TVET design should link with a country’s available resources

Countries in Africa need to rethink the design of their Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) so that it is relevant to the skills and knowledge that are in demand in their respective nations.

This emerged during the annual international conference of the Association of Technical Universities and Polytechnics in Africa (ATUPA), an umbrella body of all TVET institutions and technical universities on the continent.

The conference, themed ‘Repositioning Technical and Vocational Education and Training Education Ecosystem in Light of COVID-19 through Heritage-Based Education’ was held at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, from 29 August to 2 September.

Professor Amon Murwira, the minister of higher and tertiary education, innovation, science and technology in Zimbabwe, said in his address that, following the outbreak of COVID-19, countries that had well-developed education systems, which emphasise knowledge and skills, fared better as they started producing personal protection equipment, or PPEs and developing vaccines, while those that had well-developed ICT infrastructure were leading in introducing hybrid learning, thereby experiencing fewer disruptions in the education-delivering system.

Heritage-based learning

Murwira said globalisation, in the light of COVID-19, “challenges us to think deeply about the meaning of heritage and how heritage can be the central point on which our education design and philosophy are hinged; the design of our education system in relation to skills and knowledge”.

“Heritage refers to the natural endowments of a nation – its flora, fauna, water, minerals and human resources. We know that, the world over, nations have achieved significant growth based on [their] heritage. Teaching and learning must, therefore, focus on [the] local environment and locally available materials.”

He said, since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the country’s education sector was aimed at producing employment seekers but the education system became disconnected from the environment it was supposed to develop and serve.

Murwira said a skills audit by the government showed that, while Zimbabwe’s literacy rate was about 90%, the average skills availability stood at 38%, hence the government pinned down low levels of industrialisation in the country to low skills levels.

He mentioned that innovation hubs were then built at most institutions of higher learning in the country while equipment has been provided to institutions such as the National Pathology Research and Diagnostic Centre at the Midlands State University.

He said, in redesigning its TVET education, Zimbabwe, on its part, developed heritage-based Education 5.0 which demands that the nation’s higher and tertiary education sector not only teach, do research and community service, but also innovate and industrialise.

The ministry demands that, under Education 5.0, public universities must launch outcomes-focused national development activities towards a competitive, modern and industrialised Zimbabwe, emphasising problem-solving for value-creation.

“This has given rise to new start-ups that we are supporting fully as the government of Zimbabwe. Our polytechnics are now embarking on huge infrastructure projects, furthering the TVET cause in our education system,” he added.

Support for women

Dr Abigail Padi, a senior lecturer as well as the deputy director at the centre for gender and advocacy at Ghana’s Takoradi Technical University, said there is a need for social support in cushioning women so they can benefit from technical and vocational education.

She said women produce between 60% and 80% of Africa’s food and make up more than 50% of the world’s smallholder farmers, but also constitute over 70% of the world’s poor, hence the need for technical education.

“Students have been taught entrepreneurship theoretically and leave TVET with a negative perception of [the chance of subsequent] self-employment. Trainers should adopt practical teaching methodologies and connect their students with successful entrepreneurs who can act as mentors,” said Padi.

“My research showed that, especially for women, social support in the form of role models and emotional or psychological support is key to their entrepreneurial aspirations,” she added.

Chairperson of the ATUPA executive board Professor Laila Abubakar said funding for TVET will never be enough and countries need to take advantage of industry linkages to come up with good programmes.

Malingose Madise Banda, a senior training programmes specialist – apprenticeship at the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority in Malawi, said his country greatly benefits from the TVET levy whereby all private organisations pay 1% of their gross annual payroll to support the upskilling of the current and future workforce.

ATUPA was previously known as the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics in Africa (CAPA) but was rebranded to ATUPA in 2019. Its mandate is to support professional and skills development among its membership, mostly drawn from TVET institutions in Africa.

In a bid to stimulate the exchange of ideas, the association regularly organises forums for the discussion of matters of common interest to its members and TVET stakeholders.