TVET: Out of Tune

Building a strong labor force without vibrant technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is nothing but impossible. Accepting its importance for the enhancement of the economy, the government has drafted a strategy a decade ago by introducing an outcome-based TVET system, though it is largely supply driven. However, attitudinal problems have discouraged many students from joining TVETs, while graduates of which are unable to match their skills with the demands of the economy. EBR’s Kiya Ali reports.

Undoubtedly, skills and knowledge are a requisite for social inclusion and job creation; and thereby lead to sustainable economic growth. And, they are more important to developing countries where poverty and unemployment are very high. Doing so is only possible through education. In particular, this cannot be achieved without having a drive to develop strong technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems. But only few understand this in Ethiopia.

A case in point is the experience of Amanuel. When Amanuel learned that he could not pursue preparatory school, a prerequisite to university, nine years ago after failing to fulfill the passing point for the national 10th grade examinations, he was shocked and embarrassed to break the news to his family and friends, most of whom had made it to preparatory school. “It was very difficult to tell my mom that I won’t be able to join preparatory, then university, as she had sacrificed a lot for my education since I was a child,” he said.

Soon Amanuel discovered that he can join TVET colleges. Though he hesitated, he had no choice but to do so. “I first thought that joining TVET would add nothing to my life.” It took him three years to disprove himself. “Completing a three-year diploma in construction from Tegbared Polytechnic College, I was able to get practical skills. I got a job right away at a private company,” he remembers.

Six years down the line, he has opened his own company, which has the capacity to produce 1,500 blocks a day, with a startup capital of ETB190,000. Even more, he tripled his production capacity within a year. Only a few of his friends, even with bachelor degrees from universities, made it this far. “Joining a TVET institute changed my life for good, contrary to my expectations. I even created job opportunities for more than four people.”

Perhaps, finding people like Amanuel is not simple. With only a few understanding the benefits of having practical skills, TVETs and their importance in job creation is usually overlooked in Ethiopia. Further, there is prejudice against attending TVETs as they have been viewed as institutions established to cater to youths unable to pass the 10th grade. Although a lot has been done over the past three decades, there is still a wide perception that TVETs are established only to support general education and not regarded as a sector capable of standing on its own.

Referred to as a career of technical education, TVETs enable people like Amanuel to get a lifetime’s worth of knowledge very instrumental in the encouraging of entrepreneurship as it is 70Pct practice based. Having a market-oriented TVET mechanism, according to different researchers, can play a big role in ensuring sustainable economic growth by promoting career-based professions, thereby building a skilled workforce that is self-reliant and capable of further spurring on the industrialization process.

The experience of many countries indicates that utilizing the latent energy of youths is vital; and this is possible through the development of a strong TVET system, whose importance is overlooked in many lesser developed countries like Ethiopia, where a third of the population is between the ages of 16-40. The productivity of the youths will be improved as the training is more practical rather than theoretical.

By filling skills gaps in various sectors of the economy, including in the construction, power, water, and energy sectors, TVETs have been very instrumental to many countries’ transformation of their economies through the addition of value onto their primary commodities and natural resources. Despite playing a big role in averting socio-economic challenges, TVETs have not received the attention deserved with regards to the human resource development strategy of the country, all the while being marginalized and allocated less resources in national education and training budgets. Financial allocations to the TVET subsector, as a percentage of the national education budget, has been varying over the past decade

With job creation being the biggest priority of any government, improving the situation is indispensable, according to experts, as it is also linked with political instability, largely resulting from the rise of joblessness and unemployment, in the country. This is why many even argue that TVETs are even instrumental for nation building.

Old but Young
TVETs are not a recent phenomenon to Ethiopia. It was in 1942 that Ethiopia got its first TVET school, Ecole National des Artes Technique (later renamed Addis Ababa Technical School). However, the country waited 20 more years to get another TVET—Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute—established right after educational reforms were made to transform the secondary school curriculum to be more inclusive of skills training in an attempt to allow those unable to make it to tertiary education to be part of the productive labor pool.

By the same token, major institution-based expansions or developments have not been made for two decades during the period of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which in 1994 first introduced a new educational policy aspiring to produce numerous graduates of TVETs and gave increased emphasis on producing a skilled labor force by allowing a large portion of students, who failed to score above the cutoff point for joining university, to get practical education.

Since then, those who failed to score well enough to join preparatory school were given the opportunity to pursue formal TVET, which takes one to three years. Thus, 1,567 TVETs have been established over the past 27 years. About 42Pct of TVETs are state-owned, while the remaining are under private and non-governmental ownership. As of the last fiscal year, TVET enrollment stood at 386,811. All modes of formal, non-formal, and informal trainings are offered by TVETs, and are accessible to large portions of society at any reading and education level, including farmers and entrepreneurs, among others.

In particular, formal programs are packaged for students who failed to reach preparatory school, while informal ones are not regulated and function largely through home-based activities. All TVETs are allowed to design their own training material on the basis of occupational standards monitored by regional and zonal government agencies, and model materials developed by the Federal TVET Agency.

A decade ago, the country also adopted a TVET strategy in a bid “to create a competent, motivated, adaptable, and innovative workforce in Ethiopia, contributing to poverty reduction and social and economic development through facilitating demand-driven, high quality technical and vocational education and training.” The strategy also aspired to enhance quality and relevance through making the TVET system outcome based, implying that the training meets occupational standards of the real world. But the real measure of this system would be employment and wages.

Beyond the rhetoric, however, the strategic importance and objective of TVET is not yet clearly understood and accepted with regards to marketable knowledge and skill, especially for the unemployed youths, according to a research conducted by Dawit Fantaye, an Expert in development management.

“The prevailing negative perception of society about TVETs pushes youths away from TVETs and has affected the performance of colleges,” Dawit says. Likewise, Tekie Alemu (PhD.), an Economist with over three decades of experience, agrees. “If everyone joins university, they would all be philosophers as the teaching method is more theoretical. The country cannot afford to do this, hence developing TVETs and creating awareness about their benefits from the lower levels is very important,” he said.

Different researches indicate that parents, high school teachers, and peers can influence a student’s decision in joining TVETs. In light of this, there has been a wide perception that TVETs as only being pertinent for low academic achievers in Ethiopia. “There is a tendency to perceive office jobs as better than joining the workforce as TVET graduate. This has adversely affected entrepreneurship,” said Yikunoamlak Alemu, Assistant Professor at Addis Ababa University (AAU).

Even more, the use of cutoff points as a major requirement for allocations across TVETs makes the system command driven and has led students’ interests to be misrepresented. Adding to this, although the existing strategy demands that TVETs should be flexible enough to accommodate employers’ demand, the reality is much different from a market-driven system, and closer to a structure governed by demand and supply.

The majority of recent TVET graduate trainees don’t get jobs and even those who did were working outside of their qualifications, according to the research entitled “Assessment on the Challenges Faced in the Delivery of Technical Training,” by Assefa Ferede of AAU, published in September 2019. This is worsened by the absence of strong coordination between TVET institutions and surrounding local SMEs offices, the study adds.

Befeqadu Zeleq, Assistant Professor at AAU, believes graduates of TVETs have lower employability because their training is not driven by the economy. “Student allocations are being made without taking available resources into consideration as well as the economic demands of the country with respect to geography, urbanization, and sectoral developments,” he said. “Industrial demands must also be taken into account in producing TVETs graduates.”

But for Semaneh Habesha, Dean of Entoto TVET, the almost century old TVET college with 1,100 students, implementing a demand-driven TVET system is very difficult considering the amount of budget it requires. “Providing TVET education based on demand is very costly as it requires up-to-date technologies and huge machineries, both of which are not available in Ethiopia. We also tried to partner with industries so that they would train our students, but majority of them are not willing to cooperate,” Semaneh says.

Meanwhile, just nine months ago, the World Bank launched a 293-million-dollar project aimed at the development of highly specialized TVET programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. By the end of the project, it is expected that a total of 60,000 youths will be trained in 16 regional Flagship TVET Institutes (RFTIs) selected from the three participating countries.

Like tertiary education institutions, TVETs also grapple with quality problems. Keeping in mind that TVET requires huge investment, ensuring quality is very challenging, especially in Ethiopia, where the budget allocated to such institutions is very insignificant considering the required materials and infrastructure. To make matters worse, as so much focus had been given only towards increasing the number of institutions, they were inadequately supplied and thus the issue of quality was sidelined for long.

“Even though the country’s strategy demands the implementation of a quality assurance program that could have equipped trainees with the required competences, the issue has been overshadowed by this aborted and obstructive rule, according to a study by Melaku Mengistu Gebremeskel, of Bahir Dar University, last year. “Fatigue and burnout among teachers that hampered their commitment and fruitfulness as well as the deficiencies in their occupational competence and generic skills have also been neglected,” Melaku said.

Anteneh Tesfaye, a Researcher and Lecturer with decades of experiences, agrees. “The teachers also lack basic knowledge and skills, while outstanding graduates interested in teaching their peers are very few. Such factors show that the government is investing a lot on TVETs, while the return is disappointing,” he argues. Teshome Feyissa, Vice Dean at Tegbared Polytechnic College, begs to differ. “It is the lack of incentives and poor salary that are discouraging the teachers and eroding their commitment and courage. Further, teachers, due to the nature of TVETs, risk their life as they are exposed to chemicals and machines. They don’t even have health insurance if there is an accident.”

The utilization of outdated training materials is another roadblock in ensuring the delivery of better quality education at TVETs. Although such gaps could have been averted as many materials are available online, poor English communication skills have hindered many from doing so, according to Semaneh. “The gap in understanding English has also affected the innovation of many students as it has prevented them from learning from the world,” Semaneh observes.

Furthermore, a shortage of professionals capable of repairing machineries has also adversely affected the quality of education. “Teachers usually refuse to repair teaching materials, such as machineries, as they don’t get additional payment for that. And legally speaking, we cannot pay them and are thus pushed to hire non-staff professionals. Doing so may take weeks, interrupting the teaching process,” said Semaneh.

On the other hand, for Mekuria Negatu, Head of the Federal TVET Institute, the problem emanates from the absence of qualified teachers, whose practical skills are way below the standard. “Teachers and students do not have practical skills as too much emphasis is given to theoretical aspects of the profession during the learning process,” says Mekuria, who believes “a lack of strong leadership has its share for the under-performance of the TVET sector. This could have been improved had the government worked on empowering existing TVETs,” according to him.

“Unfortunately, both regional and federal governments are focusing on expansion, but still fall way below the target set for the second Growth and Transformation Plan,” he added. Not only that, power outage and the appointment of deans and heads of agencies on the basis of political affiliation are amongst other factors dragging back the growth of TVETs.

Way forward
One of the purposes of TVET is to provide basic skills that will allow students to bring new technologies that will either substitute imports or facilitate cost-effective production. Such technologies could be an imitation of a technology existing in another country, but is still innovation as it is bringing the existing technology to a new market. But to imitate, the students should first fully understand how a particular technology is working. To do that, language is essential since many books and manuals are in English. “The students could have somehow combatted the quality gap by using online lectures, but this requires properly understanding English,” Anteneh says.

Another recommendation is introducing modern and responsive competency-based TVET systems that take the current and future socio-economic conditions, including labor market demand, into consideration. “In order to build an effective TVET system, making it market-driven is vital,” Befeqadu says. “For instance, in an area where there are abundant resources of coffee, TVETs should focus on coffee processing and value addition.”

Additionally, Befeqadu calls for the amendment of the entry requirement for TVETs. “The system should encourage students with high grades to join TVETs,” he says. Anteneh agrees. “Although the purpose of education is to equip a person with knowledge and improve their competencies, there has to be some incentives and mechanisms to attract students with high grades to join TVETs. This will increase the return on investment in the sector,” Anteneh says.

Furthermore, in order to deal with the current challenges faced by TVETs, the 2018 Ethiopia Education Development Roadmap has put forth reform agendas. This includes establishing a separate ministry that oversees formal and informal skills development, introducing effective certification and quality assurance systems, and developing skills development and language training policies, among others.

Even more, the roadmap aspires to develop a strong TVET governance system with checks and balances at the national, state, municipal, and company levels and ensure mobility of certified skilled workers amongst different regions. “We are also working to transform some of the poly-technic colleges into universities. After doing so, we have a plan to start a PhD. program for TVET students,” said Abera Abate, Director of the Agency.EBR

9th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2020 • No. 84


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