In many African countries, the public, including governments, parliamentarians and political parties still consider TVET the domain for less academically gifted students. What fuels this perception? Many factors including (a) apparent low academic requirements for admission into formal TVET programmes; and (b) the limited prospects for continuing education.
Many parents, including leaders of businesses and other private and public sector institutions, still will not encourage their own children to choose TVET for a career. Parents with a TVET certificate are still bitter about how an elusive university admission sent them to vocational education. Most parents who graduated from university always remind their children why failing high school is not an option – because it will send you to a vocational school.
No credible evidence exists that government and political parties’ officials earnestly support TVET. This line of argument is premised on the fact that politicians read good speeches in public, although they disapprove of such statements in private. Practically, evidence shows that while policymakers openly praise TVET as a game changer in Namibia’s socio-economic development; in their hearts the opposite is true. In fact, some esteemed comrades at dinner tables might grumble that TVET is a foreign concept imposed on government to promote a particular organisation’s development ideology.
These claims whether true or not continue to thwart attempts to implement the ever-growing social demand for TVET in Namibia and across the continent. In fact, to think that technical education is an invention of modern industrialised societies, is a historical error.
The history of mankind is built on technical education. Let’s run down a few historical events to demystify the origin of technical education in Namibia, Africa and across the world.
Throughout human history, education in any society aimed at preparing each new generation for a productive working life. One of the main functions of traditional youth rites in African tribal societies, for example, was to train the young in the inherited, time-tested technologies of hunting, fishing, cropping and other essential survival skills.
In biblical times, the Talmund in its discussions of law and ethics, enjoined every father to teach his children a trade - an injunction that reflected in the range of trades represented by the Apostles of the New Testament. In Ancient China and India, as well as mediaeval Europe, gifted assistants, craftsmen and other specialists passed on their unique skills and lore to the next generation by the meticulous training of young apprentices through what we today call non-formal education. Many examples of technical education across the world can be verified to fill an encyclopaedia. Thus, we can say that before the Industrial Revolution, people lived on the land that provided them with food and the means for clothing and shelter.
To speak quite bluntly, I have consulted various books on the history and sociology of education, and I failed to find any evidence whatsoever that TVET has its roots in colonial Europe. Also, I examined the most recent journal publications on the topic – I was unable to discover any evidence of pure Euro-centric TVET shipped to Africa as did the Coca-Cola soda drink and the Christian bible. Rather direct evidence from my research found four inescapable conclusions.
One, the story of TVET is about humanity. Philosophically, theoretically and practically, technical education cannot be separated from manual training and the world of work. Historically and philosophically, the two areas are just like Siamese twins, which if you try to separate one from the other would cause either one to die. Two, during the Stone Age when humans were hunters and gatherers, the modes and content of their technical education remained quite similar from one generation to the next aligned to the simpler nature of their economies.
Third, when economies became more complex and sophisticated, societies began to grow and rapidly changed to meet the diversified needs of the local market and larger world economy.
Notably, TVET technologies during the Information Age have helped industrialised countries to improve their agricultural productivity. Fourth, advanced TVET technologies, which replaced simple tools made from stone or wood or metal have raised to new heights the standard of living of citizens in Western countries.
So, what do all these mean to Namibia’s TVET landscape? It means TVET technologies will determine whether Namibia economically grows or remains an agricultural society for the next hundred years. The cardinal question, therefore, is what type of skills does the country need today and beyond? For one thing, today’s economies require a wider range of specialised human skills and technical knowledge to function effectively and to develop further. In the broadest sense, TVET has become increasingly diversified and formalised.
It is therefore clear that because of the rapid technological and economic changes, it will not be enough for TVET in Namibia merely to provide pre-employment education to the youth. Whatever specific occupational skills the youth are taught, such skills are likely to become obsolete soon.
So, what lessons can Namibia learn from other parts of the world? Many – other countries (a) heavily invest in TVET; and (b) trust TVET as the key to their economic and social progress.
Lastly, Namibia can be a premier promoter of the TVET sector by following some basic principles.
First, Namibians should re-imagine Namibia. Citizens of all persuasions – conservatives, liberals, moderates, radicals, neo-liberals should re-define Namibia. Should Namibians be happy with the current 34% youth unemployment rate? Why has the political leadership not envisioned a 5% youth unemployment in the next three decades? Second, Namibians should re-define the present TVET system.
People died for this country, killed only because they dared to dream – for quality education. Is the current TVET system the best Namibia can offer three decades after political independence? Or is it the case of wait, and see?
Third, across the world TVET has become the backbone of any society, thus Namibians should stop frowning upon vocational education just because it is associated with blue collar workers and jobs. The negative image adults portray about TVET makes the sector unappealing to high school students.
Those who view TVET negatively probably do not know its history and its contributions to the development of society.
This article demonstrated that without TVET, humans would remain where they were hundreds of years ago. It is thus fair and safe to say that the rise or fall of a nation depends on its TVET sector.
The technologies associated with TVET are the driving force of any society. Promote TVET as a career of first choice.