The paradox of technical and vocational education in Africa

October 30, 2022
Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a proven path for increased youth employment, but still suffers from a poor image. Research from an ACET youth employment and skills study conducted across six African countries shows that TVET enrolments are on the rise, but parents and prospective students still see this path as a ‘fallback option’.

This is one of the conclusions from the multi-country study ‘Strengthening education and learning systems to deliver a 4IR-ready workforce’. Researchers conducted surveys and interviews with stakeholders in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Rwanda, and Uganda to determine how education and training outcomes are aligned with labor market demands.

Three key findings on TVET
  1. TVET enrolments are up – way up

Enrolment in TVET has increased in each of the six countries, in some cases dramatically. In Ethiopia, there were only 5,264 TVET students in 1999, but after years of heavy investments, 387,792 students enrolled in 2018 – a more than seven-fold increase. In Niger, the number of learners in both formal and non-formal TVET institutions has grown sharply from 68,486 in 2013 to 332,025 in 2017 – a growth rate of 385% in four years. In Ghana, the number of students at vocational schools increased by 35% in the three years between 2016 and 2019, from 38,459 to 59,583 students.

  1. Perceptions of TVET are negative or mixed

According to respondents in Rwanda, most graduates from technical institutions easily find job placements despite their relatively weak technical skills base. Nonetheless, most people believe that students attending TVET institutions do so as a last resort after failing to secure a university placement. Survey respondents in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, and Uganda hold similar views. Although respondents acknowledge that internal returns on TVET are high, parents still see TVET as a fallback option for those not successful in general academic education. In Ghana, despite the government’s push for increased uptake of TVET to provide the country with a workforce equipped with practical skills, the sector still suffers from the same poor public perception as a place for academically weak students.

  1. Girls continue to be left behind

The participation of girls in TVET training remains low – and in some countries even declined. Female enrolment in TVET was just 26% in Ghana for the 2015-16 school year, less than the proportion of girls enrolled in 2012-13 at 31%. In other countries, student ratios are more balanced, but girls remain a minority. Even in Rwanda, where gender equality in education has been a policy priority for many years, boys (57%) outnumber girls (43%) in TVET. Uganda has faced a similar challenge – while girls’ enrolment increased by 9%, from 14,650 in 2013 to 16,051 in 2017, male students persistently outnumber female students, in some instances by a ratio of two-to-one.

Cultural and gender stereotypes affect more than just enrolment. The choice of subjects for girls is also skewed towards traditional courses like tailoring and culinary training, while courses with STEM content such as construction, ICT, and engineering are reserved for boys. In Côte d’Ivoire, girls only make up 11% of students in vocational agriculture courses, despite this being the main economic sector in the country.

Uganda Case Study: Engagement with the private sector to strengthen TVET and prepare learners for 4IR

One of the shortcomings shared by respondents in many of the surveyed countries is that TVET – and secondary education in general – is poorly aligned to the needs of the labor market. This is a sentiment expressed by about 65% of respondents in Ethiopia, including policymakers, regulators, students, and employers. One possible cause is the lack of engagement with employers in curriculum development: 81% of employers in Côte d’Ivoire are not engaged in either curriculum development, revisions, or reform – even though many employers are eager to participate in the process. Close to 80% of surveyed private sector employers in Ghana told researchers that they want to be involved in developing secondary education and TVET curricula.

One country that bucks the trend is Uganda. 71% of Ugandan stakeholders indicate that the Business, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) curriculum, the revised curriculum from the BTVET strategic plan 2011-2020, is future-ready and well-aligned with the current and future job market needs. The country made efforts to target specific employers with specific courses, and this is reaping benefits. The revised curriculum has equal time dedicated to practical and theory sessions at the formal BTVET level, while students in non-formal TVET spend more time in practical training than theory. Despite challenges associated with uneven implementation due to limited resources and capacity in the institutions, respondents are confident that the strategy is pointed in the right direction.

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Ghana Case Study: TVET Voucher Project

To ensure higher quality technical and vocational training, Ghana has set up the TVET Voucher Project, which provides competency-based training in technological and digital skills to master craftspersons, workers, and apprentices in the informal sector. Several master craftspersons have benefited from the initiative. The Support Fund for Vocational Training and Apprenticeship under COTVET is also supporting skilling and upskilling in the informal sector. The TVET system does not yet accredit learning outside formal training. However, attitudes towards upskilling are very positive, with 71% of survey respondents expressing willingness to upgrade their skills, or that of their employees, to match the needs of the labor market.

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This article is based on the findings of a six-country project on Youth Employment and Skills (YES) and the changing nature of work. The project examines education and training systems and their ability to adjust to meet evolving labor demand in light of rapidly evolving digital technologies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The six countries are Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Rwanda, and Uganda. The project evaluates the policies, regulations and institutional arrangements aimed at boosting educational outcomes and employment opportunities, especially job creation using innovative education and training initiatives.

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