The Sixth National Leadership Retreat held last month in the western town of Rubavu saw our leaders recommitting themselves to the advancement of an integrated Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system in Rwanda.
They again underlined the importance of empowering Rwandans with hands-on practical skills in as many sectors of the economy – the core mandate of Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA).
Vocational skills! Many people might wonder. YES, VOCATIONAL SKILLS. The reason why some people might wonder how, all of a sudden, our Government seems to be keen on promoting what is traditionally referred to in Rwanda as ‘Imyuga iciriritse’ (average skills) hinges on the attitude majority of Rwandans have towards these skills.
The term ‘Imyuga iciriritse’ is negative in itself. It gives a negative connotation towards vocational skills, and has played a part in our country’s failure to produce a skilled workforce in various disciplines for as many years.
With such a less importance attached to vocational courses, vocational training centres – known locally as CFJ – have been a reserve for only desperate students.
Only those with no financial capacity to pay for the more expensive conventional education or worst performers in class have often found themselves seated together in a dilapidated structure called CFJ. Only the hopeless ever wished to go to CFJs.
And with that no-choice-attitude and desperation, students in a vocational training school barely studied with the ambition of making a significant contribution to their country’s economy.
Most of them considered themselves as having been thrown out of the mainstream development workforce. But the Government takes the biggest blame for that sorry state.
Vocational schools never had a policy governing them, no standards, and lacked accreditation and certification procedures.
In addition, CFJs had no permanent home; exchanged between different ministries from time to time. But there was another bigger problem – students who attended CFJs saw no light at the end of the tunnel because they never had the chance to upgrade.
And with such a state-of-affairs, which parent would want to see their children ‘condemned’ to such a messy informal system? Which student will flash a smile while registering to start vocational training classes?
The situation is totally opposite in many other countries. Most nations which have posted rapid economic progress over the past few decades have invested heavily in vocational and technical training.
They long realized that short-tem hands-on training courses impacted on the economy much faster than the conventional education programmes which take years to produce a graduate of theory.
And experience shows that the latter often fails to deliver to the expectations when they get to the job market because of lack of a background in practical training.
It is therefore good news that the Government of Rwanda is making a major shift in the education sector, with promotion of technical and vocational education and training one of its priority programmes.
Implementing a competitive TVET system needs massive capital investments in terms of equipment and trainers but the system pays off in very satisfying measures.
According to Vision 2020, the country intends to increase non-agricultural jobs from 200,000 in 2000 to 500,000 in 2010 and to 1,400,000 by 2020.
The nation also wants to have at least 50 professional technical centers by 2010 and 106 in 2020. At the moment, the reality is scary.
The bitter truth is that we have no single professional technical/vocational school in place –the type that the architects of Vision 2020 had in mind.
And yet the present vocational and technical schools churn out about 9,000 graduates, out of whom only 25 percent are absorbed in the industry, according to the 2008-2012 Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS).
How does this figure come about in the absence of even a single professional technical and vocational school? – So you may ask. They are products of the type of CFJ’s and ETO’s (technical schools) we all know.
These are just semi-structures are substandard in all ways. These training centers lack the necessary infrastructure, equipment, qualified trainers, and use varying curricula.
That partly describes why Ugandans are the people to go to when looking for an automotive service technician, Congolese the most sought after in carpentry and saloons, while Kenyans have started to dominate our hotel hospitality industry.
And ultimately that leaves most of our local ‘technicians’ out-competed on the job market. That only serves to further undermine technical and vocational education and training among Rwandans.
However, if the Government follows through on its declared commitment to promote TVET, then we can witness a revolution in our economy.
And with the demand-led competency-based approach undertaken by WDA, our technical and vocational schools can start producing a critical mass of skilled manpower capable of implementing this country’s development programmes.
We can also get to the level of starting to export skilled workforce. Nonetheless, the population needs to change their attitude towards TVET programmes, and understand that it is these courses that can bring forth bread faster.