Rwanda has joined the call for a deliberate policy to promote vocational education. The country is spearheading a campaign for the youth to embrace technical and vocational training. The argument by government is that the mainstream education system has not guaranteed employment. Even with the increasing number of Universities, those who graduate can neither find employment nor create their own jobs.
The government call is in line with the modern global trend where conventional schooling is gradually giving way to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems in a bid to fight the high rates of un-employment. TVET systems have turned the developed countries into the world's most industrialised nations.
There have been lots of changes within society to the effect that the present grammar type of education can no longer be competitive in the 21st century. This has manifested in the high rates of unemployment among fresh graduates. The Government of Rwanda has, of recent, put more focus on vocational and technical training as a way of streamlining the education system to suit the demands of the labour market. It is the same trend in neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
In the 2013/2014 financial year, Rwf 59.6b was allocated to the Workforce Development Authority, the institutional framework mandated to develop skills through vocational skills. In the previous budget, the education sub-sector received the second highest allocation in education.
Education Experts say such an investment not only shows the government's commitment to developing human resource capacities but also the need for quality when it comes to the vocational skills required to build this country.
WDA's intervention in skills development programmes was to be hands-on away from the theoretical knowledge offered by formal education to reach out to the larger student population.
However this initiative is often interpreted by most as education for 'those who dropped out of school' or did not do very well in school. The majority of applicants for TVET programmes were so, but that is now changing. TVET programmes are now attracting high school graduates who would have had the option of pursuing other courses after high school.
Jerome Gasana the Director General of Workforce Development Authority says that this year they have noted a 26% rise in the number of applicants who completed high school.
"Previously it was attributed to people who performed minimally in school but currently, we are seeing a shift in mentality. We are seeing performers taking interest in vocational education and we have also made some changes to the programme to make it broader and more inclusive. Currently students have to spend up to 70 per cent of the time in class and do practicals which were not the case previously."
The national curriculum has also been revised and the academic content updated to see to it that the programme addresses skills gap created by the previous education system.
"We made changes to the curriculum to accommodate all and ensured that no matter one's education qualification, they are still covered. We also included other skills like entrepreneurship. We have added other departments in most institutions. So TVET should not be labelled as a second option during career planning," Gasana says.
Antoine Niyitegeka, the Executive Secretary Volunteers Initiative for Sustainable Development and Anti-Poverty Campaign (VISDAPOC) a nongovernmental organisation that uses TVET skills to empower vulnerable populations that face poverty, says that the mindset that vocational skills were for those with little education is changing thanks to the public awareness involved.
"For a long time there has been a wrong perception that TVET is for people who dropped out or failed in formal education. However, that mindset is progressively changing after public awareness campaigns that have highlighted the importance of TVET. It also calls for sensitising the public to change mindset using the many examples of people whose lives have positively changed and their income has increased because of TVET," Niyitegeka explains.
Niyitegeka adds that through the vocational programmes, graduates stand higher chances of employment and also have ability to create employment for others.
"Those who performed well at school and have finished their formal education should be advised to join TVET especially those claiming that they are having trouble finding employment. Joining TVET programmes it changes lives economically as one creates job for self."
The skills gained in these programmes are more than just hands-on manual skills that participants can apply in start ups and in running enterprises.
Chantal Musaniwabo a student in a vocational institute taking a course in culinary skills says that after graduation, she will team up with fellow graduates to form a cooperative to jointly run a business or seek for employment.
"With the skills I get from this programme, come next year, I will be as competitive as anyone else. I can get a job at any restaurant around, including the fancy ones as the skills are as good as those from other graduates," she says.
The skills from the programme that was previously shunned by most, Musaniwabo will have ability to be an employer.
It is such a shift in terms of visible results and mindsets that has caused some of the implementers of TVET programmes like Winnie Muhumuza a Girls' Education Specialist with WDA and Adult Girls Initiative (AGI) to witness programmes being overwhelmed by applicants.
"We have very many applicants but we can't take them all. The number we reach is quite small, we wish we would be able to reach out to a larger number. Something that helps change the livelihoods of young women or young people in general for the rest of their life is not something I would put a price on."
Although Rwanda seeks to create a knowledge based economy, the role of TVET cannot be over emphasised in as far as addressing the youth unemployment problem is concerned. Students not only need skills but also employability which TVET covers well. Their graduates are easily employable and are also potential job creators.
Godfrey Gasore, business man
TVET is a great initiative by the government and will help to shape students with skills. There are some students who are not good in school but can do well in technical courses. Those courses are more practical and can help these students to create own jobs and have a decent living after school.
Martin Kasirye, radio presenter/artiste
TVET is good for the youths especially those with specific talent because it gives them a chance to practice and do what they can do best. Government should ensure there are enough training centres for vocational training.
Precious Umutoni, student
Vocational and technical education gives an opportunity to young to find their potential. With the increasing unemployment among the youth on the continent, I think Rwanda is on the right track to addressing this challenge through TVET.
Danny Izere, student
Vocational education is a good idea because it involves imparting practical skills which enhance creativity and innovation which are key to the growth and development of a nation.
Joyce Nyirabuntu, parent
TVET is a good initiative since students get practical knowledge and are able to start their own enterprises. However I would advise that government should not only stop at equipping these young ones with skills but rather facilitate them financially to see that they leave to grow/develop their enterprises.