Africa: How can technical and vocational education contribute to the response to future pandemics?

As we celebrate World Youth Skills Day, it is worth taking stock of the priority skills of young Africans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and how this sector could be rethought and adapted to ensure better resilience to future crises.​

A young man creating a protective visor at Abobo's Fab Lab, in Abidjan (Ivory Coast) - April 2020. ADEA

This is the 7th post in 2020 of a blog series begun in 2017 as part of the collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Rising unemployment among young people is a serious challenge for all countries, whether developed or developing. At least 475 million new jobs must be created in the coming decade to absorb the 73 million young people currently unemployed and the 40 million new workers entering the job market each year.

Agenda 2030, Agenda 2063 for Africa, and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) focus on the development of technical and vocational skills, specifically in terms of access to high-quality technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and the acquisition of technical and vocational skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, dire scenarios have been announced for Africa. In response, African countries have taken steps ranging from closing their borders to closing schools and training centers to prevent the spread of the virus.

ADEA’s Inter-Country Quality Node on Technical and Vocational Skills Development (ICQN-TVSD) has studied the impact of the health crisis on technical and vocational education and training in five ICQN member countries, namely, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

E-Learning: A TVET opportunity in Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, operation “schools closed, books open” was launched in late March 2020 and has continued despite the reopening of schools and training centers across the country in May. This initiative covers both general education and technical and vocational training, and aims to ensure continuity of education throughout the country despite the health crisis it is facing.

Several measures have been taken by the ministry responsible for TVET in Côte d’Ivoire to ensure the continuity of training, specifically the establishment of an online educational platform entitled “Ma formation en ligne.” This platform is accessible free of charge and provides learners in all fields and at all TVET levels with online courses and exercises.

At this point, 895 courses are available and new content is added every day. A forum enabling teachers to interact with learners and a technical assistance center (a call center to assist platform users) continue to be operational despite the resumption of classes in mid-May for both general and technical education.

Practices and difficulties in Cameroon, the DRC and Burkina Faso

Although general education has adapted somewhat to the current situation, the continuity of vocational training remains problematic in terms of the implementation of the solutions proposed by the ministries in charge. Although the opportunity was there to promote e learning, the lack of preparation of participants in the subsector has prevented the initiatives put forward from gaining much traction.

Another key factor is the cost of internet access and the lack of training of learners in these online tools. In most of these countries, classes resumed in June, however, no specific measures have been taken for technical and vocational training and all training institutions remain closed.

The crisis has revealed that the TVET subsector was inadequately prepared to deal with crisis situations and that it was a great deal easier to ensure that basic education continued during the crisis than vocational training.

Basic education and vocational training are closely linked, which underscores the importance that African countries introduce vocational training modules in basic education. They should create links between basic and vocational education to prepare young students for the labor market or help them develop the skills that their country really needs for economic development and crisis management.

COVID-19: An opportunity for TVET students to express their creativity

The health crisis has revealed the weaknesses and urgent action needed to ensure a greater contribution by technical and vocational training to crisis management. This includes the digitization of classrooms, the development of emergency plans to ensure continuity of training in the event of a crisis, the creation or updating of training curricula adapted to the needs and context of the African countries, and support for the empowerment of young learners who can provide innovative, sustainable solutions in the health field.

For unemployed young people from TVET programs, the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and innovation and offer their assistance in solving the crisis management problems in their communities and at the national level.

In Côte d’Ivoire, young entrepreneurs presented the “COVID-19 Initiative” to the authorities in April. This is an innovative solution to the coronavirus pandemic involving the use of drones to raise awareness and prevent the spread of the virus.

In Burkina Faso, young people have played an important role in mitigating the risks and increasing community awareness through multiple initiatives. To combat misinformation on the pandemic and its spread, youth associations together with the country offices of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have provided young Burkinabè on the interactive QG Jeune platform with tools to promote healthy behavior and the sharing of accurate information.

In Tunisia, solidarity initiatives have arisen spontaneously in vocational training centers, which have come to the assistance of hospitals and local institutions (municipalities and local governments, etc.) by making protective masks and bibs for staff and interns.

In several other African countries, students from TVET schools (sewing, welding, electronics, woodwork, etc.) have shown their inventiveness through a number of initiatives ranging from the production of reusable masks to the creation of foot-operated handwashing pumps and the production of visors and disinfection booths with or without the help of new technologies.

Incorporating new technologies and training

With the development of new communications technologies, it has become easier to obtain knowledge and skills with minimum monitoring through online classes, correspondence courses, and video and audio clips. Young people are increasingly independent and self-taught owing to these tools and this has favored the emergence of startups in Africa.

To enhance the contribution of TVET to the economic transformation of Africa, young learners in this field must have the opportunity to explore their potential with the help of digital tools and state-of-the-art equipment to bring their level in line with that of learners in developed countries.

To achieve this, training curricula must be updated and TVET educational practices reformed to provide more room for personal initiative and creativity among young learners. In this context, teachers, who would also be trained in digital tools and distance learning, would become coach-trainers and advisors for learners. Assessments could focus on the evaluation of projects developed by the learner individually or in groups, for example.

However, it is important to remember that achieving this reform of practices must be led by a strong commitment on the part of stakeholders in the sector and the various African governments.

Investment in TVET for the benefit of our economies

The pandemic should finally encourage countries to increase their political commitment to the implementation of TVET development plans. It is urgent that crisis and disaster response plans be integrated with center management mechanisms and the use of ICT to ensure the continuity of technical and vocational education and training and its contribution to responses in health and even economic crises.

The current health crisis has revealed the limitations of the supply of TVET but has also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of this kind of training for African youth and for the management of health crises.

In this context, TVET can be expected to respond to multiple economic, social and environmental demands by helping young people and adults develop the skills they need for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship, by promoting equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth, and by supporting the transition to green economies and environmental sustainability.