Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions are key in keeping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) competitive. However, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that forced economies globally to grind to a halt, the situation presented a great challenge for MSMEs. The ripple effect has been felt by world economies as MSMEs were forced to find creative ways to keep their businesses afloat, while observing the COVID-19 regulations. Top of their adjustments was figuring out how an economy largely fueled by MSMEs would thrive, while the players worked from home. This article seeks to contextualize TVETs at the heart of providing a lifeline for MSMEs. What is the role of TVET institutions in sustaining MSMEs in Kenya? What are some challenges TVETs are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines?
The WHO recommended measures such as working from home and keeping social distance to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Governments were faced with the dilemma of keeping their citizenry alive and keeping their economies from sinking. In any situation, and more so during a pandemic, morally and ethically, saving human lives should take precedence. Lockdowns and curfews were enacted as additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus. In Kenya for example, the early months of the pandemic saw businesses struggle to have workers attend to their duties and adhere to the curfew. Incidences of conflict between civilians and law enforcement officials were reported as both parties sought to meet their obligations.
The pandemic continues to pose a public health concern for all and sundry. As the reality hit home, some of the measures such as working from home, keeping social distance and total lockdowns seemed unrealistic and governments across the world were forced to localize and contextualize their decision making to avoid loss of lives and total economic collapse. Discussions on how to cushion the citizens from tough economic struggles also took precedence.
Records show that in 2019 MSMEs created at least 90% (Survey Report) of new jobs in Kenya and contribute 33% of Kenya’s GDP, with projected growth of 5% in 2022. Therefore, it is laudable that the government acknowledged these statistics and ignored calls for total lockdowns. MSMEs contribute to a significant part of the essential services in most countries. Many have argued that COVID-19 has illuminated the essential workers, largely taken for granted or ignored prior to the pandemic.
MSMEs incorporate graduates and individuals from TVET institutions. TVETs in Kenya provide an array of skills ranging from filmmaking, entrepreneurship, culinary arts, artisanship, micro-finance to ICT specializations. Alongside the basic infrastructure, TVET’s should continue improving their standards and access to skill-based training through offering scholarships to students in need and also by modernizing and aligning their competencies with important skills for the 21st century. Moreover, graduates from TVETs should participate in promoting awareness about TVETs in order to broaden and develop the vital role they play in preparing individuals with key competencies including skills considered future-proof. TVETs then face the challenge of staying abreast and open with the changing world of work. To remain competitive, TVETs may benefit from rethinking traditional teaching practices and embracing upcoming ventures that increase opportunities for individuals to thrive.
It is exciting that Kenya has developed and prioritized investment towards TVET institutions over the years. The development of various TVETs across the country is indicative of institutions’ key role in solving the unemployment challenge in most African countries. The government’s groundwork should be nurtured and optimized for the overall benefit of individuals, communities, and the country. Latest figures from the Ministry of Education show that 563,544 students from the 2020-21 cycle making up at least 82% of government-sponsored students were placed in TVET institutions. Clearly, this placement of students in TVETs shows the government’s confidence in these institutions, and potentially elevates the public awareness of these institutions. COVID-19 has shown that continued strategic efforts and commitment from multiple stakeholders (e.g., The Government of Kenya, The Ministry of Education, private sector, grassroots organizations etc.) need to be developed going forward to further strengthen TVETs, and bridge the gap between acquired, required and relevant skills. Funding and accountability measures need to accompany these placements to harness the potential at hand. Depending on the TVET institution, basic infrastructure including clean water and sanitary measures should be implemented.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, similar to all learning institutions, TVETs have considered various opportunities for growth and reinvention, including proposals for distance learning and embracing virtual arrangements and training. Although distance learning seems to provide a viable alternative to in-person learning, it is likely that TVET institutions were not prepared with the necessary infrastructure that allows for distance learning using digital tools. Furthermore, successful digital learning requires different pedagogies, materials and skills from the ones implemented in face to face environments. It is of paramount significance for multiple stakeholders including TVETs to gain a deeper understanding of the need for collaboration and partnership to further strengthen and positively influence African countries and the world. To this end, this collaboration and partnerships can embrace the challenge of building inclusive environments by providing access to curricula, buildings and overall opportunities, especially to marginalized populations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, TVETs are required to adhere to the WHO and government guidelines to curb the spread of the disease. This includes handwashing, masking and observation of general sanitation by both learners and staff. Additionally, for overcrowded classes, either staggering of classes can allow for physical distance. Therefore, institution stakeholders have to prioritize and invest in making sure that these guidelines are implemented. TVETs can also embrace the challenge of providing community leadership and service-oriented activities. For example, TVETs can take the lead in collaborating with communities to provide awareness about the importance of adhering to the guidelines, provide communities with necessary products such as sanitizers and masks, as they continue to engage in cutting edge research and developing innovations in their institutions. Further, with the ubiquity of ICT, TVETs may benefit from tapping and building social media platforms that can further be used to reach wider audiences with rich content. Media outlets such as local radio and TV programs are also viable channels for mass communication.
MSMEs should harness the ample talent and entrepreneurial skills of Kenyans in TVET institutions. They can achieve this through on-the-job training programs, information sessions and internship opportunities. However, with evidence pointing to a limited 3-year life span for at least 75% of MSMEs, a robust infrastructure is necessary to sustain the entire ecosystem. MSMEs also require government support. Support may include providing resources, financial support and technical support. This points to the need for a coordinated approach from the government that boosts the pipeline, keeps the flow of support and ensures sustainability. More importantly, with developed and relevant skill sets, MSMEs in conjunction with TVET institutions can participate in job creation, provide solutions to problems both in our communities and globally. In addition to promoting economic development, MSMEs and TVETs can improve quality of life by providing a conduit that channels best practices, specialized skills and innovations to the larger society. Therefore, TVETs should boost their role in contributing to MSMEs through increased access, relevance and excellence. On the other hand, MSMEs should liaise with TVETs to optimize resources, develop synergies to bolster Kenya’s informal sector.