Only 13pc of the assessed students obtained professional standard certification from the Addis Abeba City Administration’s Occupation Competency Assessment and Certification Centre (OCACC) this year. The certificate, official proof of a person’s competence, is aimed at controlling the quality of education provided at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges. However, given the pass rate, it is clear that quality control cannot be imposed at such a late stage.
Yared Belayneh, 25, was checking the date of the professional competency assessment at Addis Abeba City Administration's Occupation Competency Assessment and Certification Center (OCACC), located at the International Leadership Institute off Angola Street, on Tuesday, May 10, 2011.
He recently graduated in electricity from Addis Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College and wanted to be certified by the centre.
"It would have been better if I had joined the preparatory school," he told Fortune.
The education system in Ethiopia is structured into eight years of primary school divided into basic education (grades one to four) and general education (grades five to eight). Secondary education is also divided into two cycles: general secondary education (grades nine and 10) and preparatory secondary education (grades 11 and 12).
Students sit for the national Ethiopian General School Leaving Certificate Examination (EGSLCE) in grade 10 to determine if they can continue with preparatory secondary education or join technical and vocational education.
In this exam, Yared scored below the passing grade of 2.6 for males, out of a possible total of 4.0, limiting his choice to courses offered by TVET colleges.
"Unlike most of my friends, I did not complain much about joining the TVET system because I was interested in the training," he told Fortune.
However, he was not happy with his result in the professional competency assessment offered by the OCACC, which was established in June 2008.
A total of 23,508 students who took training in different TVET colleges applied for certification this year. The centre assessed 20,924, but only 2,726 students (13pc) obtained professional standard certification, according to the nine-month report of the OCACC.
To date, only 25pc of the total candidates that were assessed in five rounds by the centre were certified.
The TVET system, as determined by the Ministry of Education (MoE), follows an outcome based approach focussed on competencies needed in the labour market. A learner's achieved competence assessment has different standards for different occupations.
The assessment and certification process is also aimed at controlling the quality of TVET qualification. Only if a person proves his competency in a certain field is she awarded with a professional standard certificate, official proof of a person's competence.
The government plans to increase the number of students enrolled in TVET Programmes from 717,643 to a little over one million, according to the GTP. The plan also stipulates that 90pc of these graduates will be employed by the end of five years.
Yared is among the majority of the students who cannot obtain certification as he had failed the assessment twice before.
"It is not surprising if half the assessed students fail, because the centre expects candidates to do very well," he told Fortune. "They assume if you get one answer wrong, that you are incompetent. I answered 10 out of 12 questions correctly, but failed."
Gizew Fetenean, an assessor at the centre, confirmed this.
"As a rule, anyone who sits for the assessment is expected to complete both the vocational and theory parts," he told Fortune. "This rule is strict when the questions answered wrong are critical for the profession. A failure in one step can be the reason for being incompetent in some professions, such as nursing, because we are dealing with a human life."
As the system is outcome based, anybody who is competent in a certain profession, whether they have had formal or informal training, can be certified.
The centre has 42 centres where assessments are conducted. Out of these, 16 are factories. The assessment is made in 10 sectors in which there are 42 professions.
"The centre has 165 assessors who are themselves assessed by the centre," Dereje Alemu, manager of outcome based training in TVET at MoE, told Fortune. "Around 70 Pilipino vocational trainers have been recruited to give different trainings and assessments in different fields."
Before students are assessed, they are required to fill out a self assessment form to help them evaluate themselves. Only when they decide they are ready to take the assessment will they be assessed.
Most candidates fill out the self assessment without taking their abilities into account, according to Gizew.
Due to the increase in the percentage of students and teachers who remain uncertified, the OCACC has conducted a survey on skill performances to identify the causes. The study was limited to accounting and clinical nursing.
Out of the 25,531 candidates who have undergone practical assessment by the centre, only 6,123 (24pc) passed, according to the survey.
Some accounting candidates were unable to maintain financial records, record income and receipts, or process payrolls, the survey found
The survey identified some clinical nursing candidates who were unable to perform proper nursing care intervention on expectant mothers. They were unable to manage the intervention and provide proper medication or appropriate material and equipment.
During the assessment of care for a person who had undergone surgery, many candidates failed to follow sterility technique, did not advise the patient properly, and were unable to identify the injury. The data indicated that only 55pc could diagnose the patient and 21.5pc knew how to check for vital signs.
Out of the total 903,391 students who are in tertiary level, 79pc are enrolled in TVET colleges while the remaining are students of universities students, which is owned, by the government and the private sector.
Blame has been cast on the competency of teachers and poor monitoring mechanisms.
Incompetent teachers and bribes are the major factors for incompetency, alleged Alemu Kassaye, who studied nursing at one of the private medical colleges.
"Sometimes, students pay money and obtain the certificate without taking the course," he told Fortune.
Aside from inexperienced teachers who cannot teach courses well, most students do not prepare themselves for the assessment, according to a teacher at Kefetegna Sebat TVET College.
The OCACC assessed 550 teachers, out of which only 169 were certified, according to its nine-month report.
"Necessary infrastructure like laboratories and workshops are also not provided by the college," Alemu claimed.
A lack of assessment tools and necessary practicing materials were found by the survey to be the major causes for incompetency during assessment, something Yared also affirmed.
"We did not take courses that are essential for our profession," Yared said. "We did not take a refrigerator programme and logic circuit (PLC) course. I learned it through non-formal training outside of school."
Despite these problems, the government has embarked upon a massive expansion of TVET in order to provide school leavers with an option and to meet the demands of the labour market.
The Urban Employment-Unemployment Surveys conducted by the Central Statistics Agency (CSA) in May 2010 reported unemployment to be at 18.9pc. The surveys found that 4.8 million people were employed in May 2010, 40.5pc more than in April 2004, when 2.9 million people were out of work.
Without obtaining certification, students cannot be employed in their fields, whether they obtained their diplomas at their respective colleges or not.
There are around 355,420 students in 781 TVET colleges, of which only 258 are government owned, according to data from MoE.
The power to issue pre-accreditation licences and certification is decentralised; MoE issues licences for training institutions which are operated and guided by the federal government or owned by an NGO incorporated under a foreign country, according to the proclamation on TVET. In the same manner, states can issue the licences and certification for colleges owned by the regional states and domestic investors or NGOs.
There are 83 TVET colleges in Addis Abeba that are registered with the city's TVET Agency.
"Assessment is good to secure the quality of education, but quality cannot be achieved by imposing high-level assessment because quality must be secured throughout," an education expert told Fortune on condition of anonymity. "Otherwise, it causes chaos for the whole system."
Assessments should be started at the bottom, when colleges are certified to give training, with a strict follow-up, the expert recommended.
Any training institution should fulfil detailed requirements before they can apply for licences, according to Solomon Tibebu, deputy manager of TVET quality assurance at the city administration. These include conducting market based analyses, the organisational setup of managing academic and administrative affairs, training facilities, as well as the three-year plan of the college, he explained.
"We only certify those who fulfil the requirements and conduct surprise visits every month," Solomon told Fortune. "We take appropriate measures against those performing below the standard."
The educational system has now changed to a market demand approach, which promotes the production of skilled manpower in professions with high market demand, instead of fulfilling in social demands.
A total of nine colleges were fully and partially closed by the city's TVET agency due to lack of demand in the market, in September 2010.
Enat Medical College, Addis Abeba Medical College, Care Medical College, and Africa Medical College were partially shut down for providing health extension training, which has no demand in the market.
Addis Abeba Technology & Commercial College, Addis Abeba Dental College, the Rwanda Campus of the Medico Biomedical College, Mountfudy TVET, and the Gulele Campus of Pretore Law College were prohibited from providing training.
Candidates also complained about the price charged for the assessment.
"When I first took the exam I paid 190 Br but it has now reached more than 200 Br," Yared told Fortune.
The centre's assessment prices vary depending on the sectors. The business sector has the lowest price while the construction sector is the highest; it could go as high as 900 Br per assessment.
"The prices are set based on the materials that are used for the assessment," according to Gizew. "The materials used for assessing candidates in the construction sector are expensive. The OCACC has contractual agreements with 42 companies which the centre uses for conducting assessments."
The centre has collected 3.9 million Br from payments for assessment and spent one million Birr to conduct the assessment, according to the nine-month report.
While the prices are increasing, it is the rising number of candidates who remain uncertified that is really terrifying Yared and his colleagues who have failed the assessments, it raises alarm bells for potential candidates who are required to be certified after finishing their studies.
"I am beginning to analyse the consequences of being trained by three teachers while in more than six courses," an electric engineering student at Ethio-China Polytechnic College, told Fortune.