When I read the article the questions that came to my mind were; 1) Does vocational education and training enjoy the status it deserves in Namibia?; 2) when will vocational education and training enjoy the rightful status of being an important career path in our society? Vocational education and training is intended to prepare individuals for a ‘vocation’ or a ‘specialised occupation’, to enhance a country’s productivity and competitiveness. However, with this move to push learners who have failed Grade 10 to vocational training centres, leaves me with the conclusion that vocational education and training lacks esteem.
It appears to me that there is a general perception in our society that a vocational education and training system of a country is there to address many of the social challenges governments are confronted with, particularly youth unemployment. Vocational education seems to be regarded as an acceptable route for those learners who are ‘non-academic’. Thus, if you are not good at school and you drop out, you get pushed into vocational education.
The concept of referring Grade 10 learners who have not made it to Grade 11 to vocational education is rather disconcerting. As much as we expect a vocational education and training system to contribute to socio-economic development, it should not be seen as an alternative route to address the failure rates in the general education sector.
Vocational education and conventional qualifications should be seen as complementary, not mutually exclusive and should thus be accorded the same status and prominence as general education, because it prepares the youth for employment prospects in any given economic sector. In addition, the impact of vocational education could have important implications for the nation’s workforce and Namibia’s place in the global economy.
The advent of Namibia’s independence resulted in the reform of the national education and training systems. One such reform was the abolishment of vocational education and training programmes in schools. In the same context, the Namibian government has initiated a comprehensive reform of its vocational education and training (VET) system. More than 10 years after passing the Vocational Training Act in 1994, the VET system still experiences many weaknesses in terms of high failure rate in trade examinations, high drop-out rates and graduates failing to match employers’ skills needs. Many of the weaknesses have been known for a long time and various reform initiatives have been designed in the past, but the majority of them have not been implemented successfully.
In the context of Namibia’s Vision 2030 to become a newly industrialised economy by the year 2030, the education and training sector is again subjected to comprehensive reforms. The aim of reforming the VET sector is to improve its management, introduce competency based training standards to increase access, improve the responsiveness of skills supply to skills demand and increase the financial base through the introduction of a levy.
As a nation, we do not need to re-invent the basics to address our youth unemployment issues. We should rather look at what other countries have done to address the unemployment rate amongst the youth. For example other governments have introduced a range of vocational learning initiatives in schools to provide broader, more flexible education and training and to encourage young people to stay at school longer. These initiatives include VET in schools and school-based new apprenticeships. Evidence in some countries has shown that such programmes are increasing in importance because it prepares young people for the world of work.
In Australia for example it was found that exposing learners at schools with vocational education and training subjects resulted in preventive measures, such as allowing young people to develop work-related skills while still advancing their general education.
I personally believe what we should do is to re-introduce vocational subjects into our general education system. It has been proven that vocational education undertaken while still at school has two potential benefits for students at risk of leaving school early. The first is that if students do leave school early, they may be better prepared for post-school activities, particularly employment, if they have already undertaken some vocational learning. The second is that, with a broader range of vocational subjects on offer at school, learners who may otherwise have left school early remain at school.
I am certain that the re-introduction of vocational education subjects in our general education system can significantly address the high failure rate in our general education system and will also better prepare the youth for the world of work. I am cognisant of the fact that re-introducing vocational education subjects in our general education system would require a substantial financial investment and we should no doubt start somewhere with such an investment if we as a country are to reap the benefits in future.
The high unemployment rate in our country particularly among the youth should be a great concern to our government and the society at large. We should conduct research into vocational education and training in order to inform vocational education policy-making processes.
To address the high unemployment rate amongst the youth, vocational education and training in our general education system is the only way to go.