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FEATURE STORYJune 20, 2023

Amid Rapid Changes in Science and Technology, a Program to Empower Teachers—and Students—to Improve Technical and Vocational Colleges in Eastern Africa


Lucas Nyambalya with his solar project. 

Photo: Faraja Goodluck


  • A regional IDA-financed project is helping TVET colleges work closely with industries to update their curricula to align with occupational standards.
  • Teachers are gaining skills through attachment to industries and through staff exchanges with other leading regional and global institutes.
  • Initial tracer studies show a 65% average employment rate for students six months after graduation.

ARUSHA, Tanzania. It is presentation day at the Arusha Technical College’s (ATC) Solar Training Center for third-year students pursuing diploma studies in electrical and hydropower engineering. Each student has been tasked to showcase their innovative movable solar systems, an assignment that bears a significant contribution to their final grade.

While the stakes seem high, many students appear quite calm. Lucas Paul Nyambalya, 22, is excited to present his 24-voltage portable solar system, which simultaneously lights up bulbs and charges electronic devices. “We are very lucky to have very skilled and practically oriented teachers,” Lucas said. “They are very involved in the work we do, helping us to conceptualize and develop our projects, and guiding us in the tools and supplies we need.”

In fact, the teachers’ approach and helpful engagement at ATC was not always the way that Lucas describes it. Emmanuel Kasi, a Senior Instructor in the Electrical Engineering Department, has worked at the college for over 10 years; he remembers when students were not exposed  to in-service training and capacity building, and teachers worked with outdated curricula that conspicuously focused more on theoretical knowledge than practical application.

Teachers and other trainers are fundamental to the implementation of the East Africa Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project (EASTRIP), whose objective is to increase access to programs at TVETs—Technical and Vocational Colleges—in selected, flagship institutes (RFTIs), improve their quality, and support regional integration in East Africa.

In 2019, the ATC was selected alongside 15 other RFTIs in Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia to benefit from $293 million in World Bank International Development Association (IDA)support for the development of highly specialized TVET programs, as well as industry-recognized, short-term, certificate-level training.

EASTRIP is training technicians and teachers at certificate, diploma, and degree levels in sectors that are regional priorities—transport, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and ICT. “This includes industry attachments so we can apply our learning and be better equipped to impart knowledge to our students effectively,” said Kasi, fresh from an attachment at ENSOL, a solar energy supplier. “We never had this kind of exposure before.”


Solar wheelchair project by a teacher at ATC. 

Photo: Faraja Goodluck

Isack Nkola, who is also a lecturer at ATC, said that on attachments they took part in the daily operations of an industry, learning how to use and manage various equipment and technologies. “This has empowered us greatly and influenced some of the projects our students have showcased today,” he said.

EASTRIP has three components: The first is strengthening selected RFTIs for developing the skills the priority sectors need; the second is creating nationally enabling environments for TVETs; and the final component is enhancing regional collaboration in TVET and project coordination. Thus, EASTRIP has facilitated teacher exchanges in the three countries, where teachers get to learn new teaching delivery methods. Just returning from her assignment to Kenya’s Mount Meru Polytechnic College, Winifred Mbowe , an ATC instructor, said the staff exchange program had provided her with fresh perspectives on the teaching of entrepreneurship and business, her specialties at ATC. “The experience I gained from being exposed to that environment helped me change my approach. I now try to ensure the students are directly in tune with real-world issues and projects,” she said.

Growing demand for technological skills

As the global economy becomes more integrated and competitive, the demand for a skilled workforce in the Sub-Saharan Africa region has grown. TVETs like ATC are critical for nurturing skills for productive employment. They are also vital for the region’s social and economic development.

A World Bank Public Expenditure Review says workers with TVET qualifications earn 250% more than workers with no education in Ethiopia. This is important for socio-economic mobility because globally TVET is viewed as an attractive option for students starting out with a lower earning potential and poor chances of continuing into other areas of higher education.

To ensure the training students receive keeps pace with fast technological change and the labor market, each of the RFTIs has advisory boards. The boards give guidance on collaboration and assist in promoting specific partnerships with relevant industries. More than 50% of their membership is from industries.

Many of the ATC’s programs were created with industry input. The boards have been useful to colleges for feedback from industries on the skills they need. “This helps ensure graduates are consumed by the labor market … and is why most of our students get direct employment from companies as soon as they graduate,” said Dr. Matthew Matimbwi, ATC’s Industrial Advisory Board Chair.

ATC recently launched a joint diploma in electrical engineering with a Chinese college, and the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, DIT Dar, has entered an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, for micro-credit courses. Students graduating from these get recognition from both institutions. The exchanges also fast-track improvements to the curriculum, teaching, and management capacity of their East African counterparts.

The investments are paying off. In the past few years, EASTRIP has helped make 238 courses more demand-driven and competency-based. Student enrollment has more than tripled. Tracer studies conducted by the EASTRIP allied colleges have so far shown a 65% average employment rate six months after graduation, with a female enrollment rate of 64%. This has surpassed project targets which had targeted an overall employment rate of 47%, 51% for female students, six months after graduation.

At ATC’s campus in Kikuletwa in the Mount Kilimanjaro region, more classrooms and engineering workshops have been built with EASTRIP support, ensuring both teachers and students have access to modern training equipment. “Our ability to easily understand what we are taught is helped by the conducive learning environment we have here, especially when it comes to practical studies. This is a strong foundation and one that will enable us to be productive in our post college life,” said student Veronica Kimaro.


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