Since the promulgation of the new Kenyan Constitution 2010, TVET including VTCs Training was decentralised and some TVET training functions devolved to the counties. The national government remained with running this TVET training Institutions; Technical Universities, National Polytechnics, Technical Institutes and Institutes of Technology all under the Directorate of TVET in the Ministry of Education under state department of Vocational and Technical Training .
The counties were charged with managing Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) or Village polytechnics and home craft centres as indicated in Schedule 4 of the constitution of Kenya.
All these institutions are all required to be accredited by the TVET Authority (TVETA) an Authority established by the TVET Act of 2013 which has the core mandate of accrediting all TVET institutions and trainers including public and private institutions.
TVET training in Kenya is a philosophy that is geared towards equipping trainees with practical skills and entrepreneurship skills and towards achieving the country’s aspirations under the Vision 2030 paradigm, but in Kenya this seems to be a novelty, disregarding the general problems bedevilling the TVET sector I want to critically look at the inherent teething problems plaguing VTCs.
Counties are charged with running VTCs these includes hiring of trainers, provision of physical infrastructure like classrooms, offices, workshops and equipment etc.
VTCs have for long suffered with systematic neglect and inadequate funding, and a closer look at these institutions betrays a big gap in training and skills acquisition. As one person remarked
” A student entering these institutions and one leaving the institution after two or three years are all the same, both have no skills”.
The question then is what are the real problems bedeviling our VTCs.
Challenges grappling VTCs in Kenya
Most counties don’t have a clear policy on TVET training and development
Most counties don’t have a policy on TVET training in VTCs which is a key component in developing development plans, you will find little development plans particularly touching on VTCs on most counties’ County Integrated Development Plans(CIDP). Having a county policy will guide counties in developing systems in VTCs including expansion, staffing, enrolment, leadership and management, ICT integration, equipping of VTCs, quality assurance standards and others
Inadequate, incompetent and unqualified trainers.
VTCs are grappling with shortage of trainers for their programmes, this is brought by the fact that there are few institutions to train trainers, in Kenya there is only one technical teacher training college KTTC, furthermore qualified trainers shun VTCs because of low remuneration and poor terms of service. This has created a situation whereby VTCs managers have resorted to hiring trainers who are not qualified. The end result is that most of these trainers are incompetent and fail to pass on the requisite skills(which they don’t have or have little of) to trainees, the net effect is that trainees come out of this institutions with little or no skills at all.
Poor leadership and management of VTCs
Any educational institution needs a strong leadership and management to guide it towards attaining its goals and delivering on its mandate, VTCs are not immune to this leadership challenges, leadership and management of VTCs include the centre managers and Boards of Governors. Most VTCs lack qualified managers and some of them don’t have strong BOGs. VTCs can have strong support from the communities around them if they had proactive BOGs. Good managers will ensure that systems in their institutions are working and ensure prudent use of financial resources.
Negative attitude by the communities
VTCs are seen these days by communities in a negative way, some consider them “Schools for academic failures”, institutions only meant to train those students who didn’t perform well in the formal curricula, this has led to communities to shun these institutions and send their children to other TVET institutions (mostly private), the net effect has been
low enrollment that has even let some of VTCs to shut down due to lack of students.
Low enrolment and fees arrears
VTCs are grappling with low enrolment brought about by a collective of factors including negative attitude by communities as expounded above, high poverty levels, poor training, run down infrastructure, this has led to problems for centre managers in acquiring resources, equipment, books due to lack of finances raised from school fees. Even in VTCs with sizable number of students, collection of fees is a problem, this can be attributed failed management systems and high poverty levels
Trainer and student absenteeism
Due to the problem of poor leadership in VTCs as stated above and incompetent trainers, lack of proper quality assurance mechanism and audits, there is a high occurrence of trainer absenteeism, which sometimes may be contributed to low morale and low remuneration and terms of service. There is a situation whereby students don’t go to centres because they don’t know if there is teacher, and equally teachers don’t go to school because they are not sure if they will find students (low enrolment and high dropout rates),
it’s a sad situation where everyone comes to school “when they want”.
Lack of physical infrastructure
VTCs have suffered systematic neglect since the colonial period, most buildings existing in VTCs are old and derelict, now that they have been decentralized and given to the counties to manage , erstwhile this could be a good thing because of prospects of funding, this has not been forthcoming maybe due to budgetary constraints or a continuation of the blatant neglect these institutions have endured for long. If not for the advent of CDF and community participation most of these institutions would have closed down. The net effect is that most of these institutions lack physical facilities and infrastructure like water, electricity, classrooms and offices.
Inadequate or no workshops and equipment.
The main purpose of VTCs is to provide hands practical skills to trainees, but this has not been possible because they lack workshops, adequate tools and equipment. So most of these institutions churn out graduates with no practical skills to speak off.
Lack of marketing for VTCs
Like every business with clients VTCs need to market their courses to their prospective clients, but this is not being done by our centres, you will be surprised to know that a prospective student who is a neighbour to a VTC doesn’t know the courses the centre is offering or even the qualifications needed for such courses.
Irrelevant courses not meeting the market, community and industry needs and outdated curriculum and syllabus
The VTC curriculum is out dated and its syllabus developed ages ago before even the establishment of Kenya’s Vision 2030, it’s a theory based curriculum with no competency based evaluation to speak off. Most courses being offered by our VTCs are not in touch with the skills needs of their immediate communities, our VTCs train on skills not needed in the market or which their trainees can’t get jobs or self-employ themselves.
Non-existent ICT use and internet connectivity
The world is now a digital village, use of technology is now taking all spheres of our lives including teaching and learning. Most of our VTCs lack the basic ICT infrastructure safe for the few computers in offices and ICT labs, in fact almost all of them don’t have access to internet which is now a leading source of learning tools and aids including books, videos and slides. Our VTCs are increasingly becoming derelicts of the long past by failing to adopt ICT, no wonder they are so seen like that by the communities around them.
Lack of employment of VTCs graduates
As earlier pointed out most of VTCs graduates transition out with little or no skills at all, this means that they cannot get formal jobs because prospective employers know so. One other important thing is that these trainees come out of these institutions with little or no soft skills, employability skills, entrepreneurship skills and communication skills are not taught in our VTCs, so it’s not really a surprise that graduates don’t get formal employment, this has further made worse the problem of negative attitude VTCs get from the communities around them leading to low enrollment.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of a multitude of problems our VTCs are grappling with, but not all is lost, these VTCs can serve the aspirations of our vision 2030 and produce skilled artisans, technicians and tradesmen and help our communities and diminish the ogre of youth unemployment by equipping trainees with relevant practical skills, that are responsive to the industry and community needs.
Strategies to mitigate the challenges facing VTCs
Counties to develop a robust VTC training policy that will guide establishment, staffing, funding, curriculum, staff training and development.
I think this should be the first step in reviving and streamlining TVET training in VTCs in counties CIDP. If a clear policy on TVET training is put in place especially encompassing the following;
- Leadership and management of VTCs
- Staffing and staff remuneration and welfare
- Funding of VTCs
- Expansion of VTCs
- Provision of necessary tools and equipment
- Curriculum and course development
- ICT integration
- Accreditation of courses and VTC institutions
- Development of innovation projects and production units
- Quality assurance and standards
- Staff training, development and capacity building
I think counties can draw inspiration form the Sessional Paper No 14 developed by the national government and TSC Acts and Regulations, TVETA Act of 2013 TVET regulations Act of 2015.
Providing funds for provision of enough equipment and workshops
Our VTCs should be able to adequately impart practical skills to their trainees if they have workshops and equipment, the counties should as a matter of priority provide funds for building workshops and equipment. The only way we can save our VTCs from collapsing is if these institutions can produce trainees with enough competencies in the job market and those that the communities need, there will be no shortcut in achieving this without proper hands on training that adequate workshops, equipment coupled with competent trainers will provide.
Hiring of competent trainers and lab technicians.
There is no trainee more competent than the trainer, there will be no use of equipping our workshops even with loads of equipment without qualified staff to conduct and instruct trainees on practical skills. So it is imperative that qualified and competent trainers and technicians are employed. The counties can do this by having a good staffing policy that ensures qualified staff are hired, another way is to make this positions attractive to professionals who erstwhile don’t have technical training pedagogy background to join up as trainers. Counties should also ensure that all trainers are accredited with TVETA.
Hiring of competent managers and leadership for VTCs
A good management can take an organization to greater heights in spite of challenges by ensuring prudent use of resources. Counties should ensure that VTCs managers are qualified and have the necessary leadership and financial management skills to run these centres, prior successful experience in running TVET or VTC institutions should be given emphasis during hiring. Also the counties should make sure that individuals picked to the board of governors are pro-active individuals with considerable influence in the communities from which this VTCs are located, this ensures that VTCs have goodwill and actual support from the community.
Provision of adequate learning materials and teaching resources.
In line with provision of adequate workshops and equipment counties should ensure that VTCs libraries are well stocked with books and other teaching and learning materials, this include textbooks, chairs and tables etc.
ICT investments in VTCs, including internet connectivity and Digital learning centres.
ICT influences every sphere of our lives now, the world is now an internet of things, and our VTCs should be brought out of the digital darkness to the digital age. The immense benefits that VTCs can draw from a robust ICT infrastructure include integration of ICT to learning and teaching, use of internet to get learning and teaching materials, establishment of Digital Learning Centres, Establishment of online learning platforms, integration of flexible and blended learning in VTCs, and promotion of Flexible Skills Development, this will ensure that our VTCs in the long term become centres of lifelong learning opportunities and skills development.
So counties should provide funds to equip our VTCs with ICT hardware and software needs, networking infrastructure and broadband internet connectivity. It’s no longer expensive to have broadband internet connectivity in Kenya and counties can easily partner with numerous ISPs and get discounts to actualise this.
Establishing of robust bursary scheme and sponsorship for VTCs trainees to encourage enrollment.
As earlier espoused VTCs are seriously grappling with low enrolment due to numerous factors, the main of course is lack of fees and problems in fee collections, this has adversely affected financial operations of this centres. As a measure to mitigate this and also to improve enrolment counties need to put in place a robust bursary scheme particularly for VTCs more so since it’s one of their delegated functions. By providing attractive bursaries to trainees in VTCs counties will promote interest in these institutions that will lead to higher enrollment and efficient running and management of these centres
The counties can also partner with other stakeholders in creating this bursary scheme especially through CDF, organizations and companies operating in the respective counties.
Establishing of market driven short courses geared towards acquiring of practical skills.
VTCs are the primary training institutions to provide hands on experience, and since they are there with the communities directly, their training programmes and courses should be tailored towards filling the skills gap that exist in that community, it should not be hard for a kid who wants to be painter to do a course on painting because he is not good in math or doesn’t have a C- or D+, the kid just needs to be a painter, why not make him a painter. This is only possible if VTCs develop short course competency based training. There are tons of skills that the community needs and lack qualified tradesmen and VTCs need to fill this skill gaps, this may include block and brick laying(Masonry), Tile Laying, Welding and Fabrication, Plumbing, Hair Dressing, Dress Making, Carpentry and Joinery, Shoe Making and Repair, Motor Cycle Repair, Panel Beating, Mobile Phone Repair , Electrical Wiring, Special Floor and Wall Finishes, Cake Making, Brick Making, Motor Cycle Driving Course, Driving Course, Biogas Installation, Poultry Keeping Course, Dairy Farming Course, Numerous Agribusiness Courses.
I can tell you for free that these courses don’t need a formal education curricula or for a student to do Calculus.
This are the kind of courses our VTCs can start and benefit the communities around them positively.
Encouraging VTCs to start innovative projects and production units
The funding that VTCs will receive from counties and other development partners will never be enough and VTCs need to be creative in creating their own funds apart from fees to be truly self-sustainable, VTCs need to come up with production units which will serve to instruct their students in practical skills and create income for themselves, most VTCs will already have the equipment and manpower(trainers and trainees) to successfully start and run these programmes, I don’t see why a VTC with carpentry and joinery equipment can make furniture for sale, or Dressmaking equipment not make uniforms for schools and company staff, or Masonry Course not install bio-gas in our communities, or Agribusiness course not sell poultry products and dairy products to their communities.
The possibilities for these are immense and it’s only up to the VTCs management to take their innovativeness to greater levels.
This will foster a culture of manufacturing and innovation in counties.
Counties to start employing VTC graduates to remove the tag that they are unemployable.
Counties should start making it a big advantage to be hired for county jobs especially if you are a graduate of VTC from their own county. This will spur enrolment of trainees in the VTCs of their own counties instead of joining private colleges and other public institutions.
Policies to use VTCs production units and products in county government procurement plans.
I think this will be a good strategy to help our VTCs production units if the counties source products and services from VTCs, these may include furniture, Staff Uniforms, Stationaries, Building Works and Materials, Repair and Maintenance of County Vehicles, Use of VTCs facilities in seminars and Training, Staff Development and training,
continuous upskilling, training and development of trainers
Most of trainers in our VTCs don’t have the perquisite skills, so programmes for upskilling should be put in place in conjunction with other partners for example the national government which has an upskilling programme with AFDB to upskill technical and vocational teachers, also counties can build partnerships on the own.
Other partner include Common Wealth of Learning(COL) and Invest Africa who provide online courses to Trainers in common wealth regions also Wadwhani Foundation owners of Learnwise Online Platform that provide a variety of skills including employability skills, workplace skills, ICT Skills, entrepreneurship skills, retail skills, communications skill, retail skills, e.t.c.
Better remuneration and terms of service for trainers.
I have pointed out that one of the problems grappling our VTCs is lack of adequate trainers and incompetent or unqualified trainers, the contributing factor is that qualified and competent trainers choose to go to other employers for example TSC than be employed as trainers of VTCs because of better remuneration than counties being offered by other entities. To ensure that VTCs acquire and actually retain trainers then they should provide attractive remuneration and terms of service, I fully understand it’s a budgetary issue but it is a necessary evil that has to be done soon and quickly
Accreditation of VTCs by TVETA
Counties should ensure that training being offered by VTCs and actually trainers themselves are accredited by the regulating authority TVETA. This ensures VTCs standards are at par with other TVET institutions,
this will remove the tag that VTCs training is substandard and they are “institutions for academic failures”.
Counties to put in place a robust quality assurance standards system for VTCs.
The only we can ensure that training is actually taking place in our VTCs and that they are being managed well according to established policies and regulations is to have a strong quality assurance and monitoring system, ensuring that trainers actually teach effectively and have necessary teaching documents is foremost the job of the centre manager, but the overall duty of ensuring that systems are working as is required is through frequent monitoring, audit and evaluation. This is what counties should endeavor to do and they can draw this from procedures of TSC including performance appraisals
Establishment of Centres of Excellence among VTCs in counties
It may not be entirely possible to equip each and every VTC in a county with all the needed and necessary facilities, workshops and equipment for all courses and programmes they offer, main reason being budgetary constraints and counties’ priorities. But we can equip all the VTCs with some facilities and equipment depending on their strengths and needs including existing facilities, equipment, and trainers’ etc.
This is where the counties’ are well placed in developing Centres of Excellence for each VTC based on this strengths. Centres of excellence will spur a good opportunity cost advantage by taking advantage of all already available resources coupled with new directed resources to improve on existing ones.
A good example of a centre of excellence model for a VTC is a NITA approved VTC providing a whole range of Driving Courses for the whole county up to even including plant operations. Such a county would only need a VTC with enough land and invest in buying instructional manuals, training vehicles and plant and trainers. Such a county won’t have a problem developing driving skills for its citizens at an affordable tuition, case in point are the majority of Boda Boda operators counties spend a fortune to train them in private driving schools. This is just one of the models that can be successful
Other measures that counties should consider are as follows
Encompassing and installation of Management Information Systems for all VTCs.
Putting in place measures for prudent financial management in VTCs including procurement.
Encouraging cohesion and transfer of skills among VTCs by encouraging liaisons through sports and games.
Establishing of trade fairs for VTCs within the counties to encourage innovation and creative ideas by trainees and VTCs.
The Author is a TVET Professional
He is Assistant Director, Vocational Training
County Government of Bomet
And Formerly a Lecturer
HOD Mathematics and Science Department
And former Chairman Research and Development Committee
At The Nyandarua National Polytechnic