Technical vocational education and training (TVET) is a widely recognised approach to overcoming poverty and the social exclusion that comes with it. The underlying concept is simple: TVET leads to work, and work leads to income and development. Nevertheless, the global educational campaigns focus on schools and primary education. Thus, vocational programmes are frequently neglected, and they certainly do not guarantee access to employment and better living conditions. Robert Jjuuko from the Adult Education Centre in Njeru, Uganda, and the Uganda Adult Education Network (UGADEEN), discusses the need for an internal and external enabling environment that is crucial for allowing TVET beneficiaries to translate the gained capabilities and competencies into economic and social returns.
The hype and naïve assumptions of the potential of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) without commensurate policy reform and real national commitment persist in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. For close to a decade, there have been claims that the sub-sector is back on the development agenda of national governments and international development agencies. It seems, however, that the so-called comeback is not free from the rhetoric of the 1950s/60s when TVET was considered to be a key development strategy by international development agencies led by the World Bank (McGrath, 2002, Middleton and Ziderman, 1997).
Typical of its shifting priority focus at different times in history, the World Bank and some of its key partners almost dumped TVET, having given it a solid push in the early 1960s (Oketch, 2007; McGrath & King, 1995). The zeal for the neoliberal economic model is difficult to exonerate for the disappointing change of policy (Robertson, et al, 2007). The findings from the rate of return studies in the 1970s and 80s were largely used to reject TVET’s feasibility as a “good investment” (King and Palmer, 2007).
It is also widely acknowledged that the pronouncement of EFA goals in 1990 and the proclamation of the MDGS in 2000 have contributed little to directly influence the revival of TVET. For over the years, TVET has remained at the periphery and largely excluded from mainstream public education policy planning and implementation frameworks in many donor-driven economies of the South. International and national education policy has favoured financing of Universal Primary Education (UPE) thus shrinking the EFA agenda.
Apparently, even the claimed TVET come-back is for “fix” reasons – (embrace TVET because other strategies are not delivering enough)! Or because there is a dire need to offset the EFA boom! There are huge challenges to do with issues of TVET image, attractiveness and effectiveness. This evidence and practice-based conversation is intended to share some extrapolations from Uganda. It is a contribution to the debate to situate TVET in the Education for All (EFA) framework, particularly goal 3, on meeting the learning needs of all young people and adults.
Youth unemployment is increasingly being recognized as one of the most serious intergenerational socio-economic challenges of the 21st century. The mismatch between labourforce growth and employment generation is huge and ever growing. In Uganda, youth unemployment at the rate of 5.3 percent was higher than the national rate of 3.2 percent by 2004 (Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, 2004).
Understandably, there is an apparent trust regarding the potential of TVET in helping to equip the unemployed youths with the abilities to seize work opportunities. A case study of TVET for youths with incomplete schooling in Uganda reaffirmed this common perception amongst practitioners and learners (Jjuuko, 2010). A majority of the case study participants expressed deep conviction about the usefulness of TVET in helping graduates to be job creators.
The founder and director of the case study centre said that “the main reason for establishing the centre was to provide vocational training to disadvantaged youths to enable them to create self employment” (Jjuuko, 2010, p.123). Mary, the tailoring course tutor at the case study TVET centre said that “at least at the end of the course somebody should be able to make clothes for people to be able to earn a living”.
While it is widely acknowledged that education and training is one of the dependable roads for walking out of poverty and deprivation, it seems the idea that TVET easily connects its graduates to work opportunities is often taken for granted. The long held view that education does not create jobs is yet to firmly inform TVET policy and practice at different levels of decision-making. Numerous studies strongly suggest that jobs or employment is a product of a solid marriage of sound macro-economic and social governances policies and actions. Besides, studies also indicate that for the poor, and more so the unemployed youth, to disengage themselves from economic deprivation there must be an enabling environment (Palmer, et al., 2007).
The majority of the graduates said that they always experienced some form of skills deficit or a feeling of inadequacy in relation to a particular task at hand. For instance, Paulo, a Carpentry graduate, said that he was challenged when he was confronted with the task of making curtain boxes during his first subcontract. Sylvia, a Tailoring graduate, said that she would wish to make a variety of fashions to diversify and break the monotony of school uniform making but she feels incompetent. In addition, Sylvia had no idea of conventional marketing strategies. Her counterpart, Juliet, said that there are quite a number of products, such as jackets, which her company makes, but she cannot participate because of limited skills. James, a Bricklaying graduate, said that he encountered four unfamiliar building/construction tasks immediately after completion of his course. They included plastering, stone pitching, laying concrete blocks, and painting. In one of his narrations, James said, “I had never painted… I did not know even how to roll a painter’s brush.”(Jjuuko, 2010, p.173)
There are two important related aspects to the concept of an enabling environment for training and poverty eradication. On one hand there is the internal enabling environment in which education and training are delivered. The internal enabling environment is inclusive of all factors that combine to make the education and training process able to generate the desired technical capabilities and essential skills. Some of the factors include up-to-date training equipment and materials, competent and motivated teachers / instructors, and family support.
The study revealed more evidence pointing to the perennial logistical, curriculum and pedagogical challenges of TVET service delivery in Uganda. For instance, the case study centre curriculum and pedagogy was described by a majority of the graduates to be generally weak. They said that the training did not prepare them to tackle unfamiliar tasks. There was a glaring absence of the much needed integration of entrepreneurship and generic skills in the actual delivery of learning sessions. The graduates felt that a narrow curriculum coupled with inappropriate teaching and preparation for the real world of work is a serious impediment to their efforts to secure and retain wage or self employment.
The external enabling environment is crucial for enabling TVET beneficiaries to translate the gained capabilities and competencies into economic and social returns. It is inclusive of all factors that engender or impede the transformation of education and training into desired long term economic and social outcomes. Some of the factors include a sound labour market regulation regime as well as a vibrant domestic economy to guarantee consumption of goods and services made and / or supplied by graduates. Other enabling facilities include credit and other infrastructure to attract and retain the participation of fresh inexperienced graduates in the competitive but volatile informal sector.
The case study participants indicated the difficulties they face in securing decent work (Jjuuko, 2010). The majority of TVET graduates are trapped in the lower echelons of the labour market in the informal sector. Owino James, a graduate of Brick Laying and Concrete Practice, said that he had worked at more than five construction sites under very poor working conditions. Balikuddembe Jacob, A BCP graduate who operates a small unregistered building and construction company in Kampala City decried the lack of clear rules and laws for protecting builders and masons.
The findings further confirmed that the idea of self-employment is easier said than done. On completion of his Carpentry course in 2002, Paulo Kalanzi established a small-scale workshop within his home community. The workshop collapsed shortly after due to inadequate effective demand for his products and services. He resorted to the seemingly profitable but risky local transport service provision as a bodaboda (motor-cycle taxi). Other graduates said that they encounter huge challenges to raise the required investment and working capital to penetrate the service sector.
TVET is said to be one of the essential components of the envisaged EFA package to ensure that the learning needs of all young people are met. However, there are serious concerns that vocational education is failing to target those who face the most acute disadvantages (UNESCO, 2010). Important questions regarding the cause and effect of marginalization are seemingly not accorded deserving policy attention. The drivers of education and training inequality which are firmly entrenched are not adequately tackled by existing education and development
policy in many African vountries. In Uganda, TVET service delivery is yet to be fully reformed to widen access and improve quality. The greatest provision is made by private TVET institutions numbering about 600. The majority of these institutions are under-resourced in terms of training equipment, materials and competent tutors (Lugujjo, 2003, Wirak, et al., 2003). A majority of the slightly over 144 public institutions are no exception. Indeed there are limited official learning pathways within the public TVET infrastructure despite the official rhetoric.
It is claimed that enrolment in TVET institutions under the Universal Post Primary Education and Training (UPPET) programme increased from 25,682 in 2006 to over 30,000 in 2008 (National Planning Authority, 2010, Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008b). The TVET enrolment share of the post-primary enrolment in 2007 was reported not to be more than 3.3 %, which is even lower than the Sub-Saharan average of 6 % (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008b; UNESCO, 2010).
Based on current enrolment indicators and trends, of course the dearth of credible data notwithstanding, Uganda’s overall TVET network of private and public providers can hardly absorb all the prospective students. The government wants 10 % of primary school completers to pursue skills development courses in the public post-primary TVET institutions (National Planning Authority, 2010) which translate into an average of 40,000 students per year.
Ironically, the TVET head count of year one enrolment in 2008 revealed a miserable number of 4,848 students in all TVET institutions within the UPPET programme (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008c). There are glaring difficulties within the sub-sector that impede access and participation. For example, the UPPET/TVET admission criterion for primary school leavers is selective and discriminatory. Eligibility for admission under the tuition-free BTVET scheme is based on a certain Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) score aggregate. It is restricted to only recent P7 leavers of the immediate past year. Therefore, it is highly contestable that the official projections are tenable.
In general terms, the sub-sector is characterized by hazy performance in terms of access and participation. The poor, who are often the victims of selective admission criteria, have little chance of enrolling with fee-charging private TVET providers. Recent ineligible school leavers join thousands of their previous counterparts in the labour market. The term “forgotten majority” has often been used to describe this category of school leavers who are literally neglected by official public education policy (Schroeter, 2009).
The tendency and known preference for mainstream academic education does not help matters in such a situation without public policy intervention. It has been observed that Ugandans have a “strong cultural bias” against TVET (Keating cited in Wirak et al., 2003). Actually, it is repeatedly being claimed that the demand, especially for post-primary TVET, is low (Liang, 2002). Some circles argue that perhaps the social demand could be present but the economic ability to finance TVET provision among the poor is largely inadequate.
Besides access, poor quality of TVET learning outcomes is almost endemic judging from the recent examination results for formal TVET provision. Forty percent of the 13,975 candidates who sat the Uganda Technical and Vocational examinations in 2009 failed and never got any recognized certification. In 2010, over half of the 20,376 candidates failed, and there seem to be no adequate strategies to reverse this trend.
For close to a decade, the Ministry of Education and Sports assumed full management and administrative responsibility over all public training institutions in the country. About 46 TVET centres from six ministries, namely Agriculture, Trade, Tourism, Trade, Gender and Communication, were transferred to the Ministry of Education in line with the recommendations of the 1998 restructuring report (Penny et al., 2003). Officially, the over 600 private TVET providers are supposedly under the stewardship of the Ministry of Education and Sports.
Despite the above and quite a number of attempts to streamline coordination of TVET provision, there are still serious challenges. The role and mandate of the Ministry of Education is yet to be translated into real practice. Existing partnership, collaboration and cooperation amongst public institutions on one hand, and with non-state actors on the other, is weak. This is largely due to ineffective and less vibrant public infrastructure to guide, regulate and mentor service providers.
The functioning of public regulatory institutions such as the Directorate of Industrial Training and Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board are yet to be strengthened to adequately take care of informal and non-formal skills training. Informal and non-formal TVET is yet to receive firm official policy guidance and management. It seems there is marginal official interest in this form of TVET. Obtained competencies and qualifications are often neither validated nor accredited. According to the Ministry of Education and Sports (2008a), the amorphous structure of non-formal TVET renders coordination and management difficult, thereby causing transactional costs.
A good number of private enterprises and NGOs, including faith-based organisations, provide a variety of tailor-made non-formal vocational education and training programmes (Schroeter, 2009; Bananuka & Katahoire, 2008). On-the-job training is provided at different levels, particularly by hundreds of small and large enterprises who organize apprenticeships for their workers and other specially selected beneficiaries (J.E. Austin Associates, Inc., 2004).
In addition, there are several small initiatives for providing low-cost unaccredited training to the disadvantaged primary school drop-outs and completers. For instance, in 2004, the Uganda Youth Development Link, with support from UNESCO launched a Non-Formal Education and Livelihood Skills for Marginalized Street and Slum Youth Project which placed a total of 288 marginalized youth with local artisans to acquire technical skills in trades such as tailoring and carpentry (Uganda Youth Development Link, 2006).
Another example is the Local Skills Development (LSD) concept implemented by the Ministry of Education and Sports, and supported under the programme of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) for the Promotion of Employment Oriented Vocational and Technical Training (PEVOT). LSD is intended to serve the “forgotten majority” by providing low-cost vocational skills training. The concept which commenced as a pilot component of the Community Polytechnic Programme at three sites is said to have been designed to fit particular conditions of rural communities whose livelihood is highly dependent on agriculture (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2007).
The Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) is the lead government department in reaching out to some of these providers who are engaged in informal, non-formal and formal apprenticeship training. Some of the beneficiaries of apprenticeships, as well as those prepared by numerous post-primary private TVET providers, are examined and certified by DIT through its trade testing function. DIT is yet to receive the required facelift and institutional capacity to match the challenge.
Public investment is painfully below expectation. While there has been a recent increment in budgetary allocations as part of the efforts to revamp and reform the TVET sub-sector, even the government acknowledges that there still remains huge unmet social demand. The BTVET share of the national education budget is still very negligible as indicated in the table below. During the fiscal year 2007/08, a meagre UGX 1.4 bn (approx. US$ 70,000) was disbursed to finance the BTVET component of the UPPET programme (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008b).
The general claim that TVET provision is more expensive than general education is used to partly justify the scanty resource allocation to the sub-sector. The Ministry of Education and Sports identifies the high cost as one of the major challenges to the expansion of TVET coverage (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008b). The annual per pupil expenditure at a well-run private technical centre for primary school leavers and S1 – S4 dropouts is said to be UGX 1.1 million (U$500) more than three times the average expenditure per student at an O-level school (Liang, 2002).
Who should meet this expensive cost is a fundamentally difficult matter to deal with. The main beneficiaries of Uganda’s TVET service delivery includes primary school leavers and drop outs. A majority of them are from poor families, who cannot afford to make a significant financial contribution of the required cost of TVET provision. Since Uganda is yet to establish a training levy fund, direct financial contributions by the private sector are still minimal. All in all, it appears that the important question of TVET financing is yet to receive the required public policy attention.
The task ahead is to revalue and rebrand TVET service delivery. Coherent policy reforms should be intensified to promote the image, attractiveness and effectiveness of the sub-sector. The institutionalization of the public-private partnership is more urgent and crucial for this sub-sector than any other within the broad education and training sector.
Dealing with perceptions to do with the value of TVET is beyond the investment in social marketing and promotion. Issues of quality assurance and standardization are equally important. Adopting innovative pedagogy which guarantees the development of marketable and transferable skills ought to be part and parcel of a comprehensive reform strategy.
Widening the financial resource base through establishment of clear mechanisms for mobilizing public and donor support is paramount. Reaching out to employers and the entire profit-oriented private sector to operationalize a training levy scheme further justifies the need for a robust private-public partnership.
Balancing social justice and economics is a very important consideration in budgeting and financing of TVET. Efficiency and cost concerns need to be subordinated to the greater obligation to offer every citizen the opportunity to access a complete good quality education and training. It is important to remember that virtually all the international declarations, including EFA and MDGs, to which Uganda is a signatory, are driven by the principles of human development which emphasize, among others, expanding people’s choices. Investing in people’s education and training is to widen human freedoms, and to create an enabling environment for people to take charge of their destiny.
With a few years to the end of EFA movement in 2015, the state and non-state actors in Uganda ought to keep track of public action to create an enabling environment for the provision of good quality TVET. A lot is yet to be done to move the country from rhetoric to action. There is need for joint monitoring of progress towards the establishment of an institutional framework with required financial and human resources to deliver. There is a need for regular exchanges and dialogue to promote ideological and professional consensus on home-grown policy and practical interventions to tackle the perennial TVET illusions and challenges.
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