Why we should invest in technical and vocational colleges

August 23, 2019

Many Kenyan youth are familiar with the above phrase if not indirectly told the same by either a teacher, parent or family member. The phrase is commonly told to students perceived to be either slow learners or unable to grasp skills taught in and out of classrooms. Most people, including students, associate Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions with centers where students who fail to achieve high academic grades go to acquire labor-intensive skills, making them employable only in the informal sector. So what is it about polytechnics or TVET institutions that make them looked down upon to the extent that even those who attend them are viewed to be intellectual dwarfs? What has been done so far to improve perceptions towards TVET institutions’? What more needs to be done to change such negative views?

The TVET institutions are known to offer all types of courses, catering to all levels of education, starting from the lowest levels. Majority of courses offered in TVET institutions are less restrictive in terms of age and entry-grade requirements. The courses offered in these institutions do not require advanced educational qualifications and include building technology, fashion design and garment making, masonry, pastry-making and baking, tailoring, hairdressing, and plumbing among others. However, the institutions are characterized by inadequate infrastructure, and are largely informal, with some located in rural settings where the youth they are targeting reside.

The Kenyan government is working hard to change the negative perceptions of TVET institutions, which have been identified as key centers for producing relevant skills for the local, national, and global labor markets. A number of developments have been made by the government to improve TVET institutions especially in terms of infrastructure and funding. For instance, the government has increased public spending on TVET to an average of 4.2 percent of the total education budget between the 2012/13 and 2018/19 financial years. Students in TVET are also enlisted as beneficiaries of Higher Educations Loans Board (HELB). This explains the steady increase in the acceptance of TVET education among students in Kenya. For instance, between 2012 and 2017, student enrolments in TVETs doubled from 127,691 to 275,139.

While the above efforts are commendable and have undoubtedly led to increased enrolments in the country’s TVET institutions, the following four action points should be considered if perceptions and enrolments in TVET institutions are to be improved.

First, there is need for a government-led campaign, including other non-state actors in the education sector, to create awareness on options available to students in TVET institutions as well as progression paths available to students and the wider community. This will serve to counter the negative perceptions informed by lack of or limited information on TVET education. This should start right from primary and secondary schools where most of TVET students come from.

Secondly, the TVET curriculum should emphasize practical over theoretical learning. The opposite negates the very point of TVET institutions, which were established as centers offering technical skills. Inadequate and outdated equipment in TVET institutions also force students to rely on the few available tools, contributing to more theoretical learning. It is therefore, not surprising to find students graduating from these institutions lacking the requisite technical skills. In addition, there is a need to redesign the curriculum so as to not only speak to the demands of the industrial economy but also students with special needs. 

Thirdly, there is a need to bridge the policy-practice gap. The inconsistencies between policy and practice in relation to TVET equipment and curriculum have contributed to unfavorable perceptions among potential and existing TVET students. The government should, therefore, institute and/or develop a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to compare policies with practice to determine where the gap is and develop the necessary measures.  

Finally, TVET institutions should be guided to offer programs or courses that are aligned to local contexts. For this reason, all TVET institutions operating in various locations should offer programs that speak to the immediate communities’ needs, are innovative and with the future in mind. For instance, TVETs in ASALs should offer among other courses, those on improving livestock and pasture production and the same principle applied to those in urban, and rural agricultural settings. With improved TVET policies and practices, Kenya will be ever closer to achieving its ideas on industrialization while creating opportunities for its young population.