Following a recent year-long research on the state of the labour market by the directorate of research, a special arm of the Vocational Education and Training Authority (Veta), the authority has introduced some sweeping reforms in a bid to make the system and the thousands of graduates churned out every year more relevant to industry. The question to ask now is: After the reforms, what next for vocational training in Tanzania?
One of the major reforms Veta has announced is the decision to change the curriculum to align it with the current technological development in industry, officials say.
The changes are in line with the plan by the authority to improve training facilities and build capacity at colleges.
Other major reforms relate to quality assurance through systematic monitoring and evaluation aimed at ensuring that colleges meet the minimum standards set by the authority, says Eng Zebadiah Moshi, the director-general of Veta.
"The reforms are aimed at assuring graduates' competitiveness. And to effectively attain this goal, the training centres have to be up to standard with enough human resource and infrastructure," says Eng Moshi.
He adds: "For example, there are colleges that don't have English teachers; we cannot allow them to take just anybody to teach English. It is unacceptable."
With a current intake of 125,000 students per year, and plans to more than triple the number to 500,000 through its newly introduced dual system, it is going to be an overwhelming undertaking for the authority.
But despite the fact that Veta relies heavily on public coffers, Eng Moshi is adamant that the ambitious project will sail through.
In its five-year plan, the authority plans to construct new centres in 136 districts, as well as expand and rehabilitate old centres through funds offered by the government.
"The first phase will cover 30 districts and is expected to cost $72 million while phase two and three are expected to cover the remaining districts at double the cost of the first phase," says Eng Moshi.
Meanwhile, there are mixed feelings of anxiety and expectation among stakeholders as Veta goes through the re-registration of the training centres to assess the available infrastructure, training facilities and quality of the instructors.
There are more than 96 programmes on offer, but colleges will only be allowed to provide training for the courses for which they have adequate facilities and the right human resource.
In addition, Standard Seven leavers, who used to be taking up any course, will be blocked from pursuing courses that are deemed unfit for a trainee who has not been through high school.
This raised concerns that the authority is attempting to systematically lock out Standard Seven leavers by raising entry requirements.
"This is not true at all; there is no plan to segregate Standard Seven leavers because there are courses that they can pursue - such as masonry, carpentry or tailoring.
But they can't be allowed to do a course like industrial electronics, because it requires a good base in physics, something that a Standard Seven leaver has not done," says Eng Moshi.
He, however, adds that with some courses, trainees will undergo basic teaching in a related subject to give an opportunity to those who haven't been to school.
Expose dubious colleges
Mr Nuru Kiango, the principal of Zoom Polytechnic College says the reforms Veta has come up are a "step in the right direction" but hopes the plans will not suffer a premature death. He singles out the idea of re-registration as "necessary under the circumstances".
"This process will expose some dubious colleges operating without being duly registered. However, the general concern is with the implementation stage, which usually is a major setback," he says.
The principal of Eagle Training College, Mr Lukelo Sakafu, corroborates.
He expresses concern over the mushrooming of un-registered vocational training institutions.
"We hope this process will clean the whole system once again, and that legal action is taken against colleges that are found on the wrong side of the law," he says.
Veta has so far re-registered 920 institutions across the country and the process to assess the situation is still ongoing, officials say.
They note that the process is part of the reforms aimed at quality assurance by ensuring colleges that offer Veta qualifications have adequate facilities and manpower.
Yet, in interviews with Success, some students remain skeptical that the reforms will attain much unless the authority "genuinely" addresses the problems of skilled teacher shortages.
Eliza Mwangosi, 19, a secretarial student at a college in Dar es Salaam, notes that the shortage of teachers is one of the biggest problems most institutions are battling.
"At my college, the teacher who takes secretarial courses has five more subjects due to shortage of manpower. Do you expect such a teacher to handle all the subjects effectively?" she queries.
Another student, Clevertin Justin, who is pursuing a certificate in computer studies at Zoom Polytechnic College, notes that lately most colleges have been finding it difficult to do practical training due to power rationing.
The lack of adequate practical sessions means that most graduates leave college loaded with more of theory than practical. This is a major problem employers have at various forums complained about.
But in a bid to address this, Veta has adopted a dual system through which it will be working with 10 local factories in a three-year pilot study to provide practical training to registered students.
The trainees would be enrolled in the local factories for practical training under supervisors. Veta would provide sessions for theory at its premises.
"It is something that has got to be done because of global changes in technology, and also considering the fact that the labour market in the region has become very competitive with the introduction of the East African Community free movement of labour," says Eng Moshi.
He says there will be more changes to the curriculum in five years to cater for changes in the market. But the Veta boss has no illusions about the work ahead.
"We are definitely going to encounter many problems in implementing these reforms, such as shortages of resources. Ensuring that the existing training centres are up to the required standards needs a lot of resources," he says.
In addition, there is a need to change the way the society looks at vocational training, from skepticism to a more positive attitude that appreciates the system as an alternative path of education.
Many people still regard vocational training as a course of last resort after other options fail.
Others believe vocational training centres are places for failures, who cannot meet the university entry requirements.
The situation in Tanzania is different from countries like Singapore, where 60 per cent of O-level leavers go directly to vocational training institutions while the remaining percentage goes to colleges and universities.
"We want people to understand that Veta contributes to the country's development in a big way; that this is the place where doers, technicians are trained, just like in countries like German, Malaysia and China," Eng says.