On the second Thursday of July, a group of 123 young men and women from across the country started on what they hope to be their careers.
But rather than sit in one class and start taking lessons from teachers, these youths were in different parts of the country and were taking their lessons on mobile phones and laptops, scrolling down screens.
This is the first class of beneficiaries of the KSh130 million investment by the Safaricom Foundation in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
The students have set out to acquire skills in Plumbing, Welding, Food and Beverage, and Electrical Engineering.
The programme will take place in 11 counties over the next two years and is being carried out in partnership with Zizi Afrique Foundation, Toolkit iSkills, and the TVET institutions.
The counties targeted in the programme are: Nairobi, Marsabit, West Pokot, Mandera, Isiolo, Kwale, Narok, Kirinyaga, Kitui, Kisumu, and Vihiga. Waithaka Technical Training in Dagoretti, Nairobi, will be the Centre of Excellence for the programme.
It targets to reach 700 students and was launched early March, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced learning institutions and workplaces to virtually shut down.
The shutdown has slowed down the recruitment but the partners were determined to push it forward and in June, more than 70 students who do not have access to smartphones received free devices from the Safaricom Foundation to enable them access e-learning materials.
“We want to empower the students to commence learning, even as we wait for this Covid-19 period to end. The students who have been enrolled for the programme have not been able to attend classes because of the partial lockdown and we want to enable them begin classes via online platforms,” said Steve Chege, Trustee, Safaricom Foundation.
The Education ministry has asked TVETs to make preparations to reopen in September.
To access the online classes, the students register on toolkitiskills.com, where they start off by learning the basics of digital learning – digital literacy, email basics, and working with computers – before they go deeper into the courses they choose.
By Tuesday 14th July, the students had completed a combined 427 lessons.
TVETs have become increasingly popular as the realisation sinks among the youth that the job market for technically trained workers is lucrative.
This year, more than 2,000 candidates who attained the minimum grade for admission to university, a C+, in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations in 2019 opted to join TVET institutions.
The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service reported that this year 2,632 candidates expressed an interest in the TVET institutions, where they will pursue technical courses.
“The growing number of these ‘TVET Champions’ is a clear indication that concerted efforts to improve enrollment in TVET courses are yielding fruits,” the Education ministry said.
Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha said the indications of a growing change in mindset was encouraging.
Still, the country’s TVET capacity remains unexploited as many secondary schools fail to submit applications for their students. Out of 10,000 secondary schools, only 2,228 submitted the tertiary education choices for their students.
As the world marks World Youth Skills Day on July 15, the United Nations reported that restrictions on social interactions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, distance learning has become the most common way of imparting skills.
The UN, however, expressed concerns about the difficulties involved in adaptation of curricula, trainee and trainer preparedness, connectivity and the assessment and certification processes.
The demand on the youth will be higher as the world seeks to recover from the pandemic when a vaccine or cure is found.
“In post-COVID-19 societies, as young people are called upon to contribute to the recovery effort, they will need to be equipped with the skills to successfully manage evolving challenges and the resilience to adapt to future disruptions,” the UN said.
It’s the challenge that the students face as they gear up to learn more over the next two years, even as the pandemic throws hurdles in their path.