands, think. The slides below guided our conversation. What do you think about this conversation?

What makes a good mentor

Many of us must have used the word mentor at some point in our life. While growing up, I always heard questions like who is your mentor?  And the quickest answer would be either my dad, mam, pastor, or a favorite teacher.

Over the years, mentorship has found a place in many disciplines. Today, many organizations are rooting for mentorship programs as a way of building capacities for those developing their careers. Universities are assigning continuing students to freshers as their mentors, but are they mentoring? Many organizations assign new employees to senior staff for mentoring, but is it what they do? My first job as a cook, I was attached to an experienced cook to be my mentor, but was he? My point is that many have used the word ‘mentor’ even when they are doing something different.

Nonetheless, as Hunt & Micheal (1983) note, we often turn teachers, coaches, guides, sponsors, bosses, gurus, and even relatives for advice, or protection. So, could it be that our relationship with the cited categories qualifies as a mentoring relationship? I will share my perspective of what makes a good mentor, building on the literature reviewed by Hunt & Micheal(1983). We could agree that mentorship is context-based and, therefore, will not be uniform across all disciplines. My perspective is situated in the field of academia because that is where I have had a lot of mentorships.

Who is a mentor?

Writer with one of his mentors at the 6th Congress on Research in Vocational Education and Training, March 2019 in Bern/Zollikofen-Switzerland

Walusansa (2018) describes mentorship as an “indispensable tool for preparing, guiding, and motivating young professionals during their career development.” Regarding who a mentor is, the descriptions, as seen, are vast and contextual. However, the University of Michigan (2018) describes a mentor as someone who takes an interest in developing another person’s career and well-being; has an interpersonal as well as a professional relationship with those whom they mentor. Hunt & Micheal (1983) also describe a mentor as an individual who is successful in his/her field. But does this mean that all field experts can be mentors? Or rather good mentors? Well, the literature reviewed by Hunt & Micheal (1983) points to specific characteristics that a mentor and mentee should possess if the mentorship is to yield positive results. For now, the focus will be on the mentor, and the mentee will be for another day

Mentor attributes

If you are there looking to have a mentor, or you have one, and things are not going well, consider checking these characteristics.  Age, gender, and power are the typical attributes of mentors cited in the literature.  Age and age differential are said to be essential in the relationship between mentor and mentee. Studies on this characteristic reveal that the age difference should not be too vast; neither should it be narrow. When the gap is wide enough, the literature indicates there could be issues of culture and generational collision, or the relationship becomes ‘parent-child.’  Likewise, it will turn into a peer relationship if the age gap is too narrow. My experience attests to this description because, at some point, I have looked to someone 3-5 years older, and I can not recall where we left off. For good mentorship, an age difference of 8-15 years is ideal.

While the literature identifies gender as a crucial mentor attribute, I choose to use sex instead. The relationship between males and females will always be ‘complicated.’ Research indicates that most successful mentor relationships have been male-male. I have several female role models, and not any is my mentor. Based on the little male-female mentorships studied, issues of sexual tension and fears, increased public scrutiny, as well as stereotypical female/male roles have to surface and could hamper the successful mentor-mentee relationship. While there are no credible studies done on female-female mentorship, I believe there are more successful female mentors of female mentees. I encourage young female career builders to consider choosing female mentors to avoid the complexities associated with having a male mentor.

Other attributes good mentors possess are Self-confidence, organization position, and power. Hunt & Micheal (1983) note that mentors are highly placed people with an experience they wish to share but not threatened by the young Turks. Any good mentor should be able to exhibit self-confidence and professionalism, and these attributes he/she must instill them to their mentees. A good mentor should give power to the mentee, that is how you build another. Delegating is a powerful tool for boosting ones’ self-confidence. Many times, I have represented my mentors for somewhat challenging activities and tasks, but I have learned from them a great deal. “Experience is the best teacher,” yes, I agree with the saying and attest to it. Choose a mentor that will push your limits, and look out for challenging opportunities for you. Sometimes you will disappoint them and vice versa, but they will not forsake you if they do, then those are not good mentors. I have had the delight of having mentors that have my best interest at heart. That does not come so immediately, though, as I will write about mentee characteristics (some other time), mentors lookout for mentees that have aspirations for higher achievement and social similarities, among other attributes. Career growth and development thus is an interplay of a strong mutual relationship between the mentor and the mentee.

Where do we stand

Walusansa (2018) articulates that “mentorship helps young professionals to deal with the challenges that they often encounter at work or personal level.” He suggests that “deliberate efforts be made to ensure that young professionals are placed under the watch of senior staff to enhance career and personal development.” If this good suggestion is to become realistic, mentors must be real mentors. Often, the senior staff takes for granted their subordinates; teachers/facilitators in educational institutions take for granted their students/learners.

A recent study by Jjuuko et al. (2019) provides an insight into the relationship between learners and educators, and surprisingly, the findings are not far from agreeing with the assertion that there is a need for a robust cordial relationship just as one required for proper mentorship. There is a need for a model for rethinking mentorship if the mentorship programs are to be effective. It starts with identifying good mentors. For mentorship programs are geared at enhancing career and personal development, then choosing the right mentor is not an option. Look for someone with and who will improve your creativity, critical thinking & argument, writing ability, presentation & negotiation skills, and interpersonal skills.

About the blogger

Saul Tumwine is a master student of Global Development and Planning at the University of Agder, in Norway. He is a professional teacher, community organizer, and learning facilitator. He believes everyone can make an impact in their life and community.


Hunt, D. M., & Michael, C. (1983). Mentorship: A career training and development tool. Academy of Management Review8(3), 475-485.

Jjuuko, R., Tukundane, C., & Zeelen, J. (2019). Exploring agricultural vocational pedagogy in Uganda: students’ experiences. International Journal of Training Research, 1-14.

University of Michigan (2018) How to mentor graduate students

Walusansa, B. (2018, April 9th). Why we need mentorship programmes for young professionals. The sunrise. Retrieved from:  

ICT Skills4Life-Work Identity

Researching WorkBased Learning Approach

YLF5 Scholars

In the second half of next year 2020, we[1] formally launch our passion-driven and knowledge generating work-based ICT training initiative for youth with incomplete schooling in Uganda. During the initial two-year phase, the ICT Skills4Life-Work Identity initiative, will engage 10 pioneer youth through a learning community approach to develop and nurture a work-related training model. The learning community is being co-created by IT professionals, educationists, employers, IT entrepreneurs and parents/guardians in and around Njeru and Jinja

The ICT Skills4Life-Work Identity is a small collaborative initiative for generating local knowledge on how to design and deliver effective work-related learning approaches within the limitations of our context. It is a passion driven humble contribution to searching and understanding better how to deliver vocational and professional education and training (VPET) for socially and educationally disadvantaged young people.  We describe it as a passion-driven initiative because we will strive to maintain and nurture our individual and collective autonomy to explore all possible options as a community of co-researchers and practitioners.

Using the learning community approach, we anticipate relying heavily on the good will and support of individual citizens. We anticipate building a social capital base to generate mutually beneficial avenues for the participating young people but also for the rest of the participants in the learning community. Our strategy is to generate and use local knowledge, expertise and related resources. We do anticipate creating mutual relationships and partnerships with interested individuals and organizations that acknowledge the needed flexibility for an initiative of our type.  Are you interested in education and work lives of young people?  Click for more details  

The larger challenge: predicament of the poor in Uganda’s education system

Uganda’s education system has four cycles namely early childhood education, primary education, secondary education, and tertiary / university education. After pre-primary education for children aged 2-5 years, the system follows a 7-6-2+ pattern.  Seven years are for primary education followed by 6 years of secondary education. Secondary education is under two levels: 4 years for lower level and two for upper. The state-run Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) conducts national examinations every year to approve or restrict students’ transition from one cycle to the next up to entry into vocational/higher education. 2-5years of vocational and higher education is for those who successfully complete and pass secondary education examinations.

Education quantitative gains neither sustainable nor equitable

Generally, there are quite a number of quantitative gains resulting from the different education policy reforms made during the past decades especially in the 1990s.  Access to primary education steadily increased from a net enrolment of three million in 1997 to 8.7 million pupils by 2016 owing to Education for All UPE policy. The introduction of Universal Secondary Education (USE) propelled secondary education enrollment from 954,328 in 2007 to 1,457,000 by 2016 (Uganda Bureau of Statistic, 2008; 2017).  

However, the situation continues to be a mixed bag of progress and endemic structural challenges. The country’s socio-economic and political transformation seems to have stagnated as revealed by the minimal changes in the structure and manifestation of poverty in its diverse dimensions (World Bank, 2016). Limited completion, progression and transition rates mirror deep education deprivation. Children from poor families suffer the brunt of inefficiencies in the education system.  For instance, Transition to senior one declined by 7.3 % from 70.5% in 2014 to 63.2% in 2016. Transition to senior five also declined by 5% from 30% in 2014 to 25% in 2016 (Ministry of Education and Sports 2016).  Indeed as confirmed by the World Development Report of 2018, Uganda’s education system is in a state of systemic failure to ensure education quality and equity (World Bank, 2018).  Repeatedly, local and global studies indicate that many of those who navigate their way into the classrooms end up schooling but without learning.

Education losers

Amidst all the numerous social dynamics of access and quality, children from poor families, orphans and other marginalized groups find themselves at the periphery. Some of them who persist and withstand the difficulties in primary and secondary schooling often fail; and they exit the system with disgrace. The so-called poor performers at these levels are doomed as they enter the world without any documentary evidence of the learning outcomes attained. The system creates education losers. The losers suffer short and long-term deprivation. They face multiple deprivations, exclusion and exploitation now and always particularly if no remedial intervention is availed to them to reclaim their dignity and identity.  

Our argument

Society must correct its mistakes. We will always contribute to this collective struggle to make the world a better place for all by making education serve its emancipatory role of course not neglecting labour market demands. 

We recognize the efforts of state institutions and other mega donor funded interventions to skill young people in this country. We are aware that current efforts are constantly struggling to get it right – adequately supporting young people to develop the capabilities they need to meet their life and work goals

We are also aware that many researchers, scholars and practitioners are busy researching for better ways of making education and training work better for young people but we are also aware that they are constrained by pressure to deliver within restrictive timetables and budgets.

We too recognize to comprehensively address education and work dilemmas requires macro level interventions including real educational change, macro-economic reforms and labour market regulations.

HOWEVER, we also know and argue that small initiatives like our ICT Skills4Life-Work Identity can make a significant difference in building the knowledge base that Uganda needs to address the education and work challenges of young people.

[1] For and on my behalf of  MYCAREERUGANDA  in pursuance of our independent research for local knowledge production


Inequality-injusticeThis comment is motivated by Sharma’s article titled soft-skills in non-formal education: building capacities of the youth published in the  Adult Education and Development Journal by dvv International. Read More


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