Dr Kevit Desai talks about the challenges the department is facing and how he plans to overcome them to take advantage of rising demand for technical and industrial skills
Before President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him as the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Vocational and Technical Education and Training, Dr Kevit Desai was serving in different roles in 27 other institutions besides being the founder and proprietor of Centurion Systems Ltd.
Dr Desai has been the chairman of 10 organisations and a board member in 13 others, among other responsibilities. He holds a PhD in Robotics Control Systems Engineering from Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), Japan.
So I asked him how he is going to navigate around these roles and the demanding role as a PS in a department the government has marked as an enabler in the provision of labour-driven training to thousands of youths. Dr Desai, who also obtained his MSc degree in Robotics from SIT and an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from City University London, was brief in his response.
“I will be stepping down from some of these roles, especially those with direct conflict with the work and operations as PS. But I will keep some roles especially those which have complementary roles in terms of providing direct extension to what I will be trying to do at the ministry,” he said.
Desai is the chairman of the board of Young Scientists in Kenya. “I will retain this role because what we are trying to do is create a unique platform in East Africa to sensitise and mobilise young people with natural curiosity and interest to demonstrate their innovation and showcase their scientific talents. The organisation is based on the premise that a wealth of talent and potential for innovation exists in Kenya,” the PS explained.
But he will let go other positions such as serving as the chairman of council at the Technical University of Mombasa and chairman, Board of Governors for the Karen Technical Institute for the Deaf?
Dr Desai insists the President may have nominated him to the position based on his vast experience in the industry. For instance, he has been involved in the formulation of various policy papers for the sector in the last two decades. This includes the development of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Act, the Science, Technology and Innovation Act and the University Act.
“I have clear picture of the sector because I have been involved in policy formulation and implementation in the past two decades. I know what needs to be done because I have been in the system as a leader and innovator,” he said.
Further, the engineer has also worked in related roles in the private sector and know what this department needs. This means he is aware of the relationships between skills and innovation and the requirements needed to realise the national goals such as the Big Four agenda, SDGs and Vision 2030 goals.
Still, challenges abound. Desai has to focus on how he can buttress the measly funded department, which received Sh6 billion this financial year. These funds are expected help create opportunities in the TVET sector for the over 900,000 recurrent students who every year complete Class Eight and Form Four.
Moreover, there are over one million unemployed youths who can also be skilled at the sector. “We have about 202 active Technical Training Institutes (TTIs) and polytechnics. The number could increase to around 270 by the end of the year. We also have another 600 youth polytechnics. With this number, we have a potential to accommodate 1.2 million students. But our focus is not just to have these numbers in the institutions but to ensure that these institutions are able to realise their potential and be able to produce skilled people ready for employment,” Dr Desai said.
To achieve this, he says, the department will lay a governance framework that will make the institutions to start thinking differently. “The governance will be different because we are introducing a competency-based curriculum. This means that the learners will be competent after a skill has been transferred. The teachers and the way they will handle classes will also be different,” the PS explained.
Desai says there is need to change so many things including how trainers offer the new competency curriculum. Besides offering pedagogy, the lecturers will also have to make contact with private sector. Each trainer will have at least 10 contacts with the private sector to nourish the needs of his students. “They will have to go out into the community, productive sector and public sector and see how they can promote partnership, relevance and quality of the courses they teach,” he said.
The PS also said the department will be focusing on quality assurance in the entire value chain, including setting standards of training in partnership with the industry. They will also create centres of excellence so that the institutions prioritise their areas of specialisation.