Smart ideas for economic growth – an interview with Dr Dinah Mwinzi

Dr Dinah MwinziThe Kenyan Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is currently constructing one hundred greenhouses in various Youth Polytechnics across the country so that students can be trained in greenhouse farming. This is one of the measures undertaken by the Ministry in order to plug the skills gap among the country’s young people. “For Kenya to develop, we need technicians, technologists and engineers,” says Dr Dinah Mwinzi, Director of Youth Training. “And we have to empower entrepreneurship amongst our young people by supporting smart ideas for economic growth.” eLearning Africa had the honour of interviewing the exuberant political practitioner.

eLA: You say that over 500,000 young people join the labour market in Kenya annually. How would you describe the employment situation for young people in Kenya?

Dinah Mwinzi: If we look at people between the ages of fifteen and thirty, in our country young people account for 60 percent of the total active labour force. Owing to slow economic growth, 67 percent of young people are unemployed.

eLA: Only a third (roughly) of them are university graduates. What about the others – what is their typical career path and what are their chances on the job market?

Dinah Mwinzi: Nine out of ten unemployed young people have no vocational or professional skills. A higher percentage of young people without a good formal education are unemployed, underemployed and / or underpaid. Their jobs are therefore insecure, with few benefits or prospects for advancement. For Kenya to develop, we need technicians, technologists and engineers – all vocations which can be studied at the Youth Polytechnics (YPs).

eLA: In your current position as Training Director at the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, you focus in particular on enabling entrepreneurship amongst young people? Why is that?

Dinah Mwinzi: We face limited employment opportunities in the formal sector and SMEs are instrumental in employment creation, income generation and poverty reduction in the country. The sector employs the highest number of the working population. This is why we need to promote creativity and innovation among young people

For example, we provide practical courses that enable young people to develop entrepreneurial skills which allow them to make use of the new technology and at the same time modify it for the betterment of the community. We want them to use their creativity and imagination to create jobs and help their communities.

Innovation here means that young people go beyond the obvious. For example, we have young people now who are using mobile phones to promote security in conflict-hit areas, such as anti-stock theft – preventing livestock theft [cattle rustling is a common occurrence in some parts of Kenya], or using mobile handsets to create security for doors or a piece of software to create a microwave.

eLA: Can you give us examples of how the government supports employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for young adults?

Dinah Mwinzi: Kenya’s Vision 2030 indicates the government’s commitment to science, technology and innovation and Technical Industrial Vocational Entrepreneurship and Training (TIVET) as a pathway to socio-economic and technological transformation.

Currently our focus is to promote skills development with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship in vocational and technical training in the education system. We are doing this by investing resources in the development of infrastructure and by providing bursaries to students in technical and polytechnic institutions.

In terms of infrastructure development, the Ministry is working with other stakeholders to ensure the expansion of Internet connectivity, affordable hardware and software as well as accessibility. We are also aware that in many parts of the country there is a lack of power supply, so the government is also working to address that.

Another measure is the development of affordable and adapted financial services to practicing and potential youth entrepreneurs through the Youth Enterprise Development Fund [Link http://www.youthfund.go.ke]. The fund helps smart business ideas become reality, with the aim of supporting the growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

We have formulated a National Action Plan on Youth Employment, through which the Kenyan government has been helping young people to take advantage of job opportunities abroad. The embassies have been helping young people to identify opportunities that match their skills, and also helping them acquire the necessary travel and residence permits for the host countries.

In general, we work towards implementing policies that are enabling businesses to flourish in rural and urban Kenya. We are training our young people to develop greenhouse farming in rural areas where much of our land is lying idle. We are training them to practice horticulture using simple methods of irrigation, because these are skills that are much needed there.

eLA: What would further promote youth employment?

Dinah Mwinzi: Let me put it simply: We need to put in place policies that enable young people to have decent and rewarding work. This can only be done through the creation of a conducive SME culture and environment. The entrepreneurship culture should be embedded into the education system and the everyday lives of young people.

We have to promote resource-based learning (RBL) to encourage learning centred on the individual, also through a combination of specially designed learning resources and interactive media and technologies. This will create opportunities for young people and others who wish to advance their education and training in the spirit of lifelong learning.

eLA: Can you give us examples of how you are facilitating ICTs for youth employment?

Dinah Mwinzi: The “Proficiency in ICT” course is a compulsory subject for all students at YPs because we believe ICT knowledge and skills enhance youth employability and ICT is also a business enabler.

At infrastructure level, YPs are encouraged to prioritise the acquisition of ICT equipment. The government has implemented pilots of eLearning courses in fifty YPs in an effort to support the development of ICT skills and many other subjects. These include Agri-Business Development, Food Processing Technology, Electrical and Electronic Technology, Metal Processing Technology, Building Technology, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Carpentry and Joinery, Leather Work, Fashion Design and Garment Making, Information and Communication Technology, Hair Dressing and Beauty Therapy, Motor Vehicle Mechanics and General Education such as Mathematics, Technical Drawing, Physics, Communication Skills, Entrepreneurship and Life Skills.

[callout title=Dr Dinah Mwinzi]…is and educationist, enterprise, youth, gender and public policy practitioner with more than twenty years’ experience in higher education, government administration and development sectors. She is also a certified business mentor and eLearning specialist.

Dr Mwinzi holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Education and a Master of Philosophy from Moi University as well as a Bachelor of Education from Kenyatta University, Kenya. She has been a recipient of the prestigious DAAD Scholarship from the German government and research grants from Ford Foundation.

In her professional career, she is the founding Director of the Department of Youth Training, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. She has been major player in designing, developing and implementing the new youth polytechnic curriculum, specifically in entrepreneurship development. Prior to this role, she was a researcher and a Student Affairs Administrator at Moi University.

Dr Mwinzi has taught in several secondary schools and has worked in social development on peace and rehabilitation programmes. Her passion is “creating decent and meaningful employment for young people to build a better Kenya”.[/callout]

We have software from Microsoft on CDs that we use to teach. The students are also able to use the Internet to access content and study on their own.

The Kenya Technical Teachers College is helping us to train the teachers in line with our curriculum requirements. For example, we want our teachers to acquire ICT and entrepreneurship skills, which are new subjects in our training institutions.

eLA: What have you achieved and what are the challenges?

Dinah Mwinzi: Reports indicate that students have completed the ICT syllabus on time and were even better performing than their teachers. eLearning has opened up many learning opportunities for students. In five institutions we were able to link up with other institutions inside and outside Kenya. In some YPs the students even created their institutions’ websites, to the amazement of their teachers.

However, we also learnt that delivering an eLearning programme successfully requires a complete re-think. You need specific eLearning instructors with appropriate training and the right attitude. We are in the process of training instructors on a blended learning approach.


eLearning Africa with support from Reuben Kyama, Nairobi.

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