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Community Colleges: the Only Way to Go For Malawi

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Tadala Mwale – Rural Development Specialist

Noting the general consensus that for growth to be inclusive and lead to sustainable human development, people must remain at the centre. A country must always consider human capital both as a factor of production and as beneficiaries of the growth process. Malawi, a largely agricultural country, is making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment, the DPP led government on quest of transforming Malawi from a “predominantly importing and consuming to a producing and exporting economy” in a globalized and increasingly competitive environment, has placed human capital development through the establishment of Community Colleges as one of the most critical determinants in achieving this aspiration.

Malawi is a small country but with a population of more than 16 million of which, 80% of which lives in the rural areas. 67.1% of this population are people between the ages of 0 – 25, (the youths). There is a huge difference in rural and urban, rich and poor, highly educated and lesser educated, forward and backward areas. While resourceful people, particularly those living in urban areas, have had access to better education and professional training, but vast majority of those who live in rural and peri-urban areas are lesser educated and hardly undergo any technical, professional and vocational training. In fact, for most of such people, quality education and higher technical and professional education is unaffordable.

In terms of career options, such lesser educated and not so fortunate people tend to work in the low paid, unorganized sector. Per person productivity of such persons works out to be a small fraction of productivity of those who work in organized sector of Malawian economy. In an increasingly competitive economic environment of our country, the unorganized sector, which is so important for the country, needs to increase the productivity of its manpower for its survival and growth.

The 2013 labor force survey found that unemployment (broad definition) stands at 21% while a large percentage (27%) of those employed are either underemployed or mostly engaged in low productivity and low paying jobs. Unemployment is more severe among women and the youth, standing at 26% and 23% respectively. Malawi is therefore under-utilizing a huge amount of human capacity, almost 50% of the labor force through unemployment or underemployment.

In the recent African Economic Outlook Country Note for Malawi it has been pointed out that one of the key constraints to private sector development and competitiveness include: red tape, poor infrastructure, limited access to finance and a weak skills base. A nation’s human capital endowment – the skills and capacities that reside in people and that are put to productive use – can be a more important determinant of its long-term economic success than virtually any other resource. The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index (HCI), released in October 2013, indicates that Malawi is number 103 out of 122 countries.

Yet another paradox before the Malawian informal sector is that it cannot afford employing highly educated and professionally trained manpower which usually aspires for highly challenging, rewarding and satisfying career. The 2013 Comprehensive National Human Resource Survey indicates that: (1) there is a huge mismatch in Malawi between available skills and the skills demanded in both the public and private sector; and (2) that there is general lack of technical, vocational, entrepreneurial and “hard” skills that are essential for the productive sector.

Issues of access, quality and relevance also arise with respect to vocational education and training as well as tertiary education. For example, enrollment in Technical, Entrepreneurial, and Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) is about 8,000 compared to the 250,000 students in secondary schools, and is biased towards boys (girls account for about 37%). This is not enough if Malawi is serious to develop itself.

This dark and perpetual status quo, has compelled the DPP led government under the leadership of Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to embark on Community Colleges Project as one of an important development agenda for the country in order to urgently improve human capital, increased productivity, growth and creating sustainable employment. This is also coupled with the growing push towards regional integration and establishment of a free trade area, Malawi needs to implement policies that will enable it to compete effectively within the region.

President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika reiterated his commitment on pursing this good project in his state of the National Address on July 6 that the project will start with 28 community colleges in all the country’s districts. “As you may recall, during the campaign period, we promised that the DPP Government will establish community colleges across the country. These colleges will provide technical and vocational skills to our youth.

“It is our plans that will start will 28 community colleges in all the districts thereafter the project will trickle down to all the 193 constituencies,” explained the Malawi leader. He added: “In so doing we will make sure that our young people are empowered with skills they can use to be able to sustain themselves financially.”

Deservingly to say, bravo Peter and bravo DPP. For the first time in Malawi, the Community College project will offer a dynamic alternative route to acquire certified education for underprivileged local communities and be connected to gainful employment. Under this scheme a Community College will be offering academic programs at the levels of Certificate, Diploma & Associate Degree and as a result, improve the skills base of the country.

The Community College will be institutions which are “For the community, By the community and Of the community” and entitled to award an Associate Degree (AD) as its highest degree. It will offer educational opportunities to all sections of Malawi society, particularly the marginalized & the disadvantaged. Through this project, Malawi communities will be turned into ocally trade and employment hubs, and ICT enabled service bases.

It is pleasing to see that the project is ready for a launch. According to the Minister of Labor and Manpower Development says Government will launch the Community Colleges Friday, March 20 at Ngala in Karonga District. The project will be introduced for a start in nine districts and will be supervised by Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA) to ensure quality delivery of the program.

Investing in human capital development makes economic sense. Without it, investing in Malawi is less attractive, youth employment will over time lead to increasing tensions and human capacity and potential will be lost. That’s why it is right to say “Community Colleges the only way to go for Malawi”.

Tadala Mwale
Rural Development Specialist

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