Three months ago this column questioned the lack of a clear strategy to repackage and market Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as an ideal form of inclusive and continuous learning, through which millions of Rwandans can easily uplift themselves from the poverty trap, but also one on which the country’s economic future rests.
Although that argument may have enraged some of those charged with the implementation of TVET, it was vindicated only last month when a Member of Parliament insinuated that TVET should specially be designed to cater for children who had no opportunity to continue with the classic education system.
Indeed, the public opinion on technical and vocational courses is that these are second rate alternatives, which are, by far, inferior to the coveted conventional education system, which awards academic qualifications widely considered as a ticket to a white-collar career. If you asked an average Rwandan to choose between substandard secondary education and quality technical training, chances are that they will pick the former, without any hesitation! Such is the grim reality that the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) – the principal organ mandated with promoting TVET in the country – has to confront. I bet the same choice would be made in much of Africa!
It is a structural problem that is deeply rooted in our understanding of the concept of education and its benefits. As a kid I never aspired to become a successful entrepreneur, chef or mechanic; I dreamt of becoming a lawyer or medical doctor. Many kids will tell you they want to become president or another highly influential person. And so, your parents, guardians and teachers will all assure you that the only way to achieving all your dreams is landing that university degree after years in classroom. As a kid you grow up in an environment where everyone keeps telling you that university education is the only key to success.
Many a time parents will not even hesitate to use excessive force to ‘tame stubborn’ children for aspiring to follow in the footsteps of celebrity actors/actresses, footballers and singers. And, once these children become parents/guardians in the future, they will pass on the same message to their own kids. The result is that this notion of education has been sustained, from generation to generation, to our collective detriment.
Nonetheless, there are many factors that have shaped this sort of culture. From official policies and practices, to conditions for recruitment and promotions in the world of work, one’s potential to deliver is judged on the basis of the academic qualifications they have accumulated. And such qualifications are virtually confined to classic education. Which partly explains why there has not been a single government scholarship offered to a TVET student abroad, and, until recently, there was no substantial investment, of any kind, in technical/vocational education. That is why TVET teachers are among the worst paid workers; and that’s why it may take long before Rwandans start to look at TVET in a positive light.
However, there appears to be hope, going by what has been happing lately. Last Wednesday, I had an opportunity to participate in a session to develop a TVET communication strategy for WDA, and I liked most of the ideas that were advanced. One interesting suggestion was that vocations should be rebranded by changing their names; e.g., renaming what’s now known as ‘tailoring’ to ‘fashion and design’ and ‘carpentry’ to ‘wood technology.’ Also floated was the idea to come up with a new Kinyarwanda translation for TVET, and not the old school ‘Imyuga Iciriritse’ (cheap occupations) tag. It was also rightly suggested that the strategy’s primary audience should be children aged between 12 and 18 years, with the other categories constituting policy-makers, employers, parents/guardians and teachers.
While it’s essential for TVET stakeholders to repackage technical and vocational skills, the best way to persuade the public – not the disadvantaged – to accept hands-on courses should be through providing incentives such as scholarships, rewards and additional packages to TVET students and instructors. Above all, parents and children need to be reassured that a person who has chosen the TVET path stands as much opportunities in the future as the one who opted for the classic education pathway; that either of the two can go on to become a president, CEO, MP, etc.
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