STEP Project concludes but skills development work continues in Malawi

UNESCO, the Malawi Government’s Ministry of Labour and European Union Delegation to Malawi held a conference to mark the end of the Skills and Technical Education (STEP) on 30 July. The project implementation period has been 5 years and four months. 
Sixty-five participants attended the conference that shared the project’s achievements, best practices and challenges. Some 21 participants were present physically in Lilongwe, Malawi while the rest attended virtually, from within and outside the country.

STEP has been a 32million Euros programme for the TVET sector in Malawi with 9 million Euros being for the component UNESCO managed.  The component sought to (a) increase girls and women participation in TVET, (b) improve the relevance and quality of the TVET curriculum, and (c) improve the management and governance of TVET institutions. 

Opening the conference, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Dickson Chunga, said the project had transformed the TEVET Sector in Malawi. 

If you visit some National Technical Colleges, Community Technical Colleges and Community Skills Development Centres across the country, one would appreciate the state of art equipment available in these institutions.
Dickson Chunga, Principal Secretary

He further said the project had introduced new trades such as Computer Numerical Control (CNC), Instrumentation and Renewable Energy in addition to helping increase female enrolment in colleges. This was a result of various initiatives like ‘Ngwazi Zazikazi’ campaigns and the fight against Gender Based Violence Programmes in training institutions.  The Programme made training institutions to be attractive to girls and women through encouraging career talks by role models.

In his remarks, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Prof. Hubert Gijzen said while the STEP project was coming to end, skills transformation and development continues in Malawi.

The ‘end of project conference means’, we have come to the end of a trip, but not the end of the journey.
Prof. Hubert Gijzen

He said STEP stepped up access, retention and completion rates, especially of female students and vulnerable persons in TVET. STEP also enhanced TVET teachers’ development and skills in the country, the relevance of TVET programmes in both formal and informal sector as well as the governance and management of TVET regulatory bodies and training institutions. 

The STEP project began with the signing of the project agreement in March 2016 by three parties, UNESCO, the European Union and the Government of Malawi. Ivor Hoefkins, European Union Delegation to Malawi Chargee d’Affairs said ‘… it has been the first time to support the TEVET sector in Malawi with such a considerable investment’. 

While STEP was ending, according to Ivo Hoefkins, the EU Delegation to Malawi would continue with the Zantchito programme, to the tune of 88 million Euros, as human capital, skills and jobs, investing in the youth remains a main priority for the European Commission in Africa and in Malawi, in particular. Ivo Hofkins underlined that the EU will continue to promote education and skills development by increasing the budget to 10 percent from 7 percent in its aid programmes for the Southern Africa region.

During the conference, presenters and panelists discussed the impact and the challenges of STEP on its three objectives. Julius Phiri, Principal of Mzuzu Technical College, representing the principals of Technical and Vocational Education and Training providers applauded the setting of the Principals Forum to build capacity of TVET leaders and encourage learning one from the other. He said ‘with STEP, the TVET sector has changed for the better’. 

Evelyn Huizinga, representing the organisations of persons with disabilities appreciated the trainings and opportunities created for the persons with disabilities to learn new skills and contribute to the local economy.  Gail Swithenbank who is Director of ZAYED called STEP an excellent opportunity to have a model to empower girls and women to learn new skills to create jobs and improve their livelihoods. ZAYED worked with STEP to train women in solar installation and maintenance, a skill much needed in the rural areas.

The conference had a robust cross-pollination of ideas and experiences. This was through panels for reflections and discussions where TVET leaders in the region exchanged experiences on the presentations. The TVET leaders from the region included Fikile Mdluli (Eswatini), James Mogale (South Africa) and Wisdom Mtisi (Zimbabwe). 

One challenge STEP encountered was the COVID-19 pandemic that stalled teaching and learning in the education sector. The STEP project responded by providing COVID-19 prevention and management to the TVET managers and teachers in the institutions. The training and capacity building was provided by Mzuzu University through a partnership with UNESCO. In addition, the response to COVID-19 equipped some eleven TVET colleges with ICT equipment to assist in online learning as mitigation for the closure of colleges due to COVID-19.