I had to graduate at the age of 27 years from a youth activist to a youth worker, to adjust to age. I am not sure what I am supposed to call myself in reference to advocating youth rights in political, social and economic development of Malawi.
Today, 19 March 2015, however brought back emotions we experienced when we fought, not to a greater success of the need to have a structure to formally impart youth skills from community level. With assistance of Unicef, between 1996 to 2001, we tried to set very powerful youth led skills centres like Gemacadet in Rumphi, Focus in Karonga, Cayo in Kawale, Mteso in Nkhatabay, Yased in Area 18, Youth Arm Drop in Centre, Chingale in Zomba and many others in Chikwakwa, Ntchisi and Nkhotakota. Some suceeded, some failed.
Today, President Peter Mutharika launched the Ngara Community Technical College. After 21 years since the dismantling of the Malawi Young Pioneers, the opening should have marked a greater celebration to those that have worked tirelessly to ensure that a firm, structured and organised skills programme is available for Malawi’s young generation.
May be let’s start from the beginning to make sense of how this initiative is an important milestone to the development, the future and indeed foundation of our social economic development.
Half of Malawi’s population (it used to be 65 percent) is below the age of 30 years. If you put at 35 years you get at least 9 million Malawians, making it one of the most youthful countries in the Sub Saharan Africa.
At least 3 million are enrolled from Primary School to the University level. Until 2000, Malawi had only one public University, and by end of 2014, they had grown to four with the addition of Malawi University of Science and Technology and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The total intake including parallel programmes could be estimated at around 12,000 maximum.
Then we have Technical Colleges, whose intake according to Labour Minister is at 2,000 annually. The Private Universities and Technical Colleges intake is around 5,000 more. The total spaces combined in Universities, Colleges, Technical and other skills centres can be estimated at 25,000 annual intake. Backstreet Colleges are ripping off many with four intakes annually some with bogus qualifications being offered.
In 2014, According to MANEB, 130 293 Young Malawians sat for examinations. Only 71,486 (54 percent) passed and 44 180 got an MSCE certificate. Of the figures almost 58,000 were females. The figures indicate that almost 60,000 young Malawians failed. Nobody speaks what has become of them.
In the last decade alone, with failure rates as high as 60 percent, one can safely estimate that over 600,000 have gone through the 12 years of basic education without getting out with any formal qualification. If we add the Primary School Leaving Certificate taken after 8 years and the Junior Certificate of Education, putting the figure of 1 million Youth having failed to attain any formal recognition in education would be a conservative estimate.
The next question before we even look at those that have attained a formal qualification whether PSLCE, JCE and MSCE, let’s ask where have the million people gone after failing and dropping from the formal education sector?
Malawi needs to ask the questions like these if we will have a proper policy direction and investment that will deliver the next generation from poverty and make the 100th anniversary of independence an occasion worthwhile.
The 1 million being chunked out every 10 years without any formal qualifications, become vendors, girls rush into early marriages, others go into excessive drinking, and others criminal activities, others even into prostitution. The majority of youth challenges are associated to idleness and lack of opportunities. Very few, especially in rural Malawi have an opportunity to go back to school or learn a lifelong skill.
Back to the MSCE graduates. The Malawi education sector has no real skills transfer in the first 12 years despite out cries and revision of curriculum. Students are asked to sit and pass six subjects, which have no real life giving direction. The curriculum has remained a joke that the same level of education in England or South Africa, a student is already shaped to his future career or life experience. In Malawi you graduate with general knowledge, from all the chapters of the Bible via English literature books to Rain Forests or Monsoon winds, which will not deliver anyone skills required in future life.
Apart from the urgent need to change the curriculum, there is need to reduce the primary school years to standard six and introduce form five for Internationally recognised qualification that could increase competitiveness of our academic basic papers.
Now even the 71,000 that passed 2014 MSCE, we can assume 30,000 were absorbed into the different local and international education opportunities available. The remaining 41,000 armed with general knowledge enter the job market. Many end up in unskilled employment, frustrating their life ambitions to decent work, creating angry population.
If you add the 60,000 that fail the exams and 31,000 that enter the job market each year, we are talking of 90,000 young Malawians between the age of 15 to 23, going home frustrated and without skills that does not augur well.
From 1965 to 1992, those that had no skills and could not access higher education, used to go to Malawi Young Pioneer, the major reason we had no vendors or petty criminals across the cities and towns or major trading centres.
The end of MYP meant all Young people either had to fight for spaces or create own opportunity in a country whose poverty and attitude towards a young person’s idea is already a hindrance to his or her participation, made the things worse.
Despite launching various credit schemes in 1996 and 2005 targeting the Youth, nothing tangible has come out of it, due to politicisation of the loan schemes and more importantly adults who man the Youth Departments of political parties suddenly qualify. There is nothing to write home about Youth Wings of our political parties, the average age of their directors are 40. They do not serve interests of young people, save for stoning those perceived to be political enemies.
The Community Colleges, is what people like Late Ndamyo Mwangomba, Late Dan Maseko, Late Big Billy Chirwa, Late Wales Chitsulo, Late Sarah Mbingwa and many others including Late Ellen Jika, alongside people like Alex Mseka. MacDavies Chiluzi, Kennedy Warren, Lichapa, Kalima, Patrick Chakholoma and Pamela Twea among others fought and wanted to deliver to young people.
The special Committee instituted in 1999 by late Mary Kaphwereza Banda, which was chaired by Linda Lisa Kwabwila, in which yours truly, alongside people like Prince Lwanja and others, the Speakout by Honourable Alekeni Menyani and Fryson Chodzi and the initiatives such Yoneco centres, have all evolved on the concept of transfer of skills.
The Ntonda and Neno Colleges under the Ministry of Youth are a good starting point, but we needed more and we needed a Government policy recognising the urgent need of a community skills centre for young people. The idea of 28 of them is one welcome and grand ambitious plan that needs everybodys support.
Institutions such as World Bank other United Nations Agencies should seize the opportunity and use the community centres as entry point among young people, transfer of skills and empowerment of young females in making life long decisions. Actually there should have been competition to build and sponsor more than 28 Community Colleges as they provide a firm platform and Government commitment to address challenges.
The Industry in Malawi need to adopt each five of the them, Airtel, TNM, Carlsberg, Banks, Tobacco Firms, Manufacturers and all that require specialised skills, should quickly adopt the colleges and help develop skills required. Community Colleges in districts such as Kasungu can provide Tobacco growing skills or modern farming, in Nkhotakota Tourism, Sugar and Rice growing skills, others basic mining while generic community programmes should be embedded including governance, accountability, health such as HIV/Aids and social care.
The Community Technical Colleges offer an opportunity to Civil Society to sponsor and support them in areas of interest from Human Rights to Climate Change. Even funds such as Tilitonse should rush to support the colleges.
I can write and write on the opportunity, the structures the community colleges can provide to governance, social, political and economic development. The skills acquired at a such formal training centre will make lasting contribution to issues everyone has been worried about Malawi.
In the United Kingdom, the majority of the Universities were Technical Colleges, today they have changed the face and skills of the United Kingdom.
With the Community Technical Community Colleges, we should finally be on the path towards first ever long term intervention to our development. We all just need to pitch in, share ideas and support it. Aluta continua!