Last Thursday, Education Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed directed the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Services (KUCCPS) to ensure that the more than 500,000 2017 KCSE candidates who were unable to secure places in institutions of higher learning are enrolled in Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) colleges.
But curiously, Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich had the previous day presented to Parliament a supplementary budget, which slashed Sh3 billion from the Sh6 billion allocated to the Department of Vocational and Technical Training this financial year.
One then wonders how the technical and vocational institutions will absorb the huge numbers that missed out on university placement when the actions of the government have largely shown that technical and vocational education are less important than basic and university education.
For instance, according to data from KUCCPS, colleges selected a paltry 553 students to pursue State-funded diploma programmes against a capacity of 54,927, while those who chose certificate courses took less than a quarter of the available 22,959 slots.
But there is another large number of students who should have seamlessly been enrolled in artisan and craft courses in technical and vocational training centres.
Last year alone, some 350,467 candidates out of the 611,959 who sat KCSE exam scored grade D plain and below and were eligible to enroll in these centres.
Currently there are about 202 active Technical Training Institutes (TTIs) and polytechnics that can absorb students who scored grade C plain, C- (minus) and D+ (plus) to pursue diploma in various craft courses.
There are also about 600 youth polytechnics spread across the country that should admit students who score grade D plain and below. TVET sector has the potential to accommodate the 700,000 students who every year complete Class Eight and Form Four but do not either proceed to secondary school or qualify to pursue professional diploma and degree courses.
If the unskilled and unemployed youths are included in the mix, the TVET sector has potential to skill for the labour market around two million youth every year.
But this doesn’t happen because most of these institutions, especially the youth polytechnics, which are under the county governments, have low enrollment despite the hype created by the government.
Why are parents and their children shunning these institutions that should be the bedrock for skills highly sought after in the labour market such as plumbers, electricians and plant operators?
It is not rocket science really to hazard a guess why young people are not keen to acquire skills from these institutions and would rather do apprenticeship with those already skilled and established in those crafts.
First, while the government has managed to put up infrastructure for the technical and vocational institutions, most do not have proper facilities and skilled trainers.
But the greatest impediment is the relatively high fees charged by these institutions, which most parents cannot afford. When a student scores a D (plain), a D – (minus) or grade E, some parents are not keen to invest in such a child because at the back of the minds, the money spent in taking them through primary and secondary school has already gone to waste.
It is also not common to see a parent paying for or taking pride in a child pursuing an artisan course. The parent would rather have such a child go to an urban centre to look for a kibarua (casual job), be a matatu conductor or boda boda rider.
To prevent these young people from wasting away, the government should come up with a strategy of giving free or highly subsidized training to students who scored D plain and below.
In my view, the returns to such an investment by the government would be much higher than say investing in university education because the economic, political and social returns from a mason or plumber trained in a year would be higher than say training an engineer for six years. [email protected]