Technical and vocational education vital to young people

Technical and vocational education vital to young people

By Prof Hubert Gijzen

The United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development offers an ambitious vision for achieving “Sustainable Development” by eradicating poverty, fighting inequalities and tackling climate change through the 17 integrated goals that cover a wide range of social, economic and ecological issues the world faces today. 

Key among these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is goal number 4 which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning. SDG 4 plays a strategic and catalytic role for the advancement of all other SDGs. At the global level, UNESCO coordinates the international community to achieve the “education 2030 agenda” through partnerships, policy guidance, capacity development, monitoring and advocacy.

UNESCO looks at the whole spectrum of education, from pre-school, basic, primary, secondary and also tertiary and higher education as well as lifelong learning. To ensure a smoother transition between education and the world of work, the organization supports the strengthening of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems of its member states and advance youth employment, access to decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning opportunities in specific national contexts. It does this through three priority areas of fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship, promoting equity and gender equality and facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies. 

The TVET sector offers a great opportunity to equip the workforce with necessary skills to perform well in the workplace by enhancing essential knowledge and competencies to cope with existing and future social, economic and ecological challenges. As nations continue to allocate resources, the transition to an environmentally sustainable economy is vital thanks to the fact that it will drive up changes in the coming years in terms of the mix of skills that a country requires for development. 

In a green economy, growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems services. 

Greening of TVET is not just about the courses we teach, but it goes all the way down to how we light and power to how we reduce and manage waste. Green TVET will invest in policies and technologies that reduce the usage of raw material, recycle waste, minimizing energy use, and avoids pollution of the environment. Greening of TVET is also an opportunity to explore and develop new ways of entrepreneurial learning, and business development startup where sustainable and social enterprises are encouraged. 

The need to accelerate Africa’s green and digital transformation is clear. But we must ask the question – who will support the installation, maintenance and servicing of all these new green technologies, like solar systems, wind turbines, geothermal facilities, batteries and charging stations, electric bikes and vehicles, waste and water treatment systems etc. 

The bottom-line is that going green presents countless opportunities for a skills revolution in the TVET sector. Besides, when COVID hit the world, many leveraged digital platforms. It was also an opportunity to develop new skills. But, is there a clear advantage to those who have adopted the new normal?

It is against this background that UNESCO with the support of the Republic of Korea has been implementing the “Better Education for Africa’s Rise” programme (popular as BEAR) to support governments of Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda, in strengthening TVET systems while advancing youth employment and acquisition of market-driven skills, access to decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning opportunities. 

TVET can transmit the right mindset and attitude among trainees and the future workforce through quality education and training programmes. This should also aim at closing the gender gap in TVET areas – knowledge sharing platforms that would help connect women in TVET sectors, as well as the promotion of emerging careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields, specifically for girls, should be created. 

According to the Kenya Economic Survey (2018) the number of females enrolled in technical institutions in Kenya is 43.8%. Enrolment data, however, show that only 5% of these women are in vocational areas such as engineering, mechanics, and construction. The majority of female students enroll in courses such as secretarial, nursing and hospitalities. Female students should be assisted to develop positive attitudes towards technical courses from early stages of learning. 

It is also important to note that employment institutions should be encouraged to absorb female professionals who have completed their technical courses in order to motivate others to take up studies in technical training institutes. 

The emerging “green” sectors and the drive towards digitization present great opportunities to fast-track Africa’s sustainable development and green transformation. It also creates a unique opportunity for the development of new companies and new jobs, which could significantly reduce unemployment, particularly for youth and women in Africa. 

However, to fully benefit from these opportunities, Kenya and Africa must prioritize the development of new skills via Green TVET initiatives, link formal and community-level hands-on TVET, and stimulate the participation of women and girls in these new and emerging sectors.    

Writer is a regional director and representative, UNESCO regional office for Eastern Africa

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