By Justus Omondi Olwande, a high school teacher in Kenya with a background in Education in Emergencies
Since the introduction of free primary education in Kenya in 2003, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of learners transiting to the secondary school level. Following the recent introduction of a 100% transition policy, making 12 years of education available to all, primary to secondary transition rates increased from 83% in 2018 to 95% in the first quarter of 2020, according to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA). This is an important step towards achieving the fourth Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 4, and is in conformity with the Constitution of Kenya article 53(1)(b) guaranteeing every child the right to a free and compulsory basic education. But transition to post -secondary institutions or to artisan courses (for primary school leavers) still remain a big challenge. Why?
As of 2019, only about 17% of the candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) qualified to pursue degree courses in post-secondary institutions. There have been deliberate efforts aimed at boosting technical and vocational training among the remaining, more than 80% of secondary school graduates who qualify for non-degree courses every year. A technical and vocational college has been established in every constituency. To add to this, the government gives a capitation grant of Ksh. 30,000 (US$273) every year for every learner admitted to a TVET institution. To make sure they complete their studies irrespective of their economic status, learners can apply for higher education loans if they are unable to raise the extra fees above the capitation limit.
But despite all this support, many studies still indicate that the uptake of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) courses is low. In fact, a report by the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Training titled Revitalizing a Technical Training Institute in Kenya: A case study of Kaiboi Technical Training Institute reported evidence of negative attitudes towards TVET among a large section of Kenyan communities.
I believe that part of the reason for the negative attitudes towards TVET training is a fixated mentality on the importance of white collar jobs and the misplaced belief that studying on a course with a ‘big’ name at a particular university will land one a lucrative job. Indeed, as Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers puts it, the devaluing of blue-collar jobs is a mentality born out of a contorted notion of education’s function in the society. The perception of boring old machines, dirty greasy overalls and smoke-filled factories has been sustained over time by more than just a rigid education system.
This kind of thinking is implanted in learners as early as in their primary education. They are told that they can only be doctors, engineers, lawyers, bankers and so on. The pressure for university degrees is immense so that not obtaining a university grade attracts some sort of ridicule and stigma. We force our learners to go to university without interrogating their innate creative ability.
There was a time in this country when attaining any other grade other than the JAB (Joint Admissions Board) grade was followed by lost hopes, dashed dreams and wasted talents. This was the grade that enabled students to receive higher education loans for their university education. Candidates who scored C’s and D’s were not even talked about. Those grades were (wrongly) associated with low intelligence and the stigma that followed them was demeaning. Career paths were narrow. Although, in theory, candidates who scored C+ and above qualified to join universities, in practice many could not afford the exorbitant fees charged by these universities to pursue their education.
But the wind of change has come. TVET reforms are afoot, based on Sessional Paper No. 14 of 2012, a policy framework on education reform, which resonated with Vision 2030, a vehicle for accelerating the transformation of Kenya into a rapidly industrialising middle-income nation by the year 2030. The achievement of this vision was premised upon the huge and promising young Kenyan population and the human resource base. Maximising on the potential of this population group would require technical knowledge, skills and attitudes.
A raft of changes came about as a result of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Act of 2013. A regulatory body, the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA), and the Curriculum Development Assessment and Certification Council (CDACC), whose responsibility is curriculum development, assessment and certification of programmes, were established. These various technical and vocational training institutions have been given some autonomy to introduce technical programs and courses based on the community needs where they are located provided, all approved by TVETA. For instance, a technical institute based around the Indian Ocean may find it fit to introduce courses on seafarers, speed-boat technicians or marine vessel communication technicians instead of land surveyors.
The government of Kenya has announced the aim to increase and sustain a TVET enrolment ratio of 20% by the year 2030. There has been recognition of the fact that transforming the TVET sector in Kenya will have a great impact on the economy, helping achieve Kenya’s Vision 2030, easing the unemployment burden.