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November 18, 2018

We must get TVET expansion right

Chief Principal Sigalagala polytechnic Bernadette Canute with Director technical vocational education technology (TVET) Bashir Mursal share a light moment at Sigalagala during its 7th graduation ceremony.
Chief Principal Sigalagala polytechnic Bernadette Canute with Director technical vocational education technology (TVET) Bashir Mursal share a light moment at Sigalagala during its 7th graduation ceremony.

According to the 2017 Economic Survey report, 202,556 students were enrolled in 1,300 TVET institutions in 2016. In a new bold plan, the government will enroll one million primary and secondary school leavers into TVET programmes annually.

 The new master plan will see enrollment in TVET institutions peak at 3.1 million. Moreover, the new plan guarantees jobs for all TVET graduates within six months of graduating.

 I don’t for one moment doubt the bold vision proposed by the new Education CS, Amina Mohamed, and TVET PS Kevit Desai. In fact, the scale of unemployment and the staggering deficit of skills can only be met by an audacious plan.

 But how will we get there? Here are some numbers to give us a sense of dimension. In 2016, 2,720,563 students were enrolled in 9,942 secondary schools across the country, both private and public schools. A total of 89,187 teachers were employed in public secondary schools in 2016.

 Ramping TVET enrollment to 3.1 million students suggests we need at least 10,000 TVET institutions distributed equitably across the country. Similarly, we will need at least 90,000 instructors — men and women highly trained and qualified to apply cutting edge pedagogy to deliver a curriculum that will produce the skills needed to drive our economy.

 The record of public spending in TVET is instructive. While the expenditure for the Ministry of Education increased by 24 per cent between 2012-13 and 2016-17, total spending on TVET declined from Sh9.8 billion to Sh5.8 billion. In the same period, development spending in TVET declined by 52 per cent.

According to the 2018 Budget Policy Statement, allocation to the education sector is expected to increase by 15 per cent in the 2018-19 and over the medium term. This increased expenditure is expected to pay for free day public secondary schools and establishment of government apprenticeship programme for all university and TVET graduates.

It is not clear where the massive resource outlay that is needed to expand TVET programmes — more instructors and increase and more physical facilities adequately fitted with requisite modern technology and equipment — will come from.

While the plans to expand TVET to respond to the paralyzing dearth of skills is laudable, we must be careful not to go down the perilous path of reckless, commercially motivated expansion witnessed in university education in the last decade.

We are on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Workers for this digital revolution cannot be produced in large numbers and without commensurate investment in quality instructors and requisite facilities.  

The Internet of Things (IoT) will power more than half of new businesses and therefore new work opportunities in the next 3-5 years. The technologies needed to drive construction, agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing will be connected to some chip that integrates the physical, digital and the biological.

We must not set up our children to fail. Expansion of TVET is long overdue. But we must assemble adequate budgetary resources to get it right.

 Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute

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