National TVET Regulator: The Missing Rib in Liberia’s TVET Governance Structure
Overhauling the current scattered & poorly coordinated governance system of Technical & Vocational Education in Liberia to present a more dedicated, focused, and result oriented body (National Commission on Technical & Vocational Education) remains iced as Youthful Liberians, thirsty for trusted marketable skills and a fast growing economy soon to be drought of qualified technical skills, are kept posted with imaginations.
Strangely, Liberia runs a TVET sector in the absence of an adopted National Curriculum whose courses are tailored to the demands of the country’s emerging labor market expected to be “run on” by the Agriculture, Mining, Forestry and Oil sectors. Schools operate in the sector with separate “curriculum” embedded with many courses unlinked to current market demand; a situation that constructs a cloud over the competence of their products and deny them employment opportunities even if areas of study are partially demanded by a micro segment of the job market.
The employment frustration faced by students in this sector, which is enhanced by doubt in their competence and the missing link between courses they were taught and the demand from the job market, has been highlighted by both local & International organizations. According to IFC Africa Schools Liberia Program, a four year advisory services program to assist Liberia increase access to education, only 19% out of the 100% certified vocationally trained persons can find employment. This report unravels something risky: that the policy motives of developing the skills of vulnerable youths, thus keeping them miles away for being enlisted into destructive ventures, have not received appreciable achievements.
This risky situational report is looming while nothing is being heard or felt from the National Council of Vocational & Technical Education, the government’s regulatory Body chaired by the Ministry of Planning and Co-Chaired by the Ministry of Education and charged with the responsibility of testing and monitoring learning achievements in the sector . The government’s implementation strategy on its agenda for TVET is scattered between the ministries of Youth & Sports and Education; as both ministries have separate and poorly coordinating Assistant Minister & Director for Technical & Vocational Education. Why two separate Assistant Ministers & Directors for TVET? WHY two ministries? Why not ONE institution (NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TECHNICAL & VOCATIONAL EDUCATION) with dedicated responsibility to develop TVET?
Challenges in the sector birthed and nursed by the absence of a National regulator also extend to a huge capacity gap and the absence of clear capacity building plan for teachers & administrators in the sector. There are no training facilities for TVET instructors in Liberia. Those currently instructing are graduates from trade schools with low qualifications, and limited or no industrial experience. Research shows that no training for TVET instructors in Liberia has been conducted since 1970. Before 1970 trainings were conducted by the World Bank (1974- 1976) and the Swedish International Development Authority (1968- 1970). Teachers in the sector have not benefited from the budgetary allotment for capacity building even though they are the most affected.
This huge capacity gap and the absence of a capacity building plan exist in the midst of government’s renovation and equipping of the country’s single largest TVET School, MVTC. I am not too sure we are prepared to hire unqualified instructors and flood them in the newly renovated MVTC. Hence, we need to do the renovation & Capacity building concomitantly while we stretch our hands to the establishment of the National TVET regulator. Study shows that the caliber and morale of instructors in any training system are very important. Trainers’ influence on the trainees is often critical and at a time rapid changes in technology are affecting almost every area of the economy, the need for good and motivated teachers is essential.
The National TVET regulator, if established, will promote proper coordination of the sector and enhance effectiveness and efficiency. ALL VET providers will work under a National set of standards and be regulated by a dedicated body. By this, high level quality and service will be guaranteed and businesses as well as government institutions & private individuals will build confidence in the skills of TVET graduates thus addressing the issue of unemployment after graduation.
The National TVET regulator will work with the formal education system to change entrenched societal stereotype regarding vocational education and training by linking the TVET sector with the formal education system. The effects of the war still run deep in every sector of the society even though there are visible commitments from the government to address them. The TVET sector and the youth of the country are not exempt from deep running effect of the war; in fact the youths are the most affected as they were both perpetrators and victims of the war.
The specific effect of the war on youth capacity is that significant, if not majority, of the youthful survivals from the war could not return to formal education because of the huge gap between the classes the war met and left them in and their current ages. This situation needs a decisive, specialized and well supported TVET educational strategy to develop the skills of these people, integrate them in the society and make them meaningful citizens. Reports from the international Community, government institutions as well as other local NGOs like LYIPSUD (Liberia Youth Initiative For Peace & Sustainable Development) have all agreed that Technical & Vocational Education and training is a proven and effective way to improve skills and job prospects for the Liberian youths. However, the commencement of the process as mentioned earlier does not address the root or causes of the problem but is focused on the effects.
Seventy-five percent of Liberians are younger than age 35 ( LIGIS REPORT) and majority of this number lack basic employable skills that could keep them miles away from being enlisted into violent and other unwholesome activities. Regrettably, the current TVET system does not guarantee the avoidance of this and may increase social political and economic risk on the society if not addressed.
The need to prioritize TVET education is not only tide to negative social and political consequences but economics as well. The Liberian economy is fast moving with the expansion of the Forestry, Mining and Agriculture sectors joint with the discovery of oil. The economy is therefore signaling an urgent need for an educational sector, inclusive of TVET, that provides the labor to sustain its expansion and generate the needed outcome to make Liberia a middle income country by 2030. The failure of the educational sector, both TVET and academic, to provide the needed work force for the country’s fast moving economy (World Bank Latest report) will strangulate economic growth & development and drawback our achievements geared towards making the country a middle income one.