Home » Education » Time to Embrace Technical, Vocational Education [column]

Zimbabwe is approaching a significant point in its unique history. For the first time since 1986, the primary and secondary education curriculum is now undergoing a comprehensive review. With the national spotlight now firmly focused on the curriculum review, the time has come for the nation to adopt a more positive attitude towards technical and vocational education (tech-voc) and promote its parity of status or esteem with academic education.

Most Zimbabweans consider tech-voc to be for academically weak students. This attitude can be traced back to the pre-independence period when the purely practical F2 education system offered to blacks was perceived to be inferior compared to the prestigious F1 academic curriculum as well as the tech-voc in polytechnics offered to Whites, Asians and Coloureds.

Since the Government phased out the F2 system at independence, the status of tech-voc has remained inferior in the minds of most Zimbabweans. Today, most people believe that an academic education is the only route to a secure job and social prestige. This is why thousands of young people invest vast amounts of time and money re-taking academic examinations to make the proverbial five O-Levels.

The result: thousands of demoralised young people armed with white-collar job aspirations, but without the skills to participate in the dynamic, competitive and globalised economy.

If the thousands of O-Level graduates roaming the streets is not enough to convince us that we need to change our attitude toward tech-voc, then maybe the high unemployment rates among university graduates with first class academic degrees should.

The shift in attitude should begin with parents, policymakers and educators because they wield unbelievable influence on the development of tech-voc.

Some parents even go so far as to force their children to abandon practical skills training and tech-voc in favour of academics, often times despite demonstrated passion and aptitude by their children. And yet, subjects like Fashion and Fabrics, Technical Graphics, or Woodwork can enhance hand-eye co-ordination – a transferable skill that is not only vital to be a good surgeon, but also one you cannot acquire from a textbook.

One important shift is for all schools to open tech-voc subjects to all students, not just those deemed to be academically inferior.

This will help us tap into the vast potential of all students, including thousands of out of schoolchildren who drop out because we cannot meet their educational needs.

That our policymakers allocate insignificant resources for tech-voc is a reflection of their disregard for tech-voc. And this is why most educational institutions have antiquated infrastructure and equipment to provide relevant tech-voc, which further feeds the stereotype that it is inferior.

Furthermore, graduates of technical institutions do not have access to capital to enable them to start economically viable enterprises to take the economy to the next level.

Our tendency to exclusively focus on academics means that we lose the numerous benefits from classes such as Art, where students learn to develop products from abstract ideas, collaborate or critique each other’s work without incident.

Tech-voc teaches broad based and transferable skills such as self-awareness, communication and entrepreneurship that are not only applicable to many occupations, but also a requirement for participation in the new and dynamic global economy.

If we embraced positive attitudes toward tech-voc, we would begin to see greater depth, innovation and success in many of our industries.

In a country with students who will cheat on their examinations to get ahead and highly literate graduates who want to make quick money, the importance of teaching integrity, responsibility, discipline, patience and problem solving – which can be enhanced by tech-voc education – cannot be emphasised enough.

Besides the values, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a passion for, and therefore choosing to be, an artisan rather than being a doctor – artisans’ role in the economy is different from but no lesser than that of other professions, and therefore complements these other professions. This is more in tandem with, and better meets the demands of, the structure of progressive, modern economies.

If our commitment to a prosperous Zimbabwe is not just rhetoric, then it is time that we fully embrace tech-voc education.

The author is an education officer at UNICEF Zimbabwe. For comments and contributions, email: harare@unicef.org

Source : The Herald

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