Glamour returns to vocational education

It is moving to hear Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila declaring herself as a “staunch supporter of technical and vocational education and training (TVET)”, and the higher education minister, Itah Kandjii-Murangi, saying the future of TVET “requires all of us, as custodians of this important sector, to be innovative and adaptable”.

Finally, it is again hip to possess technical and vocational skills. It was long overdue, especially when it comes to technical and vocational education and training. The next step should be to conduct a retrospective audit on how to strengthen the quality of training and education in this crucial educational component.

It was not so long ago that officials manning the public education sector, seemingly in a quest to cause a truly technocratic paradigm shift in the country, paid less attention to technical and vocational education, having come to regard trade craft as simply an avenue that creates nothing else but a group of factotums.

Vocational institutions were labelled as catch ponds of failures; as secondary school hostels for those with no hope of ever setting foot in a university campus.

We had enough of blue collars, they said, we now only need technocrats. A skilled class that is able to pay real taxes to Caesar and drive the most-pressing quest for industrialisation.

The perception got so entrenched and purveyed as the best solution for the country that the Namibian Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) mooted, on record, plans to stop providing financial assistance to vocational training students. The vocational institutions found themselves being shuffled from one government ministry and agency’s ambit to the other’s confines, with no government agency willing to have them in their bosom.

And suddenly all tertiary institutions in the country wanted only to be identified as ‘universities’ and no longer technical colleges or institutes.

As noted at the TVET event this week, Namibia had this perception that technical vocational education is the pathway to the second best, something less prestigious. This is just not true. If the quality of technical and vocational education is lacking, let us fix it. It does not require us to burn down the vocational schools.

Namibia would do well to take a chapter from the Europeans, who had to be shocked by an economic crisis into the reality of appreciating having a good vocational training. By and large, the 2008 financial and economic crisis saw many retrenched people in Europe and the USA going back to school – not for a third MBA or second PhD but for vocational schools. Suddenly the academia was churning out reports to the economic crisis-stricken European Union countries on why strengthening vocational training systems is an important part of structural reforms. Telling them how TVET would improve economic productivity, increase individual wages and give government a greater revenue pool from which to cream the internal taxes to continue to fund own social and health programmes.

There would be no implementation of innovative ideas if we were to neglect technical and vocational education and training. It is often pointed out that advanced research and development requires technical education and training.
Let us think for a moment of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, which at this very moment is perhaps the one real estate in the world whose existence is literally an integral part of humanity’s existence and progress.

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