When he passed Ordinary Level Examinations, Calvin Iradukunda was happy and looking forward to joining a public boarding school for A-level education.
However, his dream did not materialise as he received an orientation letter showing he had to study Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics (PCM), which he was not comfortable with. He opted to go for technical and vocational education training (TVET).
He says he opted out of PCM because much as it is a science combination, it does not present job opportunities as fast as TVET.
“With such a science combination, one will still be required to go to university before starting to apply for jobs. However, with technical studies, I was sure I would easily acquire hands-on skills, and subsequently a job. It was a decision that even my parents did not support initially,” he says.
Iradukunda’s parents later supported his move and motivated him to study hard to maximise what TVET had to offer.
“After joining TVET, I felt more comfortable and started enjoying the courses because they have a blend of theory and practice,” he says
Three years down the road, the 17-year-old student says he is confident that he can become self-employed upon completion of S6 this year or get a good job in an electronics and telecommunication firm.
“I have acquired enough hands-on skills and I am able to do domestic and industrial electrical installations. I can repair computers, phones and television sets,” he boasts.
“With such skills, I am optimistic that the future is bright. I will create my own jobs without running round for opportunities which are scarce nowadays,” he adds.
Iradukunda is not the only young student who is proud of opting for TVET.
Delphine Imaniriho is a fifth year student of mechanics in a private school in Kigali. She says joining mechanics as a female was not welcomed by both her parents and community.
“Nobody would think a female can do mechanics among my family and neighbors. My age mates particularly discouraged me. However, I went on and now I know how to deal with some basic mechanical faults and hopefully I will have known a lot by the time I complete,” she says.
The Ministry of Education through Workforce Development Authority (WDA) has committed to promote TVET schools in a bid to get quality graduates who are trained enough to become a responsive engine to socio-economic development, and are competitive on the local and regional labour market.
According to the officials from the Ministry of Education, the overall target is to have 60 per cent of students who complete basic education (O-level) enroll in TVET by 2018.
The Ministry remains positive that the target will be achieved with figures indicating that enrollment stands at 55 per cent as of last year.
TVET schools are also expected to bolster the government’s initiative to create over 200,000 off-farm jobs through the national employment programme (NEP) each year.
According to WDA director-general Jérôme Gasana, to support the NEP programme WDA, covers massive vocational training (MVT) offered in TVET institutions, namely; vocational training centres (VTCs), technical secondary schools (TSSs) and integrated polytechnic regional centres (IPRCs), among others.
Challenges still persist
Despite efforts by the Government to revamp TVET by engaging private partners, challenges ranging from lack of enough materials for practice both in public and private institutions, lack of qualified teachers, and lack of internship opportunities among TVET students at TSS level still persist.
The number of TVET schools shot from 63 in 2011 to about 392 currently, of which 64 per cent are privately owned, according to Gasana.
The number of students rose from 51,773 in 2010 up to 116,292 in 2016 according to official figures. At TSS level, there are 23 technical and professional trades.
“There is still a challenge of materials. We do not have enough computers for practice, and in electronics, we have few equipment. There is need for more modern equipment that can help in boosting practical skills for the students to be competent enough,” says Iradukunda.
According to Jean Pierre Kayihura, a mechanics teacher at ADP Nyarutarama, other than lack of practical materials, there is also a challenge of unqualified teachers, hence high chances that students will understand well what they are taught.
“All of us who teach in TVETs have little pedagogical skills to teach our students well. We are just giving what we know, but it would be better if we are equipped with such teaching skills to deliver better,” he says.
“There is also need for WDA to ensure that all the schools have basic equipment for practical courses as most of the schools still teach more theory than practicals, yet it should be the other way round,” he adds.
For Bizimuremyi, a teacher of construction courses in one public school in Kigali, TVET students should be supported to acquire practical skills to help them become competent on the labour market.
“There is need to help the students acquire diverse skills. For instance, a student should leave the school when they know how to build cobblestone structures, and have advanced painting skills, as well as how to design architectural plans,” he says.
What is the way forward?
Gasana says that over the past years, more and more young Rwandans are opting to join TVET schools even when they pass exams and are sent to public schools for mainstream education.
He says this confirms that the Government is on track to achieve the target of 60 per cent enrollment in TVET schools, adding that the fact that there are over 116,000 TVET students countrywide proves that this is achievable.
“We are also putting in more efforts to bring in new professional areas such as sports and medical skills for home-based care practitioners who will be able to carry out simple diagnoses and treatment, among others. We are working with the Ministry of Health on that; we are also training more people in community art craft centres (Udukiriro) to ensure the number keeps growing,” he says.
On the equipment for practical courses, Gasana says WDA is keen on it and for any school to register and start operations, there are requirements to fulfill in terms of instruction materials.
“The TVET schools must have materials for practicals because this system calls for more practice than theory. Our future plan is to teach students practical skills from workshops and this would be impossible without those materials. So, no school will be allowed to operate without these requirements,” he says.
Gasana maintains that WDA is working on having better pedagogical skills.
“Over 4700 trainers in TVET have been trained not only in pedagogy but also in English, ICT, technology and entrepreneurship, among others. Also, the Rwanda TVET training institute to train TVET trainers will be launched in June this year and will help improve quality education in the TVET sector.”
Gasana says WDA has embarked on making a competence-based curriculum that enables horizontal and vertical progression in learning by setting work-based and academic qualifications that allow maximum flexibility in career planning and continuous learning.
“This is a curriculum-based training that will allow students to specialise in one domain in a certain period and be allowed to go to the labour market. However, they can still keep upgrading whenever they want it centrally to the TSS system where students had to sit in TVET classes for three years and did general courses,” he says.
He says there are seven levels, namely; TVET basic skills, TVET foundation certificate, TVET certificate I, where students will spend 1,200 national learning hours, TVET certificate II which comprises of 2,400 learning hours, TVET certificate III, comprised of 3,600 learning hours, TVET diploma 4,800 learning hours and advanced diploma where students will have to spend between 6,000 and 7,000 learning hours.
The assessment carried out by WDA indicated that employee satisfaction stands at 75 percent while the bigger number of TVET graduates create jobs or are self-employed with 90 percent of IPRC graduates getting jobs only after six months according to Gasana.