Technical skills are an indispensable ingredient to economic development. But the skills are obtained from middle-level colleges, which have been neglected for a while.
This was not always the case, however. Vocational training used to enjoy pride of place in our education system. Then, education and economic policymakers clearly understood that technical graduates were the pillars of development.
However, we lost the plot. Instead of strengthening our Technical, Vocational and Education Training (TVET) colleges to meet emerging technological trends, we started to run them down, albeit unintentionally. Our attention and resources increasingly shifted to university education.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with our rapid expansion of higher education. However, it was disingenuous to abandon a sector that was an equally important cog in the wheel of our development aspirations.
With the thirst for degrees taking hold, the colleges were left to their own devices. In fact, they were on the verge of being abandoned. Most of them were turned into satellite campuses of universities, leaving technical training in limbo and engendering an imbalance in our manpower requirements. Thousands of youth were curtailed from acquiring life skills.
The society’s obsession with white-collar jobs led to a sustained neglect of TVET institutions. Vocational training certificates were perceived to be of little worth as they could not confer a well-paying job and the resulting high status. These misplaced perceptions drove a bias against these skills.
The consequence of this neglect is the gap in expertise being experienced in some sectors of the economy. We do not have enough artisans, masons, carpenters, technologists and middle-level electricians and engineers, among others. Yet this cadre of manpower underpins vibrant economic growth.
Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands owe their prosperity to technical colleges. Had we maintained technical training as a priority, we could have been far much advanced.
However, the government has rolled out a master plan to turn around TVET institutions, which includes setting up the colleges in every constituency. Enrolment numbers also look promising. According to the ‘Economic Survey 2018’, 275,139 students enrolled in technical colleges last year, up from 202,556 in 2016, as 1,962 TVET colleges were registered, up from 1,300 the previous year, with a target of three million students, up from 180,000.
It behooves those tasked with this role to ensure that the quality of education in the colleges is of top quality by re-equipping them. Modern machines are critical; a college cannot claim to offer technical courses if it lacks the right equipment. We also need to upgrade the expertise of the trainers. Quality training presupposes the existence of top-notch tutors who apply innovative approaches to teaching.
There is an urgent need to revamp the curriculum. Massive technological advancements have taken place. Machines being used in manufacturing — part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ agenda — have gone through innovations. Our institutions and the curriculum they teach must keep abreast of these global trends.
Moreover, courses should be creatively designed to allow trade and craft graduates to easily proceed to university upon excellent performance. Thankfully, this is already taken into account in the strategy to revolutionise TVET.
Technical graduates are inclined to immediately start their own businesses because they possess practical skills. This is precisely what this country direly needs, as it will give young people jobs.
Lastly, technical graduates need to be accorded due respect at the workplace and remunerated appropriately.
Mr Gicharu is the founder and chairman, Mount Kenya University. [email protected]