It is 10:00 am in the morning; Albert Kalisa a third year student of civil engineering and construction technology at IPRC Kicukiro is using a set of tools in the workshop to erect a wall.
As he reaches out for the trowel, he realizes that the struts would not be enough to offer support for this section. He later calls his supervisor and more struts are provided to continue with the work. This is the routine for Kalisa and colleagues.
A hands-on approach is what the institute is implementing as learners engage more in practicals as opposed to theory.
Through Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) system, students like Kalisa get exposed to real life construction before joining the labour market.
By 2018, government wants to have 60 per cent of learners enrolling for TVET while the remaining 40 per proceed with general education.
Under this arrangement, 200,000 off-farm jobs are expected to be created annually, a result anticipated to slash the soaring figures of unemployment that currently stand at 13.5 per cent among college graduates in the country.
But with just a year to the deadline, how realistic is this?
Experts say the current progress is an indicator that the targets are achievable. For instance, statistics from the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) an institution mandated to promote a skilled workforce in Rwanda show that 53 per cent of high school leavers enrolled for TVET last year.
“New students have joined this September and to have a more realistic picture we shall factor them in our data to see where we are standing currently. Also basing on the figures from last year, I believe we are so close to our target,” says Jerome Gasana, the director general of WDA.
Gasana further explains that each year when new students join TVETadjustments in courses are made to ensure that relevance towards the labour market is maintained.
“Over the years we have been introducing new courses along the way. The way TVET is designed is to ensure that it fits into the needs of the market, that is the reason we keep adjusting the courses,” Gasana explains.
Addressing the demand for infrastructure
In the TVET framework, the target is to have an integrated polytechnic center in every province and at least three technical secondary schools per district.
Because of limited resources government encouraged investments from the private sector and the strategy paid off.
TVET schools grew from 63 in 2010 to 384 last year of which 64 per cent representing 248 are privately owned.
Also to address the problem of quality trainers, the Training of trainers Institute was started last year in Kicukiro and is expected to be complete in December this year.
In June, next year three big schools in Muhanga, Rulindo and Nyabihu will join this list as part of a Presidential pledge.
Such progress according to Engineer Diogene Mulindahabi, the principle of IPRC in Kicukiro will uplift the standards of TVET education within the country.
“We might have been fortunate to have some development partners, but training our own people means students will benefit a lot. The growth in infrastructure will also ensure that as students increase, we are able to maintain the desirable quality,” says Mulindahabi.
Narrowing the gap of gender disparity
Just like most practical fields, the other challenge in TVET has been the tendency by girls to shun technical studies labeling it a male field. This created some sort of imbalance with more boys enrolled, compared to girls.
Luckily, majority of TVET institutions are cognizant of these disparities and interventions across the board have been put in place to attract female students into TVET.
At IPRC Kicukiro, sensitization campaigns are conducted in secondary schools to ensure that majority of young people who join TVET are girls.
“Even when they join the school, the first thing we hold is an open day where we ensure that the similar messages are extended to all students,” explains Mulindahabi.
He adds that on top of such campaigns, girls are provided incentives to ensure that many reside on campus.
“Both boys and girls are accommodated at the campus but when we get requests, priority is given to the girls. We believe that this contributes towards encouraging females in TVET,” he adds.
Fighting gender stereotypes through the adolescent girls initiative
Similar efforts to encourage enrolment of female students are supported by WDA a through a programme known as the adolescent girls initiative.
Fred Nkurunziza, a trainer at VCT Bumbogo in Gasabo explains that under this arrangement private institutions are also compelled to ensure that there is gender balance.
“We are aware of this initiative and we closely work with WDA. Currently we have two courses but the third is expected to start in December. Right now we are doing food processing and culinary art but our focus is only on girls for now,” explains Nkurunziza.
However, Paul Swagga, a tutor at Akilah Institute advises that the issue of gender parity in TVET needs a holistic approach from both administrators of institutions and stakeholders to address it.
“Most students join at a time when they are naïve about everything. It is important that awareness campaigns are organized to warn individuals against gender stereotypes that keep communities behind. Women should not be discouraged by beliefs that some courses are meant for men,” he explains.
Despite such challenges, government is optimist that come 2018, majority of students leaving high school will enroll for TVET to produce a workforce needed by the developing economy.
TVET STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
Pie Bizamambu, a civil engineering and construction technology student
I chose vocational education because I want to be a job creator instead of completing university and then start struggling to find a job. After completing school, the biggest challenge we face is that not everyone believes in us. Some people still believe in stereotypes that general education is better that TVET.
Hope Mutoni, a student in electronics department at IPRC Kigali
In high school I did sciences, which motivated me to venture into the technical field. The good thing about TVET is that it gives you exposure and experience to cope outside school. My call is that government should find a way of ensuring that all our research ideas are implemented.
Benitha Mukaharega, an electronic and telecommunication student
My auntie inspired me to choose TVET. She always encouraged us as girls to work more if we are to compete with boys. The only challenge we face is that since the majority of TVET requires technical work; sometimes lack of equipment limits us from exercising our skills.
Aaron Tuyishime, a second year student at IPRC Kigali
The reason one chooses technical education over conventional educations is because of the more practical work aspect. This allows you to become more competitive and it is easier for one to prosper in an entrepreneurship venture. Government should help students to acquire equipments so that they can start businesses after completing school.