NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 01

Flaws in technical education and vocational training

Usman Ali was very happy when his son got admission to the Polytechnic Institute & Vocational Training Centre, Multan Road, in the Sabzazar area of Lahore, about three years back. In his early 40s, Usman is a vegetable vender and very much concerned about the education of his children, especially his two sons. He has great expectations from his eldest son, Asif Ali, when he completes his three-year Diploma of Associate Engineering (DAE) in refrigeration and air-conditioning technology.

“The days are over when BA, MA degrees had some worth and people used to get good jobs on the basis of the “simple’ degrees,” Usman, himself an under-matriculate, had told the writer after admitting his son to the polytechnic centre. “It’s the age of technical hands. Anybody completing the three-year course would easily earn thousands of rupees daily in the country,” the seasoned vendor had repeated the sentences of the admission committee members to the writer. “And if a boy with a fridge and air-conditioning diploma in his hands, gets a chance to reach a Middle Eastern country, he would make lakhs of rupees monthly,” he had added in a voice trembling with hope and emotions.

However, an interaction with Usman after about one year found him quite depressed. About his son’s diploma studies, he said he was disappointed with the way the college was imparting education to Asif Ali. “Throughout the year, there had been no regular classes and no teachers to teach important science subjects,” the concerned father said. “If ever I get late to deposit the fee beyond the 5th of each month, they immediately call me. But whenever I ask them about the unavailability of teachers, they never admit their fault. They always blame the students for not attending the classes seriously.”

Usman Ali’s all dreams have shattered one by one. On completion of the DAE first year, he took his son to the shop of an AC and fridge mechanic and requested him to take him as his “Shagird” (apprentice). The “Ustad” (mechanic) told Usman he would start paying Asif only after he proves himself worth it. In the scorching heat, his son worked with the Ustad in the field for the installation of air-conditioners and repair of refrigerators for over 10 hours a day, seven days a week, but the Ustad was never impressed and he never paid him more than Rs50 a day. Asif Ali might have continued with the Ustad, had he not suffered sunstroke. The experiment also failed, as the Ustad had told Usman it would take at least two to three years when Asif would be able to install an AC independently, or repair a fridge on his own.

The poor man wonders why government authorities, especially the technical board officials, did not take action against private polytechnic institutes which are minting money but not fulfilling their responsibilities of imparting education and skills to their students.

Asif Ali would appear in the third year annual examination when the educational institutions reopen after coronavirus situation improvement next month. But he will also have to clear the papers he failed in first and second year examinations.

The pathetic situation, created by the shortage of teachers and a lack of equipment at the Polytechnic Institute and Vocational Training Centre is peculiar to it. Most of private technical and vocational colleges are working in the same conditions. However, parents like Usman Ali, have to go to the colleges when their children fail to get admission to a government institute.

According to official data, in 2018, there were more than 3,600 vocational and technical institutions in the sector enrolling over 400,000 students, most of them concentrated in cities of populous provinces, like the Punjab and Sindh. However, the number is insignificant keeping in view the large population of under 20 years and out-of-school children in the country.

According to a report, published by the World Education Services, Pakistan has the largest population growth of youths in its history currently, with two-thirds of the population projected to be below the age of 30 for the next three decades.

In the circumstances, TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) is seen as the most critical education sector to address unemployment and develop a workforce capable of driving economic development.

This particular type of education and training is provided in various forms in Pakistan, from informal industry-based apprenticeship programs to secondary-level skill certificate and diploma programs of one or two years, as well as 10+3 programs that straddle secondary and post-secondary levels.

The examples of the latter include the 10+3 Diploma in Nursing and Diploma of Associate Engineer (DAE) — qualifications that are examined by state boards of technical education and nursing education, respectively.

According to the ruling party’s manifesto, strengthening the technical and vocational education sector is an important priority for the government. The government had planned undertaking the initiative through a common certification framework, promoting public partnerships with industry, the private sector and donors, including setting up of industry-led skill councils, increasing the number of skilled workers in priority areas for economic growth, promoting the “skills brand” through campaigns, strengthening and improving quality and the institutional framework of the sector and introducing a national skills information system to ensure better student placement and planning.

For all the four priority areas, the government was to track and monitor results, ensuring that their objectives were met. Translating the policy framework into implementable policies is a task that the PTI has yet to undertake, though different provinces have started drafting their own implementation plans.

However, merely policy statements and plans on paper won’t serve the purpose. The ground reality is that the TVET sector accommodates merely less than 15 per cent of nearly three million young people, who enter the job market each year. The government is currently trying to create a system with the capacity to accommodate 20 per cent of all school leavers by 2025.

According to the World Education Services report, beyond its capacity shortages, the TVET sector has historically been marred by a lack of national coordination, quality problems, and outdated curricula that fail to adequately serve the needs of the labour market. To improve the situation, a process to develop a National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) was initiated in 2009 in collaboration with and funded by the European Union (EU) and the governments of the Netherlands, Norway and Germany, with its internationally recognized TVET system. The goal is to create a system of competency-based, nationally standardized TVET qualifications that are aligned with international standards.

The government will have to introduce a strict monitoring system for polytechnic and vocational training institutions, so that the real purpose of producing a skilled workforce could be achieved to meet the needs of the market. Otherwise, the dreams of Usman Alis would keep shattering and Asif Alis would keep adding to the unskilled workforce of the country.