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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Columnist: Amankwah, Dinah

Strengthening Technical Education

Institutionalization of Apprenticeship: Strengthening Technical Education

By: Dinah Amankwah,
Takoradi Polytechnic, Ghana

A nation develops on the talents of its citizens but the reality is that talent does not automatically yield development. Human talent, nurtured through formal and informal training, responds to the dynamic needs of society. Therefore proactive governments strategize to develop the talents of citizens in order to develop their nations. Conversely, capable and innovative individuals seize timely opportunities to develop self for personal fulfilment and as well contribute meaningfully to community and nation building. A huge part of that talent nurturing occurs through technical education.
Understandably therefore, serious nations are putting forth maximum financial and technological efforts, not only to develop technical education programmes, but are constantly revising such--for both public and private sectors--to meet national needs. Most importantly, such efforts are geared towards laying a strong foundation in skill acquisition for the youth, and to broaden career choices for citizens. According to one Secretary of State for Education, a weak technical education implies that “[a nation’s] capacity to generate growth ... remains weaker”. Consequently, a serious nation exploits technical avenues to maximize human potential. The private sector, among other functions, also presents a strategic channel to develop human talent through vocational apprenticeships.
Ghana’s private sector houses a significant part of the nation’s human resources and labour force, two resources that ought to be explored to expedite the nation’s developmental efforts. The skills available in that sector, transferable through apprenticeship, ensure a constant supply of skills to meet domestic, social and commercial needs in both rural and urban communities. Acquisition of skill through apprenticeships implies mastery which in turn empowers the skilled through job security. Ideally, informal apprenticeship should complement formal ones to maximize skill acquisition, secure employment and quality existence for the citizenry.
The apprenticeship programme of the private sector places it in a tactical position to help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in the country. Its percentage in human resource development is very high: “Informal Apprenticeship Training (IAT) is responsible for some 80-90% of all basic skills training in Ghana, as compared to 5-10% from public training institutions and 10-15% from NGO for-profit and non-profit providers”. Acquisition of employable skill might imply steady jobs for artisans, thereby, raise their chances of earning decent income, which in turn might enable them to live comfortably, thus fulfil one target of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), “[a]chieve full and productive employment and decent work”.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has acknowledged: “The private sector is the main engine of growth”. However, that engine can operate effectively only upon being oiled well and capably programmed. In other words, if that sector was adequately empowered intellectually and persuaded to invest in quality and systematic upgrading in order to be equipped for technological trends and sound business management skills, the level of sophistication that would be added to its workforce would not only make its apprenticeship attractive to the youth but would ensure a steady cash flow from its normal operations, which in turn would enable the government to demand higher income tax from it. Institutionalizing apprenticeship in the country would refine skill acquisition by theorizing practice so that artisans might appreciate the underlying principles of their vocations.

Institutionalization of apprenticeship here refers to linking formal education with apprenticeship whereby mandatory education would be extended to the secondary level so that graduating apprentices would possess a minimum of secondary level education. Since there are various categories of learners in the apprenticeship groups, provision would have to be made for slow learners by providing for abridged curricula in order to ensure that they possess, at least, functional skills—language, mathematics, science, critical thinking, entrepreneurial and business management--upon completion. For that to happen, however, the practical component of various syllabi must be strengthened, from upper primary through to junior high level to enable right placement of pupils at the secondary level. There would be need for a versatile evaluative system that would ensure close and proper monitoring towards appropriate placement of students in the right programmes.
Institutionalization also refers to regular orientation by polytechnic and technical institutions to update knowledge, skills and practice of local private sector artisans and tapping their expertise in practical instruction in technical classrooms. The orientation should cover illiterate apprentices or school drop-outs so that they can all access NVTI levels 1 and 2. Thus graduating apprentices would possess working knowledge in areas of literacy, numeracy business management and critical thinking. Such strategic education would lend sophistication to all apprenticeship programmes, and as well endow artisan groups with the professionalism required for public trust and patronage crucial for sustainable business.

The rapidity of global technological and economic changes--to mention two--requires that knowledge be packaged with adaptable qualities, otherwise, beneficiaries risk lagging behind development. If such beneficiaries belong to a nation, then the nation stagnates. Proactive nations therefore acknowledge that it is not enough to impart knowledge: “The future of [a country] depends on knowledge, the ability to utilise knowledge and the capacity for new innovations”. Imparting versatile knowledge should be the objective of both public and private sectors, through formal and informal training, if a country desires balanced human resources. Ghana needs that direction to save the unskilled youth who have besieged urban streets and highways, petty trading.

These are but a few urgent reasons to revisit the concept of apprenticeship and the possibility of institutionalizing it in the country. It is necessary to investigate the challenges facing the apprenticeship system and possible ways of revitalizing the artisan groups to ensure productivity and economic stability. It is about time the national myth surrounding apprenticeship that pupils from poor homes, school drop-outs and academic non-performers enrol in apprenticeship, was completely demystified. To wit, education is curtailed mainly due to three reasons: academic non-performance, financial constraints and delinquency.
Whilst the latter reasons are acceptable because such drop-outs may be good students and as such could direct their talents elsewhere, the former is highly unacceptable because when people who are apparently slow-witted are put through apprenticeship in vocations, the services of which impact directly on human lives, a foundation is laid for poor or sub-standard performance, one rippling effect of which action is a volatile environment in which lives are continuously endangered. An exception to the scenario above is the circumstance where an otherwise slow-learner in a typical academic environment would show potential in another area of human endeavour and be counselled to or voluntarily opt for mastery in that area. Consequently, all stakeholders of education must consider the practicality of institutionalizing apprenticeship in Ghana because the poor performance of most artisans and the general distrust for their services is a direct result of raw apprenticeship. Such poor performance, often resulting in low income status, must constantly remind policy makers, educators and other stakeholders about the gross underutilization of human resources in the unskilled workforce and the nation’s squandered chances of tapping maximum economic benefits from the informal sector.
Apprenticeship offers routes to trades that require highly sophisticated knowledge. Here are three examples: Auto-mechanics handle parts of automobiles, the erroneous repair or replacement of which could have socio-economic or even fatal consequences. Drivers ply roads in small and heavy vehicles; their ability to read and interpret road situations and handle vehicles with precision is crucial to human safety. Beauticians apply strong chemicals to hair and nails, misapplication of which chemicals pose health hazards. Scientific and technological advancement bring rapid changes to these vocations. Artisans therefore need good education, far beyond basic school mathematics and English language. In short, apprenticeship is not for the dim-witted; rather, it is meant for smart ones who can master skills and apply acquired knowledge under changing circumstances.
Technology has affected all areas of human endeavours; it has resulted in the manufacture of sophisticated machinery, job tools and equipment. Such work equipment requires equally sophisticated expertise, which would not occur by chance. A nation must therefore strategize to give currency to its human resource training in order to match such industrial sophistication. Technical institutions could muster holistic approaches which can revitalize apprenticeship in the country, strategize their programmes to invest heavily in human resources. To achieve that, moribund curriculum must give way to proactive ones in content—teaching-learning methods, teacher education, practice, technological infrastructure, to mention four. As such, political touting and educational apathy must give way to innovation, realistic policies to suit local needs and effective monitoring. Institutionalization of apprenticeship might be challenging and costly but it is the best approach to skill acquisition and youth empowerment. Hopefully, Ghana has the guts to adopt it.

Dinah Amankwah
Takoradi Polytechnic
P. O. Box 256
Takoradi, W/R