The European Union (EU) is funding the Skills and Technical Education Programme (STEP) which is partially implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Arthur Shears is STEP Team Leader and he explains:

  1. What is STEP all about?

The main objective of STEP is to empower the Technical, Entrepreneurial, Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) sector and its capacity to satisfy the economy’s need for professionals through improvement of equitable and gender-balanced TEVET in Malawi. The programme is running from 2016 to 2020 and its total budget is 32.6 million EUR. It is fully funded by the European Union through the 11th European Development Fund.

  1. The programme has three components, please explain briefly?

STEP’s three components align with the programme’s specific objectives; which are to:     i) promote equitable and gender-balanced access to TEVET; ii) improve the quality and relevance of TEVET; and 3) strengthen the governance and management of TEVET regulatory bodies and training institutions.

It should be mentioned that UNESCO is managing only part of the programme, and the European Union’s investment has a significant infrastructure and equipment supply element managed by the National Authorizing Office Support Unit. There is also a grant component which has supported seven individual or consortia of non-governmental organizations.

  1. What are the key challenges the TEVET sector in Malawi is facing?

Malawi does not have enough training institutions to meet the huge demand for skills training and there are a number of under-represented groups in TEVET such as females and persons with disabilities. There have also been challenges in the quality and relevance of programmes, the skills and experience of instructors and management in TEVET, and equipment that is outdated or out of service. The private sector might add that there has been inadequate consultation with industry on the content and quality of programmes and the competence of trainees leaving the system.

  1. What strategies did STEP and its partners put in place to address the challenges?

Before STEP began, the Government of Malawi had already started an improvement drive in TEVET with the introduction of Community Technical Colleges. The European Union support through STEP has enabled 28 different TEVET institutions across Malawi to benefit. Forty workshops were constructed or rehabilitated and provided with state of the art equipment primarily in construction related trades.

On the soft side, UNESCO has contributed through the training of TEVET instructors and TEVET institution managers, the development of revised curricula and training materials in construction trades and in new technologies such as renewable energy, instrumentation and computer numeric control of lathe and machining equipment. We have also conducted research on ways to make TEVET more inclusive and more popular as a career pathway.

  1. How does STEP work with other stakeholders to achieve its goal?

STEP has established an annual stakeholder forum with participants from government, the private sector, unions, and NGOs to discuss and debate how to make TEVET stronger in Malawi. It is working with the TEVET Authority to reform the structure and function of trade advisory and sector advisory committees and exploring possible alternatives to the current management of the training fund.

Another strategy is to contract agencies such as Zayed Solar Academy which is conducting a bursary programme for women in solar installation and repair near Nkhata Bay. Another example – the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry has a contract to update its members on new developments in TEVET and encourage member involvement including monitoring of TEVET programmes and placement of apprentices and those who have completed their training.

  1. Some sectors of the society believe that technical jobs are just for men. What strategies have you put in place to encourage more girls to join the sector?

Men and women are of course both equally capable of doing technical and as well as other types of jobs. The challenge is that many young persons in school are not aware of the opportunities available through TEVET and do not have many role models. STEP research has shown there is little career guidance in schools of any type and almost none featuring TEVET. To overcome this deficit, STEP worked with partners including the National Youth Council of Malawi and Youth to Youth Empowerment to bring information to schools about the opportunities available through TEVET.

Moreover, STEP has partnered with prominent Malawian artists to help break stereotypes about the types of jobs that are appropriate for women and men. STEP has also delivered an inclusive pedagogy programme for instructors and supported an orientation programme for all new trainees in January 2019 that featured information on equity, prevention of gender based violence and implementation of instructor and trainee codes of conduct.

  1. Does STEP also target vulnerable groups?

Women, who are under-represented in TEVET, as well as persons with disabilities are important beneficiaries of STEP. Many of the grantee organizations supported under STEP are working with vulnerable groups such as street children in Blantyre, persons with albinism, refugees, former inmates, and others.

  1. Stakeholders in the TEVET sector are in the process of drafting the Malawi Qualifications Authority bill, tell us more about this?

The idea of establishing a Malawi Qualifications Authority has been under discussion for many years and a previous UNESCO project held several stakeholder meetings to reflect on a draft bill. STEP has been able to support further discussion on the bill and a next iteration of the draft legal text from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is overdue. STEP is supporting the establishment of a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) development committee with the Department of Inspection and Advisory Services under the Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MOEST). Malawi is one of the only countries in the SADC region without such a national framework although it does have a technical qualifications framework of Levels 1 to 4. A full NQF would likely incorporate Levels from 1 to 10, the latter being PhD level. The proposed Malawi Qualifications Authority would be the apex body to manage the NQF and would work with other government entities.

  1. 2020 is the last year to implement the programme. Are there any prospects for another phase?

Yes, the European Union still has 100 M EUR (approx. 840 billion MWK) which are dedicated to support TEVET and secondary education in Malawi. A new programme in support of TEVET is currently being planned and consultations have already been held with the key stakeholders.

  1. How important are technical skills in a country like Malawi?

Technical skills are critically important in any country to support economic development and diversification, improve infrastructure and provide opportunities for job growth. To support Malawi’s growth sectors such as agriculture, construction, tourism, mining and extraction, a robust and efficient TEVET system is a must.