Celebrated since 2014 on 15th July, World Youth Skills Day is a day that seeks to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. Since then, World Youth Skills Day events have provided a unique opportunity for dialogue between young people, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, firms, employers’ and workers’ organizations, policy makers and development partners.
This year, World Youth Skills Day paid tribute to the resilience and creativity of youth through the crisis. Indeed, what a year it has been. With the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, most systems and processes across the world came to a halt. This situation affected the youth in different ways. In Kenya, the situation was no different. Kenya confirmed its first case on 13th March 2020 and immediately, a series of decisions, regulations and requirements came into effect.
The education sector was among the first to experience total disruption. Following a country-wide shutdown of learning institutions, students were forced to go back home for an inordinately long period of time. While private school students had the privilege of attending their classes online, the same could not be said about those in public schools. Lack of affordable internet, access to technology hardware and access to internet connectivity was a huge challenge for learners in underprivileged areas. The resultant effect was that there was a rift in the education sector as those in public schools were left behind while the Government scrambled to find a solution.
This situation was replicated in higher education institutions with students in public universities lagging behind in their studies while their counterparts maintained studies through virtual classes that were embraced slightly later by the public institutions. With the opening up of the country and loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, schools are currently back in session but the students are still under immense pressure to complete their syllabuses within the originally stipulated time frames. This, however, should not be an excuse to lower the quality of education that the youth in school receive, as they require these crucial skills in the future.
Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, the period has been a means for the youth of Kenya to show and prove their innovative nature and resilience. On 11th April 2020, just within weeks of the announcement of the 1st Covid case within Kenya, 16 youth innovators at the Kenyatta University were at advanced stages of the development of ventilators and swabs to easily detect the virus. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Trade and Industrialization had pledged support for the procurement, adoption and use of the kits. However, almost one year later, this has yet to materialize.
Further, in a bid to evade the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the economy, many youth started businesses to earn some income to sustain their livelihoods. While there were somewhat friendly business policies and regulations in 2020, 2021 has brought with it harsher taxes that are affecting small business owners, a majority of who constitute the youth. This also applies to those who are salaried.
To boost youth skills in the country, the Government needs to create an environment that encourages innovation and allows the thriving of businesses. This will eventually have a positive net effect on the economy. Additionally, the increase of TVET institutions across the country should be a priority. These institutions should be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and should strive to recruit qualified trainers so that trainees can receive quality training and relevant skills. The students should be given capitation through KUCCPS and access to loans through the Higher Loans Education Board (HELB).
The Ministry of ICT and the State Department for Youth Affairs also have a vital role to play. Noting that technology is the way forward, the Ministries should leverage ICT to ensure inclusion of the youth in opportunities across the world and to capitalize on the brilliant minds that Kenya has. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund housed under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender is another way the youth can be supported. It seeks to create employment opportunities for young people through entrepreneurship and encouraging them to be job creators and not job seekers. It does this by providing easy and affordable financial and business development support services to youth who are keen on starting or expanding businesses. It has been operational since 2007 but we call for greater transparency and accountability in the disbursements of funds to youth to ensure that no youth is left out, particularly the women and persons with disabilities.
The youth make up almost 75% of Kenya’s population. They should be armed with the vital skills necessary to propel the growth and development of this country. This can only be done through concerted efforts.