TVET in Sub-Saharan Africa: Things that Work

Life Skills January 03, 2014

The primary objective of technical and vocational education and training is the acquisition of employable skills for the world of work. Without job-related skills, young people and adults cannot benefit from employment opportunities that offer a decent income. Youth unemployment in Africa has become a major development issue. An estimated 95 million young men and women in sub-Saharan Africa, out of a total youth population of about 200 million, are illiterate and are either unemployed or engaged in precarious jobs as street vendors and poorly-paid workers in irregular and seasonal employment (Garcia and Fares, 2008). Although the youth (15 – 24 year-olds) make up 40% of Africa’s total population, they account for 60% of the unemployed (African Development Bank/OECD, 2010). The large number of young people who are not in education, employment or training is not only an indication of the efficiency of national education and training systems but also a national security concern. As the recent history of conflicts and wars in Africa amply demonstrates, unemployed youth are more likely to be recruited into armed movements and criminal gangs. They are also candidates for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, and cyber crime (Adams, 2008; World Bank, 2008).  

At the national level, skills shortages and human capital deficits can slow economic growth (Department for International Development, 2008). The manufacturing and productive sectors of the economy thrive on the availability of skilled human capital. A national workforce imbued with high-level technical, entrepreneurial, and other work-related skills is therefore a critical success factor for national wealth creation. So what are the strategies for revitalizing Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in sub-Saharan Africa in order to make it more responsive to the skills needs of learners and employers?
Firstly, we need to understand that the acquisition of technical and vocational skills may take place in different learning environments: formal, school or curriculum-based learning; non-formal job-specific skills training; and informal apprenticeship training. In some parts of Africa, the informal sector accounts for more than 80% of all skills training (ILO, 2007). Informal sector training is more flexible than school-based TVET that imposes rigid admission criteria and age limitations on learners. The medium of instruction in the informal sector is also very often the local language and hence culturally friendlier to illiterate or less educated learners. It is important, therefore, to strengthen TVET provision within the informal economy, especially the traditional apprenticeship system where master craftsmen pass on their skills to the younger generation. Countries like Benin and Burkina Faso now have a modernized or renovated “dual” system of traditional apprenticeship where learners alternate between the classroom (for theoretical learning) and the workshops of the master artisans (for practical skills training). Some other countries like Ghana and Senegal have developed programs to upgrade the pedagogical skills of the master trainers in an effort to improve the overall skills transmission effectiveness.
Secondly, although TVET institutions do not create employment (employers and entrepreneurs do), it is the responsibility of the training institutions to ensure that their graduates are employable. This calls for strategies and mechanisms at the institutional and national levels that enhance the relevance and quality of training programs. Such strategies include regular renewal of the curriculum in response to the needs of the labor market, partnering with industry practitioners to design and deliver the curriculum, introducing ICT and entrepreneurial skills into the curriculum, and ensuring that teachers and students periodically undergo enterprise-based internships for workplace experiential learning.
Thirdly, collaborations are important for the transformation and effectiveness of TVET delivery. Industry-college collaborations are not uncommon. What is less frequent is inter-country collaboration. Two years ago, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) established an Inter-Country Quality Node (ICQN) to promote quality technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) in Africa. The ICQN-TVSD is a South-South knowledge and experience sharing platform of 20 African countries that is dedicated to dialogue, consultation, and sharing of best practices and technical expertise in the area of TVET. In West Africa, the Regional Economic Community ECOWAS in collaboration with UNESCO and UNDP have also established an Inter Agency Task Team (IATT) to coordinate the TVET initiatives of all Development Partners and international agencies at both the regional and country levels in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their interventions while avoiding, at the same time, costly and unnecessary duplications.
Fourthly, a holistic and integrated national TVET system that recognizes and validates learning achievements from all learning environments under a single certification and qualifications framework is a pre-requisite for harmonizing and standardizing skills competencies. Many African countries have developed or are in the process of developing a national qualifications framework (NQF) for the TVET sector which would facilitate the mapping and benchmarking of skills acquired from both the formal and informal training sectors onto a unique qualifications framework. In this way, informal sector workers without any academic credentials can have their technical skills validated and appropriately rewarded by employers who often hire on the evidence of certificates or diplomas.
Finally, national education and training policies need to be re-crafted to raise the attractiveness and awareness of TVET as an avenue for equipping the youth with skills for gainful employment and sustainable livelihoods. Many young people leaving primary or lower secondary school in Africa still consider TVET as a second best or last choice for further education, while older people think of TVET as only good for the less academically endowed. However, as the participants at the UNESCO meeting of TVET experts on Learning for Work, Citizenship and Sustainability held in Bonn in 2004 declared: “If education is the key to development, then TVET is the master key that can alleviate poverty, promote peace, conserve the environment, improve the quality of life for all and help achieve sustainable development”.

Adams, A.V. 2008. Skills development in the informal sector of sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank. Washington DC
African Development Bank/OECD. 2010. African Economic Outlook 2010
Department for International Development, 2008. Jobs, labor markets and shared growth: The role of skills. UK Dept. for International Development
Garcia, M and Fares, J. 2008. Youth in Africa’s labor market. World Bank. Washington DC
ILO. 2007. Apprenticeship in the informal economy in Africa. ILO, Geneva
World Bank. 2008. Youth and employment in Africa: The potential, the problem, the promise. Washington DC