TVET, a solution to youth unemployment

I often wonder what my mother would have said or reacted if I had told her that I wanted to go and study dressmaking or go for a textile related course after passing my then Cambridge examinations.

It is highly probable that my mother would have rejected that idea. There was no career guidance those days and therefore I ended up doing what the Ministry of Education officers chose for me considering my examination results. 

My mother did not have a secondary school education but had passed Standard 6 examinations very well.  She was “married off” just before she could go to Moeng College where she was admitted for secondary education.  Her mother who was a tailor then, had even made a Moeng College uniform for her. 

That was the end of her dreams for a better education and probably a teaching profession.  However, later on in life when she found herself having to raise her children as a single parent, she did not sit and blame those who stood on her way to a better future but rather turned to the “skill of the hand” to survive and raise her children.  

The only choice she saw was to learn a skill which was self-taught since there were no vocational training institutions during that era. She learnt to make decorated nets used as food covers which she sold for a living.  It was not easy but she had to make ends meet in order to feed and educate her children.

Through this vocation and a few livestock that she had, she was able to educate us, giving all of us an equal opportunity to education and leaving the choice of what we became in our hands through our own commitment to education.  She did not let her own lack of education stand in the way of her children’s future and through her futuristic outlook she ended up giving most of us a chance to lead better lives. 

Despite all this, it was not easy then because her vocation was not viewed as noble as working in a shop (which were mainly owned by European Settlers) or being a teacher.  I remember that my siblings and I were ashamed of delivering orders for the food covers because of the negative perception, especially to our teachers. 

As a result none of us followed on her footsteps let alone learn the skill except my younger sister who did but as a hobby.  I regret not learning from her and I have kept 2 food covers all these years which I cannot mend or reproduce.  This is an indication that the negative image of TVET comes from way back.

I am sharing this story amid the current high youth unemployment in our country (not unique to us by the way but common in most African countries) and the reality that most parents have a negative attitude towards the skills of the hand or Technical and Vocational Education and Training TVET).  Nowadays every average parent would like his/her children to enroll in an institution of higher learning or a university to do a conventional course and follow a “prestigious” career most probably following on the steps of the parents.  Lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. often want their children to follow the family tradition, hence existence of families that are all doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc. 

One wonders why there is so much negativity towards TVET when most of the industrialised countries are where they are mainly because they adopted TVET as the basis for their education systems.  The negative perception against TVET has done more harm than good resulting in the present youth who would prefer to be idle at home than go for a much cheaper and shorter vocational or technical training.  What makes the whole situation worse is the perception that TVET is designed for those who are academically challenged.  This has put a stigma on opting for TVET even for those who are passionate about it.  Notwithstanding, even those who dare follow their passion are not able to get anywhere due to the parents’ objection. Only a few “rebels” managed to follow their passion/dream but not without a struggle.

There is currently a TVET campaign sponsored by the European Union (EU) and run by Young Africa Botswana with the aim of sensitising the public about the value of TVET in order to mitigate against the negative perception.  The theme or slogan of the campaign is “Making TVET Cool”.  The campaign targets mainly the youth and parents.  This is premised on the belief that parents play a vital role in the education of their children and also have significant influence on the choice of training programmes their children choose.   As a result of my involvement in the campaign, I recently read two papers, one entitled “Continental Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET): To foster youth employment” by the African Union which looks at strategies that can be adopted to use TVET to address youth unemployment and obviously the first hassle to address is the negative perception and image against TVET.  The other one is entitled “Parental Influence and Attitude of Students towards Technical Education and Vocational Training” by Hina Ayub -International Journal of Information and Education Technology, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2017.  In summary these two papers raise very fundamental points about the importance of TVET in our economies and the prejudice against it.  Below are points I picked from these papers: Parents consider TVET to be for less academically gifted or non-performing students


This perception is justified by:

The less rigorous entrance requirements for TVET programmes often adopted by training providers.

Limited chances for continuing education / professional development by those pursuing TVET programmes.

Insufficient funding for TVET by governments.

Often low quality training offered by TVET institutions - TVET places too much emphasis on theory and certification rather than on skills acquisition and aptitude tests and competencies.

 Inadequate training of instructors, obsolete training equipment lack of training materials reduce the effectiveness of the training to achieve the objectives of knowledge and skills required by labour market standards.    (As a result, employers source such skills from outside in pursuance of quality) Fragmentation of the TVET system as is the case in Botswana (TVET spread among 3 Ministries)


However, we should all note the following:

TVET helps youth become job creators instead of job seekers.  There is need for parents to change their perception of TVET.  There is need for parents to support children who opt for TVET even if they have done very well at secondary school, or after university.

Learners should be made aware that TVET guarantees them a brighter future as it unlocks their potential for innovation and creativity. TVET helps them gain confidence while learning to emerge as their own bosses instead of working for someone else TVET has no gender boundary – it is for both female and male. In conclusion, I believe that Botswana should implement some of the robust strategies that are espoused in the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP 2015-2020 with immediate effect to help address the youth unemployment problem that is haunting the country.

*Victoria Damane works for Young Africa Botswana as an education advisor

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