The need for technical and vocational skills is ever-present, touching almost every part of our lives, communities and homes. Yet most schools lag far behind when it comes to integrating vocational skills into classroom learning.
Many are just beginning to explore the true potential it offers for teaching and learning environments.
Properly used, the skills will help students acquire what they need to survive in a complex, highly skilled-based economy.
The schools have been hitherto urged by the government of Rwanda to build foundation skills and provide equal opportunities for all youth to develop transferable technical and vocational skills in order to find a good job or further education.
Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC) is one of the schools at the forefront of giving all children equal chances irrespective of their age or background to consolidate foundation skills.
The school offers youth transferable skills and tailors them to the needs of the local and regional market.
The selection of the students to take technical and vocational skills is no longer based on students’ performance as it was in the traditional formal education.
According to school teachers, pushing low performing students into vocational and technical training used to only reinforce social inequality and resulted in employers devaluing the programmes.
Kizito Habimana, the IPRC-East vice Principal, reflects that students who streamed into the vocational school, used to be of low socio-economic status on average than their peers in general education.
“The attitude towards technical and vocational schools must change. This is what we are working on in a scientific way. Our approach motivates students from all backgrounds—rich and poor. In any case, the TVT graduates do better in the job market than others,” he notes.
“Gone are the days when TVTs were for the disadvantaged. We believe that when technical and vocational subjects are introduced alongside general education, they can be more relevant to the labour market. Enrolment and completion rate are also likely to increase,” he adds.
Habimana also notes that when education is made more flexible in terms of subject choice in schools, the students benefit a lot.
He says IPRC was working around the clock to increase resources, materials and qualified teachers to offer such flexibility effectively.
“School leavers are often told they are not suitable for a job because they don’t have work experience. Acquiring the skills will bridge the gap since young people learn practical problem solving skills and practice crucial workplace skills. This is the bottom line,” Habimana says.
Alternative routes to drop-outs
A number of young people drop out of school before completing secondary education, particularly those from poor and disadvantaged families. IPRC has a targeted support to enable them continue their learning, to acquire knowledge and skills important for employment opportunities.
Edward Karekezi, an educationist at the school, notes that the need to take action in support of the skills development for young people had become urgent.
Identifying, developing talent
“Teaching basic skills and subject matter is the fundamental duty of teachers and it can be satisfying if done creatively and effectively. What we really need is a new orientation in gifted education. We must put emphasis on identifying and developing talent in pupils and students,” says Habimana.
The school has started a special programme for children in holidays to find and nurture special talents in children and youth, and help their talents to flourish.
The current task of the school is to do both; teach basic skills well and as early as possible, and to identify and nurture students’ strengths.
As children experience varying environments at school, at home, and in the community, they demonstrate more specific strengths or aptitudes.
Young students at IPRC special programme are exposed to variety of trainings in carpentry, construction, ICT, technical drawing, fine art, painting, etc.
Divina Umutoni, an 11-year-old Primary Four pupil, is passionate about carpentry and is being nurtured at IPRC School in Ngoma district. She says talent-oriented education builds a strong sense of self-efficacy, effective goal setting, and a personal commitment that can enhance students’ specific achievements and lead them to higher-level career accomplishments.
“I never believed that I could hold a hammer and nails, shape wood and make a chair at my age. But believe me, I love it and do it well after only one month training. It is the work I will do in future,” she forecasts.
Joseph Musoni, a 13-year-old pupil at Kibungo Primary School says he identified special talent in construction.
“My teachers always tell me that I am progressing well. I enjoy building and feel at home when doing it. I am sure I easily find a job in future if I continue like this,” he says.
IPRC provides Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and produces graduates capable of developing and implementing creative technical solutions to identify social and industrial needs of Rwanda.