The last decade has seen a resurgence of interest in technical vocational education and training (TVET) in the international policy community. Here in Kenya, the TVET Act of 2013 aims to strengthen quality and relevance of TVET to respond to the changing needs of the labor market.
Under the TVET Act, the Technical Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA) was created to deal with accreditation, registration and licensing of institutions and trainers. Currently Kenya has 10 national polytechnics. The goal is to establish one national polytechnic in each of the 47 counties. Furthermore, the government plans to build 290 technical training institutes (TTIs), one each constituency. Ministry of Education officials estimate the about 130 TTIs have been built so far.
Last week I attended the National TVET conference at KICC in Nairobi. This conference brought together a wide range of stakeholders, including government, industry, academia, donors, civil society, youth, students, educators and politicians. Various speakers emphasized the vital role of technical and vocational training. There was wide consensus among the participants that TVET was critical to addressing the urgent concerns around skills and unemployment among youth.
Here is the context in which we must understand the need for vocational education and training. According to the 2016 Economic Survey, 85 percent of the 841,000 jobs created in 2015 were in the informal sector. Unemployment among Kenyan youth aged 18-35 is estimated at about 55 percent. Every year about 800,000 young Kenyans – about 35 percent graduating from primary school and 75 percent graduating from secondary education – enter the labor market without any skills or training. Less than 10 percent of youth eligible for vocational education and training are enrolled in TTIs.
The massive expansion of TTIs is in many ways justifiable. But here are some questions we should grapple with in order to get value for our investment. What are the priority training needs for a market dominated by informal sector? In an economy characterized by a trend of de-industrialization what is the right balance between technical and other vocational skills? Is the massive expansion of TTIs merely a holding yard for youth or a truly viable path to the world of work? To what extent will national and county labor market needs inform the training programs offered by the 47 national polytechnics and the 290 TTIs?
We must pay attention to inconvenient details like qualified TVET teachers, equipment and other vital learning resources, and especially industry partners who will provide internship, service learning and employment opportunities for TVET graduates.
We have been everything but thoughtful in the expansion of university education. Expansion of TVET must not be driven by supply. What we need is a uniquely Kenyan TVET sector. TVET expansion but by careful assessment and targeted response to economic growth patterns, national and local development needs, and labor market demands.
And most of all, the TVET curriculum must responsive, constantly enriched by the changing dynamics of the market place, not by government bureaucrats sitting in a distant capital.