No doubt, vocational education offers practical skills and quickly sets up students in life. But little is known of our 56 business, technical, vocational education and training institutions (BTVET) that absorb Primary Seven leavers. Yet, this education is free in 40 government-aided and 16 private polytechnics.
This year, government has sunk into the courses Shs2.5b in the non-formal training programme, according to Mr Patrick Byakatonda, the coordinator of non -formal skills training at the Ministry of Education and Sports.
Despite these benefits, not many parents are aware of these polytechnics as pointed out by Mr Ilahi Mansoor, the assistant commissioner of BTVET. Moreover, these business, technical, vocational polytechnics offer ready practical skills, on-the job, and enterprise-based training programmes.
Government should, therefore, do more to market these polytechnics.
These hands-on courses, without a doubt, have several success stories of self-employment, and transformed livelihoods over theoretical learning. But these courses remain expensive for private students who pay up to Shs1.5 million per semester.
This potentially frustrates enthusiastic take-up of the all-important courses. This exorbitant fees also potentially take away the seed capital for start-ups.
These steep fees for plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters, and welders also risk taking away any savings for start-ups. Yet, this hands-on courses should take root alongside theoretical learning.
To redress these, government should provide some venture capital, or promote job placements for these artisans.
These options should make the courses more attractive. This should also help erode the stereotype that vocational education is a career for the academically weak.
With these inducements, parents and learners should begin to consider vocational education as first choice option over the traditional theoretical learning. Only a rigorous marketing of the BTVET programmes should remove the stigma and encourage more uptake of the practical skills courses.
But acquiring these useful job skills is one thing and putting it into practice is another.
Government should strike a smart balance between the annual enrolments of 3,360 students in these polytechnics and setting them up to do the jobs they were trained to do.
Short of some of these alternatives, these skilled craftsmen and craftswomen will be wasted. Their turnovers are faster and complete the hands-on course within only two or three years.
And the artisans are likely to flood the market and create a cyclic unemployment; adding onto the huge numbers of jobless youth.
In sum, government should sell more to the public, the benefits of these practical skills courses.