Community technical colleges offer Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) holders a lifeline. ALBERT SHARRA writes.
At 6am, Chimwemwe Masiye hits the ground running—shouting from one minibus to another at Mbayani Market in Blantyre where he helps entice passengers. To him, a busload of passengers to board minibuses is worth K200, an equivalent of one ticket for a trip to Blantyre central business district (CBD).
“When the bus is full, I get my meagre cash and move on to wait for my turn,” he says.
Some drivers wheel away without paying a coin. At worst, the lion’s share goes to his violent peers and self-crowned gang leaders.
Touting is not only illegal in the country. Masiye finds it slavish, survival of the fittest. But unskilled hands are no choosers.
This is why the school dropout, who obtained Junior Certificate in 2006, is not alone in the trade.
Due to massive youth unemployment, touting and carrying passengers’ luggage in bus stops is not peculiar to young Malawians whose academic credentials are said to have lost value on the job market.
“I’ve been looking for a job for 10 years, but no employer wants a JC dropout,” he says, subtly justifying government’s contentious decision to discontinue JC examinations.
Counting his earnings, which total almost K1 500 daily, the 26-year-old belongs to a youthful population which constitute almost 75 in 100 Malawians—and they are mostly unskilled and hit hard by unemployment.
For decades, quitting school at JC level was almost a death sentence for ambitious young citizens as the energetic group with the potential to transform the country’s ailing economy, instead of depending on aged folks, had nowhere to go to redeem their chances in life.
Twice, Masiye has been among about 10 000 aspirants applying for state-funded technical, entrepreneurial and vocation education and training (Tevet), but never made it among the 2 000 picked each time.
Thousands of touts nationwide, including Malawi School Certificate of Education (MCSE) holders, mirror the gloomy face of how government is letting down its bulging youthful population. They cannot secure formal jobs. They have been locked out from technical colleges. They keep haunting law enforcers as they delve into illegal trades, including touting, drug smuggling, street vending, theft and robberies.
Interestingly, the community colleges initiative President Peter Mutharika launched in March 2015 offers the JC dropouts a second chance in life.
The 10 colleges in operation not only give the once forsaken young citizens the ease to attain vital skills in their respective districts.
They comprise a bridging programme tailored to narrow the gap between those who complete secondary education and their counterparts who step aside along the way.
The JC group in the community-based vocational centres graduate with level two certificate and they are immediately connected to lending institutions while their MSCE colleagues proceed to level three in national technical colleges, says trainer Glyn Nyirongo.
Nyirongo, the principal of Ngala Community Technical College in Karonga, envisages the certificates and financial injections turning the one-time ‘rejects’ into monuments of self-reliance and active players in national development.
“Skills development makes them ready to join the job industry or to open their own businesses,” he says.
Among other things, government has signed an agreement with Opportunity Bank of Malawi (OBM) to support level two graduates to start different businesses in line with their skills.
“The only surety required is their certificate and a letter from the Tevet Authority [Teveta],” Ministry of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development spokesperson Simon Mbvundula explained.
About 958 learners will complete their training in the existing community colleges next year.
Government envisions the crop will create jobs for almost 50 000 young Malawians, according to Minister of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development Henry Mussa.
From the start, Mussa has been assuring the citizenry that what started as Mutharika’s presidential campaign promise will eventually trickle down to all 28 districts and 193 constituencies in the country.
When the dream comes true, the system will be able to train almost 22 000 young Malawians as each college enrols about 100 learners.
The opening of just 10 colleges since March 2015 could be a slow march in a global marathon to ensure the youth have requisite skills to take part in developing their countries instead of burdening them with dependency.
Besides, most of the colleges can only accommodate one intake every two years.
In an interview, Mussa said: “Currently, we are using the same rooms as classes and workshops. There is no space for a new group. So, we will not enrol another group until the present group graduates next year.”
The jam was not unforeseen, according to Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec)executive director Benedicto Kondowe.
“We raised the issue of space at the start, but it was over-looked,” he said.
Kondowe warns the two-year gap will slow down the pace towards reducing massive youth unemployment and increasing access to vocational skills as the country only has seven formal technical colleges.
The community colleges offer training in bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, welding and fabrication, textile design, plumbing and motor cycle mechanics at a subsidised rate.