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close this bookThe Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)
close this folderChapter IV. The integration of youth into the informal sector: the Kenyan experience by Ahmed K. Ferej
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Background
View the document2. The growth of the informal sector in Kenya
View the document3. Vocationalization of the formal education system
View the document4. Accessibility to skill training in the informal sector
View the document5. Implications for education and training
View the documentConclusion

3. Vocationalization of the formal education system

Since the majority of the youth exiting from nearly all levels of the education system can only hope to find a source of livelihood in the informal sector, at the present, many programme could be described as possible routes for youth to enter the sector. The vocationalization of the formal educational programme was undertaken with this objective in mind. Tertiary programmes have incorporated the teaching of entrepreneurship in part to prepare the youth for the time they might start their own businesses.

The introduction of the 8-4-4 education system in Kenya in 1985 was a major effort to impart vocational skills to all students passing through the school system. The objective of the programme was to ensure that the youth that dropped out, or did not proceed to the next level of the educational ladder, would be self-reliant. In other words, the students would be able to consider self-employment as a viable alternative for earning a living (King, 1996). To meet this objective several subjects were introduced at the primary level and secondary level. At the primary level these subjects included: arts and crafts; home science; and business education. At the secondary level the subjects were placed in clusters, thus industrial education included: woodwork, metalwork, electricity, power mechanics, drawing and design, and aviation technology. Business education included: commerce, secretarial accounting and economics. Others were home science, agriculture (GOK 1984). More recently, computer education has been included in the secondary school curriculum as an option.

The original intention of the curriculum planners was to have these 'new' subjects offered as examinable in the same manner as the other traditional core subjects, for example mathematics, English, and sciences (King, 1966). After implementation of the curriculum, it became apparent that all schools were not going to be uniform in their ability to offer these options to their students. Each school community was required to provide the facilities to implement the new curricula, with the result that affluent communities were in a better position to raise funds to provide the new workshops, laboratories and the facilities to effectively teach the new curricula. Many rural schools chose to offer the cheaper options in each cluster. For example, in the industrial education cluster, most rural schools could only offer drawing and design and in the business education cluster, most schools offered commerce as these were the cheapest to implement in terms of basic infrastructure, and learning materials.

As a consequence of the disparities between schools, that affected their performance in critical national examinations, as well as their ability to finance the cost of offering the vocational subjects, pressure mounted on the government to reduce the number of examinable subjects. The Ministry relented and relaxed its stand on the vocational subjects schools were required to offer. This stand effectively diluted the number of options and the quality of the vocational education that could be offered and weakened the effort of communities to provide for the new curriculum. Thus students left school with little or no vocational skills at all. During a recent presentation to the Commission of Inquiry into the education system of Kenya, the Ministry of Education made a strong presentation recommending the reduction of examinable subjects in the formal school system. The Ministry proposed the reduction of examinable subjects to four, namely, mathematics, English, Kiswahili, and General Paper. This was clearly a reversal of the original vocationalization of the curriculum goal. For the secondary-school level, the Ministry recommended that «The secondary school curriculum should be flexible enough to allow the students to select at least six subjects in which they are interested and have ability to learn» (MOEHRD, 1999: p. 16). No direct mention is made of 'vocational', self-employment, as in previous government papers.

3.1 The impact of general education on youth entering the informal sector

Judging the impact of a curriculum is difficult and may require a long period of time to attribute success or failure to it. In the Kenyan experiment, it might be argued that the vocationalized curriculum was never implemented universally as planned, due to the difficulties previously stated. Unfortunately for most students, however, as they ascend the educational ladder it is inevitable that at the end of each cycle many enter the job market as fewer places for further education are available. Thus, the objective of providing young persons exiting at each level with sufficient knowledge and skills to enter the world of work or self-employment was quite noble. However, this has been difficult to achieve. At the primary level the government has admitted that, «Some of the subject contents have been found to be unsuitable for primary-school level... Graduates of primary school are not physically and mentally prepared and are not skilled enough to meet the challenges of the world of work» (MOEHRD, 1999:p.15).

According to government figures, about 400,000 students took the primary school examinations in 1997. Out of these, about 186,000 (46.5 per cent) were admitted into secondary schools (GOK., 1998). Thus, more than half were thrust into the job market. Some may have entered the youth polytechnics, informal-sector apprenticeship system and working as assistants in family businesses or subsistence farming. At the same time, nearly 600,000 (60 per cent) students dropped out of the school system before reaching the end stage, as about one million were originally enrolled at the beginning of the primary school cycle.

It is worth noting that the majority of informal-sector apprentices are those with eight years of primary school education or less. This fact contradicts the Ministry of Education argument that pupils at this stage are not old enough to prepare for the world of work.

At the secondary cycle the attrition rate is less, with over 80 per cent going on to the next stage. In 1994, for example, about 168,000 students were admitted into the first year of secondary education, while in 1997 about 149,000 (88.7 percent) students began their fourth-year secondary education. The loss of about 11 per cent can be attributed to any number of factors, including repetition of the previous class. Following the secondary school final examinations, only about 9,000 students, or about 6 per cent of those who complete secondary school, were admitted to public universities. A very small number will access university education through local private or overseas universities. About another 10,000 students join other tertiary institutions such as Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology, Teacher-training Colleges, Paramedical Training Colleges, and the Youth Service. Thus the majority of secondary-school graduates will end up in the informal sector, or in family businesses or subsistence farming.

The foregoing shows that the largest number of youth from each level of the education system will not find a place in the next higher level and will not find a job in the formal sector. The informal sector becomes the forced destination for the majority. Others that do not show clearly in statistics, work within family businesses or family subsistence farming.

3.2 Tertiary education

Institutions that provide Education and Training at this level include the Youth Polytechnics, Institutes of Technology (includes Technical Training Institutes and the National Polytechnics) and the Universities, Medical Training Centres, and Agricultural Training Colleges. Youth Polytechnics (YPs) number about 600 in the country and cater mostly to primary-school graduates. Lately, however, some secondary-school graduates have found their way into these institutions. YPs are mostly rural based and provide training that is practical-oriented and that prepares the youth for rural or urban employment or self-employment. A large number of the YP graduates form the bedrock of rural skilled labour, while many also enter into the informal sector in the urban areas.

The Institutes of Technology admit secondary-school graduates for a variety of programmes that mostly prepare the youth for positions in the formal sector. There has been a change in focus, however, as jobs have continued to be scarce in the formal sector. Now there is evident interest in encouraging the learners to think of careers in the informal sector or self-employment. Towards this end the parent Ministry now mandates the offering of entrepreneurship education to all the students in these institutions. The subject is compulsory and examinable (GOK, 1988).

3.3 Criticism of formal vocational education and training

A common criticism of the formal vocational education and training system, particularly the component covered in technical institutions, is the relevance of the content matter. Content is often not matched to local needs and conditions. Graduates of the systems therefore tend to be versed in operations and processes that are non-existent in many small enterprises, less so the informal or self-employment sectors (ILO, 1988).

Another criticism of the formal training system is the method of delivery. There is little effort to take training outside of the confines of institutions and bring it near to where the people live and work. This becomes even clearer when it is observed that the majority of skill training takes place in the informal system, but there is no recognized connection between the two systems (ILO, 1988).

Lack of continued contact between institutional instructors and the workplace tend to make the instructors' teaching less and less relevant to the changing workplace. The ILO (1988) report suggests that a system of continued interaction between workplace and technical institutions must be maintained to preserve relevance of teaching content.

Due to their large number and dispersal throughout the country, Youth Polytechnics (YPs) could have been the most accessible training facilities for the majority of the youth in Kenya. Sadly this is not the case. Community-supported YPs are the training institutions of last resort for most of the youth. These institutions are plagued with a host of problems. They lack teaching equipment and facilities; materials for practical training; textbooks; and quality teachers. Enrolment in most is too low for economic running of the community YPs. In contrast, YP institutions managed and funded by NGOs are often well equipped and attract more students than can be admitted, with many applicants being turned down. These NGO YPs produce graduates that easily find paid employment or successfully enter into self-employment. In some cases the latter institutions assist the trainees to procure tool-boxes that make it easier to enter into self-employment.