It’s a cool and cloudy January day at Namitete Technical College where three young women are sitting on the floor of the large college assembly hall discussing the orientation programme they have just taken part in. “It was really useful, it helped us to understand about the college and the other courses on offer,” shares Immaculate Kalichero, a 27-year-old trainee.

Her new friend, 25 year old Deria Kantayeni adds, “It taught us about how we should interact with each other and respect each other.” They all feel inspired and excited to start their courses, 22-year-old Aisha Ayami sums up their feelings, “I thought TEVET was a last option, compared to university, but since I’ve come here I now view it as my first option.” This motivation amongst the women is one of the outcomes the orientation programme aimed to achieve.  The new orientation programme has been rolled out to 45 Technical Entrepreneurial Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) colleges and training centres throughout Malawi, together with an orientation toolkit for every new trainee.

Jean Munro, UNESCO Gender and Education Specialist, explained further “We conducted a gender and inclusion study, which revealed a high drop-out rate for women studying at TEVET colleges.

A range of factors were identified as barriers to women completing their courses, including gender based violence (GBV), pregnancy, a lack of motivation due to limited understanding of the career options available to TEVET graduates, and limited family and community support for women to pursue careers that are traditionally seen as male.

Our research revealed a lack of clear and consistent rules prohibiting GBV in the institutions and very limited comprehensive sexuality education and access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.  We also found that very few of the institutions were running a comprehensive orientation programme for new trainees.

This resulted in many trainees starting their courses not understanding the TEVET system, their course, how they would be assessed, or what was expected of them both academically and in terms of their behaviour.  The orientation programme and toolkits were designed to address these barriers, and most importantly, to motivate them to complete their course.”

The weeklong orientation programme aims to motivate trainees and give them all the information they need to do well at their TEVET College or training centre. It covers information about the TEVET system, examinations, apprenticeships, and career opportunities for graduates, as well as sessions on conduct, the prevention of sexual violence and how to promote equality amongst students.

Experts are also invited to the colleges to run a session on comprehensive sexuality education.  Of significant importance are the interactive sessions that enable trainees to fully understand the content of newly established staff codes of conduct and trainee codes of conduct. These fun and interactive sessions encourage the trainees to engage in topics that are often see as dull, such as the code of conduct, or taboo, such as sexual violence.

During some sessions trainees form mixed sex groups to debate cartoon depictions of sexual violence and the concept of consent in negotiating sexual relations.

Lafiq Kachuma, a carpentry and joinery trainee at Namitete College, did not shy away from the subject, “This is the first time we have discussed sexual violence.  It’s not embarrassing; it’s educative and interesting. It was very useful,” he said.

His friend, Darkhn F Hauya, a bricklaying trainee, agreed the sessions were important, “We learnt a lot of things about behaviour, to respect girls and boys and prevent sexual violence.”  All trainees receive an orientation toolkit, which contains an orientation manual, a code of conduct, and a set of pamphlets.

A code of conduct document has also been produced for TEVET instructors and administration staff.

The codes of conduct give a detailed guide to trainees and staff on the positive values and behaviours expected of them, as well as clearly and explicitly explaining prohibited misconduct, including sexual violence.

A series of colourful posters and pamphlets have been produced using visual cartoons, graphics and local languages to communicate the information from the codes of conduct and orientation manual in a clear and easy to understand format.

Some colleges that have run their orientation programme and have reported early positive impact, including improved attitude and behaviour amongst the trainees and a reduced amount of trainees dropping out of the college in the first weeks verses previous years.

Edson Kaudu, acting principal at Mbandira Community Technical College in Nkhotakhota, explained the impact at his college, “The orientation was very good, beyond my expectations and the trainees’ expectations.  It has been very motivational for the trainees.

In previous years we had a lot of trainees leaving in the first few days but this year we had our highest intake of trainees ever.  We are now receiving a lot of phone calls from people wanting to join the courses as they have heard recommendations from their friends at the college.”  Mr Kaudu was particularly enthusiastic about the role model session in the orientation programme, aimed at inspiring the new trainees, “We invited a female plumbing graduate to come and give a practical demonstration on making pipe threads to the whole 2019 intake.  She showed them that being a woman is not a challenge in doing vocational work.”

The orientation programme and toolkits were provided under the European Union (EU) funded Skills and Technical Education Programme (STEP) in partnership with the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA) and the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development.

Programme Manager for Education at the EU delegation to Malawi Lena Veierskov said, “The EU is committed to strengthening the TEVET sector in Malawi.  Vocational training equips people with life-long skills they can use to learn a living.  Women should not be excluded from becoming skilled professionals due to safety fears and misplaced stereotypes. This training and is one of many initiatives the EU funded STEP programme is implementing to promote equitable and gender balance access to TEVET in Malawi”

STEP trained 261 newly qualified TEVET instructors and principals in the codes of conduct and how to run the orientation programme over December and early January and distributed over 8,000 orientation toolkits to 45 different TEVET training institutions and 5 trade test centres throughout Malawi in January.  The orientation programme guide and toolkits can be downloaded from the STEP website: https://www.stepmalawi.com/resources/orientation-toolkit/