Unlocking skills training in Africa

Karen Speirs

The Commonwealth of Learning and the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics are working together to create more flexibility and equity in technical vocational education across the continent. 

According to a 2010 paper by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, huge numbers of poorly educated, frustrated and unemployed youth are “locked out” of the formal skills training system. The report concluded that unequal training opportunities are fostered by inequities based on geographical location, gender and socioeconomic factors. Young people with insufficient basic education, out-of-work adults, rural people and women with children tend to be squeezed out of technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Researchers found that urban dwellers access TVET more than rural people; boys more than girls; and the able-bodied more than those with special needs. Resolving these inequities is a central philosophy of the Flexible Skills Development programme at the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). 

COL was created to encourage the development and sharing of open and distance learning (ODL), resources and technologies. COL helps developing Commonwealth countries to increase access to learning using distance education and appropriate technologies. It is currently working in partnership with the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics in Africa to help education institutions in Africa adopt sustainable flexible learning approaches to improve access, quality and equity in TVET. These approaches include using technology in the delivery of both face-to-face and distance learning, and offering flexibility in time, place and pace of study. The ultimate goal is to extend the reach of skills development. 

COL’s Flexible Skills Development programme includes creating ‘flexible skills champions’, supporting an online community, and building capacity through web-based courses and training workshops. COL works with 11 African TVET institutions, known as ‘Key Institutions’, with the aim of creating a network of providers capable of implementing flexible and blended learning approaches in TVET. 

COL is building capacity in these institutions and assisting with ICT infrastructure management. In return, Key Institutions are including flexible programme delivery and putting human and financial resources into expanding access and improving quality in teaching and learning. In addition, these Key Institutions are currently developing more than 30 courses, or course components, that incorporate flexible learning approaches or new uses of technology. 

“Since becoming a Key Institution in 2010, we have increased the number of learners and training programmes we offer,” said John Mwawaza, principal of the Coast Institute of Technology in Voi, Kenya. “We now have full-time, part-time and holiday-based programmes, and we are in the process of launching distance learning programmes.” 

COL has established a Community Learning Network that provides information and resources to help TVET institutions develop flexible and blended approaches to programme design and delivery. This online forum, which has grown to more than 300 members in less than a year, is becoming an important source of information and support for those involved in flexible approaches to TVET in Africa. 

An important part of introducing more flexible means of learning is providing quality ODL courses. This requires a thorough understanding of the needs of distance learners and how to engage and support them. To help build capacity in this area, COL has hosted instructional design workshops at six TVET institutions in Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria. In addition, four groups of TVET institution managers and policy-makers have taken COL’s web-based management of flexible skills development course, while two cohorts of TVET teachers have completed a ten-week online programme that introduces eLearning and other flexible teaching methods. As well as enhancing skills and knowledge in ODL, these courses provide teachers and managers with valuable insight into the experience of being an online learner. 

COL’s flexible skills development training is also helping to create a new mindset among TVET educators in Africa. Mr Abraham Olalsupo Oladebeye, a teacher with Auchi Polytechnic in Nigeria, explains the insight he has gained into flexible and blended teaching and learning methods. “Flexibility is not just about computers. Other technology-mediated materials can be used,” he said. “I believe the pitfall of previous attempts in integrating ICT in education is because computers were thought to be the only effective ICT tool. I think one fear here is the fact that the learners may have more knowledge in the course than the teacher. That’s not bad! Knowledge can fl ow from the learners to the teachers, or a learner’s idea can act as a platform for flow of knowledge between the teachers and the learner. It’s what we build today that our children will live on tomorrow.”

For more information visit: www.col.org/SkillsDevelopment

About the author:

Karen Speirs at Commonwealth of Learning


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