The government’s new investments in technical training institutions is not only commendable but also appropriate, timely and prudent.
For quite a long time technical and vocational education and training has suffered neglect caused by underfunding, staff shortages and the inherent negative perception that the colleges are for the less gifted in academic fields.
However, fortunes of the colleges are changing. They are on the path to transformation with the government allocating about Sh16 billion annually in the past three years to equip the existing institutions and construct new ones in every county, as well as recruit additional tutors and extend loans to students.
This massive investment makes sense when viewed against broader changes occurring in the education sector.
The government has since last year been pushing for a 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools by building more day secondary schools and expanding facilities in existing institutions countrywide.
This has meant that more than a million pupils who sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education are absorbed in secondary schools, pushing enrolment to about three million.
Every four years, about 600,000 students sit the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education but less than 100,000 qualify for university education, leaving behind the rest — about 500,000, a dire situation that calls for viable solutions.
And that shines the spotlight on the technical and vocational colleges.
The problem, however, is that even as the government builds more technical and vocational colleges, only a handful of Form Four leavers apply to join them, either because of ignorance or the negative perception attached to the institutions.
At the beginning of the year, only 98,393 Form Four leavers were placed to TVETS because the rest did not apply.
The close to 1,000 TVET institutions in Kenya have an enrolment of only 275,000, more than 60 per cent of whom are male.
Still, the colleges are in the grip of a severe teacher shortage, totalling about 5,000 out of a capacity of 8,000.
The government means well by breathing new life into the colleges, but it must actively popularise and make them attractive to more students.
It could do this by making presentations in schools showing the kind of equipment in the colleges and the job opportunities available.
This is especially critical because the Big Four Agenda and the Vision 2030 are underpinned by the availability of a workforce with technical skills.
Unless the government pushes more students into the colleges, plugs the teacher shortage and scales up public awareness to eliminate negative attitudes, the billions of shillings being spent on the colleges will be a total waste and soon they will lie in ruins while more youth are consigned to unemployment and crime.