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BTVET reform incompleteness hurting holistic skills development

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Added 3rd October 2017 10:14 AM

Curriculum innovations imply new training mechanisms and thus re-tooling tutors or perhaps hiring new tutors where a skill set is entirely new.

BTVET reform incompleteness hurting holistic skills development

Curriculum innovations imply new training mechanisms and thus re-tooling tutors or perhaps hiring new tutors where a skill set is entirely new.

By Okumu Mike Ibrahim

In an effort to strengthen skills training, the Government of Uganda under the Business, Technical and Vocational Education Training (BTVET) education subsector is undertaking a curriculum review.

This has brought on board among others Competence Based Education Training (CBET) and soft skills development. CBET partly involves a bias in favour of practicals. Indeed BTVET today emphasises that for every hours of theory class; there must be two of practicals. Soft skills which include self-appreciation, self-worthiness, honesty, customer care, Kiswahili, computer literacy, team work and integrity, among others, are deemed necessary to compliment technical or hard skills such as wielding or plumbing skills.

Curriculum innovations imply new training mechanisms and thus re-tooling tutors or perhaps hiring new tutors where a skill set is entirely new. Besides, it is imperative that the implementation of the curriculum innovations is adequately monitored and evaluated to ensure that its intended outcomes are attained.

However, an on-going study by Ibrahim Mike Okumu and Edward Bbaale of the School of Economics, Makerere University shows that financing constraints are compromising re-tooling of tutors, tutor recruitment and monitoring and evaluation of curriculum innovations. For example, while the ideal re-tooling or re-fresher mechanisms of tutors about innovations in the curriculum would be to bring all trainers together to undertake a re-tooling programme, the department of BTVET in the Ministry of Education Science, Technology and Sports has typically opted for a cascading training method.

Cascading training method involves identifying a tutor or two in each technical training institution who are brought together to undertake a re-tooling or re-fresher programme to the extent that the trained tutors would then return to their mother institutions and pass on the gained skills to their counter parts. However, such a method requires strong monitoring and evaluation frameworks to ensure that the trained tutors not only understood exactly the modules but also successfully trained their colleagues. However, with constrained financing, monitoring and evaluation has been weak; rendering the success of cascading training method of trainers questionable.

While the cascading training method could be flawed in its current state, it is worsened by the fact that the programme is skewed among government BTVET institutions by-passing privately owned training institutions. This has a potential of creating parallel skills development tracks with different levels of BTVET graduates within a vocation, especially if private BTVET institutions fail to fill the new skills training gap. As such, privately owned BTVET institutions often poach trainers from the Government owned BTVET training institutions whose quality is also questionable in passing over the requisite new skills.

Furthermore, there are instances where curriculum innovations have meant a new course unit being introduced, for example, Kiswahili language or computer skills. Again financing constraints have incapacitated the recruitment of expert tutors for the new course units. To circumvent the problem, training institutions have had to rely on tutors from other course units who have a no clue about the new course unit. For example, where someone can speak Swahili language, they could be asked to teach Swahili in spite of the fact that they have never been taught how to teach a language not to mention Swahili language!

Worse still the recruitment process seems flawed as it emphasises academic attainment in an education subsector that prioritises practical skills. For example, recruitment of tutors does not require having an attachment to the vocation of a trainer's interest; this implies that a trainer is likely to be obsolete shortly after recruitment thereby compromising the success of CBET skills development curriculum.

Also financing constraints have undermined the delivery of practical lessons. This has meant improvisation during practical lessons. For instance, where a 50 kilogramme bag of cement is supposed to be mixed with four wheelbarrows of sand, instead it is one bag of cement to eight wheel barrows of sand or even 10. Moreover, incidences of delayed funds releases imply sequencing training programmes sub-optimally where theory lectures are first exhausted and then practicals are undertaken at the end of the training term. This implies that the seamless transition from the theory to the practicals is compromised because of the long time lag between undertaking theory and practice.

To partly offset BTVET financing constraints, perhaps the Government could consider instituting a skills development fund (SDF) where levies payable by persons hiring BTVET graduates are remitted to the SDF. For instance, a levy could be instituted on every user of hotel services with collections being used to finance skills development. Alternatively, a skills development levy could be instituted on enterprise payrolls or even sales of enterprises (both private and government). The SDF could be used to compliment the meagre government financing of the BTVET subsector in an environment of never ending expenditure pressure from primary and secondary education subsectors not to mention the agriculture, health, water and infrastructure sectors.

In that regard, the private sector which desires technical skills could in principal also engage in financing skills development through government levying a tax on users of skills of BTVET graduates. Good enough skills development levies are not unique per se as they have been successfully implemented in Mauritius, South Africa and Tanzania. As such government should calibrate which levying mechanism is likely to work for Uganda.

However, note that any levy is an additional cost to the payer (employer/service user). Besides, the likelihood of social and political discontent is high in the event that the SDF is not sufficiently ring-fenced to abate brazen theft of funds and perhaps re-allocation of the funds to other education subsectors. If well packaged however, with adequate stakeholder buy-in, the SDF has the potential of complementing government financing of BTVET which is vital in strengthening skills development. This enhances both the smooth transition of BTVET graduates to productive employment and economy-wide labour productivity gains.

In the interim, where inputs are hard to come by, training institutions could collaborate with communities to construct public facilities. Where the training institutions provide labour and know how through the BTVET students while the communities provide the financing for inputs. This could be extended to real life projects which are a key ingredient of examining the readiness of BTVET graduates transition to productive sector.

Finally, tutor recruitment should be hinged on attachment to production space before and after recruitment. This guarantees that skills development is consistent with innovations in the production space.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Economics of Makerere University


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